In Praise Of Idleness

Bertrand Russell1

One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.

His words have only come truer over time. Are we any better today? There are people who say violence has come down when compared to 500 years or 1000 years ago. But that is a surface argument which does not stand up during close scrutiny. First how do you quantify what is violence exactly? If violence is people killing each other in the name of religion, language, ethnicity, raping women, killing children because they are different, then this kind of direct violence has come down. But as killing has come down, another indirect violence has been on the rise. People nowadays don’t kill each other(which is merciful in a way that you suffer for an hour and then die) but they can make your life a living hell by abusing authority, financially ruin you by effective use of the court system, add unneeded complexity for no rational reason and then introduce a new layer of bureaucracy to manage this complexity, thereby draining you emotionally and financially in the process. Tell me is this also not violence?

At least then, I would know who my enemy was then, look him in the eye when he kills me and know the reason for the violence that happened, however stupid it is. Today, nobody knows what the fuck is happening? We have laws which contradict each other, courts becoming activists, courts which function in secrecy and give preferential treatment to politicians, actors and people they prefer. India will be the only democracy in the world where courts reject the will of the parliament ie) the will of the people. The recent NJAC issue from 2014 is one example. Politicians are no saints but democratically elected representatives have the right to fuck things up as they please within what the constitution allows however bad they may be. It is the burden of the people to take stock and right the sinking ship. The function of the courts is to upload the rule of law, not to make laws. Sadly, the elements in the democracy that should care don’t know anything about it.

The world is not better place. People happily ingest poison, pay their life’s work to hospitals which in turn inject more poison into people and make them more sick thus continuing the cycle.

Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war.


The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.


This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous.

If all you do is work, when will you have time to reflect upon what it is that you are doing? One thing I have noticed in my life is, if I am too close to something, I lose sight of the rational reasons and make a habit out of it without wondering if this is necessary. Taking a step back from the daily grind and looking at it, thinking about it, taking things and the rules that govern those things to their logical conclusion has always made me a better person.

Serious-minded persons, for example, are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes to producing a cinema is respectable, because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides you with meat and the baker who provides you with bread are praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly speaking, it is held that getting money is good and spending money is bad.

Take some time off, read this and read it again and then read it again. There is nothing important that demands your attention from this.

  1. A great summary of Bertrand Russell over at Stanford