It's good to do nothing, says Tom Hodgkinson, editor of the London-based The Idler magazine.
Tom Hodgkinson isn't a winner. He isn't 'working towards his goals'. He doesn't have 'power lunches'. And he doesn't go to the gym. Hodgkinson is an idler; he 's lazy and proud of it.
As the editor of the UK magazine The Idler, he has spent his time celebrating laziness and attacking 'the work culture of the western world which has enslaved, demoralised and depressed so many of us.'
Writes Hodgkinson in his book How To Be Idle: 'being idle is about being free, and not just being free to choose between McDonald's and Burger King or Volvo and Saab. It is about being free to live the lives we want to be lead, free from bosses, wages, commuting, consuming and debt. Being idle is about fun, pleasure and joy.'
After leaving university, Hodgkinson spent the next three years trying to make a living as a freelance journalist, writing for such publications as The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
'For three years I tried to make a living as a journalist,' he says. 'But I always had this problem- well, I was lazy and I lacked motivation. And I was kind of beating myself up about this and then I read these essays by Samuel Johnson called 'The Idleree', done in the 1750s. He was describing the character of an idler and what he was describing was not someone who was just lazy but someone who worked in a different kind of way. So someone who found it difficult to get to work on time and do the eight hours might be able to do something very quickly. He was describing someone who worked by building up momentum. So the idea is you lie in bed thinking and then you do your work very quickly and then you get off to the pub. This is an attractive way of working for me. so idleness can be something positive.'
It was Samuel Johnson's essay that were the inspiration for The Idler magazine. 'I thought there might be room for a magazine that catered for these ideas. Also at this time Douglas Coupland had done Generation X and discovered this slacker thing in the United States.'
Hodgkinson and a fellow idler raised enough cash from friends to publish the first issue of The Idler in 1993. A thousand copies were printed of a 33-page magazine.
Hodgkinson was delighted by the response. 'Right from the beginning we were getting letters from people saying, 'This is amazing, I thought I was the only person in the world with these ideas.'
Some thirteen yeas later The Idler is still around and Hodgkinson is still editing it. He regards it as a 'canon of idle writing, from the philosophy, fiction, poetry and history of the last three thousand years, to give us idlers the mental ammunition to fight against work.'
'The magazine still doesn't make any money,' says Hodgkinson. 'But it's taken us into some fantastic areas and we've met some fantastic people.'
There is an obvious question here. Isn't editing a magazine kind of like, well, working?'
Hodgkinson: 'My definition of work is doing something you don't want to do. The ideal is doing work you want to do when you want to do it. I'm victimised by capitalism and all those other things - anxiety, fear, desire. I think everyone is. I go into the office and then I go home. It's not like going down a mine - it's pleasantly okay. My ideal is that The Idler makes money.'
In his funny and insightful book How To Be Idle, published in 1995, Hodgkinson devotes a chapter to the thorny question of work. At times, he sounds like a socialist. He points out that the job was really a product of the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of capitalism. Before the advent of capitalism, he argues, work was 'a much more haphazard and less structured affair' and that the idea of being tied to one specific employer, was unknown.' (Although, to this writer at least, Hodgkinson tends to view pre-capitalist society through rose-tinted glasses.)
Hodgkinson says that work culture today is monotonous and regimented - the sort of miserable set-up brilliantly satirised in the UK sitcom The Office.
So why do we do it? To pay the bills of course.
But Hodgkinson says that we are told that a job is an answer to all 'woes, individuals and social' and that our lives will be better with more and more possessions.
He writes: 'the purchase of a product requires money. Money requires hard work. Or debt. We go into debt to chase our desires and then keep working to pay the debt. It's the modern form of indentured labour.'
But Hodgkinson is not a socialist. In fact he is as critical of socialism as he is of capitalism. In How To Be Idle he writes 'Capitalism has promoted the job as a religion; but so too, tragically, has socialism. The left has been brainwashed with the socialist dream of 'full employment'. But wouldn't full unemployment be better? A world where everyone is free to create their own life, their own work, their own money.'
He refers to Oscar Wilde's famous essay 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism'. Wilde points out the inherent illogic in the idea of full employment. Writes Wilde: 'It is regretted that a portion of our community should be practically in slavery, but to propose to solve the problem by enslaving the entire community is childish.'
Hodgkinson adds that the people who keep promoting the value of work are usually people who are comfortably wealthy. And there is some truth in this. It's always struck this writer as rank hypocrisy that a businessman or politician on a big, fat salary automatically assumes that we proles should be grateful for low wage, dead-end jobs.Apparently, there also good for our 'self-esteem' and allow us to 'socially-interact'.
This is nonsense and Hodgkinson knows it. In How To Be Idle he writes: 'There is a persistent myth of the lottery winner, who, despite never having to work again, keeps their minimum-wage factory job. I have believed this. No, people enjoy the social interaction despite the unpromising conditions in which the social interaction takes place: the laws against smoking and drinking, the patronising 'mission statements' on the walls. Does anyone really believe suppose that if we didn't have jobs, all social interaction would cease?'
So what is Tom Hodgkinson's own personal philosophy? It's a kind of free-wheeling anarchism. An anarchism that says that staying in bed all morning and staying up all night is a good thing. In How To Be Idle he celebrates, among other things, smoking, drinking, leisurely strolls to nowhere in particular, good books, and that very English custom of High Tea ('Tea should be a time for gentle chat and reflection, a cigarette, a little mental workout. It should last for least half an hour.').
'To be an idler is to be an anarchist,' says Hodgkinson. 'You don't like being told what to do. You hate the presumption that someone else can tell you how to think. An idler is trying to create his or own existence where you don't have to work and where you can lunch all day if you want to. In contrast, governments are all about guilt, anxiety, fear. The combination of a moralistic government and a capitalist system combines to bring about an awful amount of guilt and anxiety.'
Hodgkinson has a dream but it's not the dream so typical of this consumerist culture we live in. He's irritated how the word 'dream' has been appropriated and misused by media, marketing and business propaganda.
'During the dot.com boom it always struck me as absurd how the new young companies such as boo.com spoke of themselves in almost visionary terms. We have a dream, they said. Our staff share the dream. They are all working hard to make the dream come true. But what was this dream exactly? A dream of selling large quantities of sensible sportswear to the youth of Europe? That's not a dream, that's merely a vision of large profits.'
Hodgkinson defines real dreams as 'seeing what others miss'. He writes: 'They're not about money, they are about you, and they are about quality of life and imagination...I have a dream. It is called love, anarchy, freedom. It is called being idle.'
Tom Hodgkinson is the author of How To Be Idle and How To Be Free.