Recently the old adage of “capitalism leaves us all too exhausted to pursue our hobbies” has been going around. I agree with it, because even though I’m able to keep up with most of my interests right now, I have to viciously eke out my time, listening to Spanish podcasts on my walk to work and slipping in reading and writing wherever I can. And then on the days where I am really ~productive~, I cap out at 7pm and don’t have the energy to do anything worthwhile beyond that.
Some would counter this with the cry of “We have it better than ever!”. And to a certain extent, sure, we’re not sweating away in the fields, at least those of us in urbanised western societies aren’t. The issue of underclasses of labour is for another time.
But reading the Low-Tech Magazine, I’ve started to feel that this image isn’t quite right. In the distant past many jobs, such as running a windmill, would require “crunch time” in the windiest seasons, but leave the owner with plenty of leasure time in the quieter months, and this went true for most jobs given the seasonal nature of medieval labour.
That idea now is presposterous and dreamy. Imagine working as you do now, for half of the year, and then getting all of Autumn and Winter off to eat food, read books, chat with friends. Or doing a month on, a month off. Just sensational.
If our jobs are less physical than ever, why do they leave us so drained? Well one, because mental work is still work, but also because our jobs are so sedentary. I don’t buy that unfettered leisure time would immediately solve the problem. But having the time to actually exercise and socialise freely, without it being a “guilty pleasure” or a desperate knife pushing back the wolf-at-the-door of exhaustion, would.
And yet, I forget how fragile I am. There was one year, between dropping out of uni and starting back, where I worked two jobs. One doing retail, for eight hours a week, which provided me with a cursed stim if nothing else, and another working three days a week doing technical assistance in the MFL department of a school that was a two hour commute away.
So even at the height of it, I wasn’t working full time, and yet I was completely drained. I had a breakdown at one point, crying in the middle of a Caffè Nero onto my boyfriend at lunch time. Yes, much of that was to do with my awful physical and mental health at the time, but even now I couldn’t handle doing that kind of drawn out office work. I’m lucky at the moment in that I’m able to teach part-time and still make a living. But I was doing some extra classes these past two weeks, amounting to about 20 teaching hours per week, and by the end of it I was absolutely drained. And then I ate loads of food and slept in, which made me feel worse, and the cycle began again…
But I’m in generally good health now, and I even enjoy my job. So by my own logic, I shouldn’t feel this crappy! Is it just that humans were never meant to leave a hunter-gatherer lifestyle? Or is this just the inherent consequence of being alienated from the fruits of my labour?
The same old refrain: time to read Das Kapital already!