Gentle visitors, one of the poor Relations on America's North Coast recently matriculated at a school of higher learning. Of course, we wish him well and believe he will shine in his scholarship.
But, just a few months ago, the same scholar was on the horns of a dilemma: should he choose School A or School B? Did he have the "work ethic" to achieve at School A? If no, then it would seem that School B was for him. Fortunately, after much contemplation, he chose School B, embracing the virtue of slackness.
Our own understanding of "work ethic" is, sadly, tainted and limiting. In 1904, German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber published a lengthy essay entitled "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." In his essay, Weber set out to show the connection between the ascetic instinct in Protestantism, particularly Calvinism, and the growth of the ethos of capitalism. In essence, Calvinists saw work as a calling from God, a vocation to be pursued zealously, restlessly, and continuously, "as the highest means to asceticism, and at the same time, the surest and most evident proof of rebirth and genuine faith." Success and profit in hard work were signs of God's blessings. Hence, the work ethic was born.
To this point Weber quotes our own Ben Franklin as examplars of this attitude:
Remember that time is money. [A young man] that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sit idle, one half of that day, though he spend but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, out not to reckon that the only expense: he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.
He that idly loses five shillings' worth of time, loses five shillings, and might as prudently throw five shillings into the sea.
He that loses five shillings, not only loses that sum, but the advantage that might be made by turning it in dealing which by the time that young man becomes old, will amount to a considerable sum of money.
Weber writes that Ben, though a "colorless deist," evoked his Calvinist upbringing in urging hard work, busyness, frugality, and care in extending or seeking credit, as the virtues necessary for wealth and, therefore, God's favor.
The earning of money with the modern economic order is, so long as it done legally, the result and expression of virtue and proficiency in a calling; and this virtue and proficiency are... the real Alpha and Omega of Franklin's ethic.
Of course, as Weber notes, in the modern economic order, the religious underpinnings of a strong work ethic have largely been washed away by the tides of time, and we are left with "work hard, succeed, and get rich." And, we might now add, "... and learn how at Trump University."
Old school folks had a dim view the Calvinist ascetic and ethic of hard work and acquisition. "A state of mind such as that expressed in the passages we have quoted from Franklin, and which called forth applause of the whole people, would both in ancient times and the Middle Ages have been proscribed as the lowest sort of avarice and as an attitude entirely lacking in self-respect. " More so now that that the moral and theological sheen is gone.
After World War II, another German philosopher, Josef Pieper, produced his own essay in response to this thinking (Germans apparently having a monopoly on this sort of thing). It was entitled "Leisure: The Basis of Culture." Herr Pieper wrote:
The original conception of leisure, as it arose in the civilized world of Greece, has...become unrecognizable in the world of planned diligence and "total labor"; and in order to gain a clear notion of leisure we must begin by setting aside the prejudice—our prejudice—that comes from overvaluing the sphere of work. In his well-known study of capitalism Max Weber' quotes the saying, that "one does not work to live; one lives to work," which nowadays no one has much difficulty in understanding: it expresses the current opinion. We even find some difficulty in grasping that it reverses the order of things and stands them on their head.
Pieper does not argue that work is bad or unnecessary or that leisure is akin to sloth or acedia -- what Pieper describes as the "refusal to acquiesce in one own being" -- rather, he argues that leisure is more important that work.
Compared with the exclusive idea of work as activity, leisure implies ... an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, or silence; it means not being "busy" but letting things happen. ... Silence, as it is used in this context, does not mean "noiselessness"; it means more nearly that the soul's power to "answer" to the reality of the world is left undisturbed. For leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation. *** [It yields a serenity that] springs from our recognition of the mysterious nature of the universe; it springs from the courage of deep confidence .... confidence in the 'fragmentariness of life and history."
Hence, leisure is not quite the picture of a latter-day slacker -- unkempt, unshaven, slouched on a lifeless sofa, surrounded by the detritus of highly-processed snacks, diligently working a controller to advance the next level of computer-generated game. No, it's a more thoughtful, receptive slacking.
And, leisure, as it turns out, is the surest guide to the right school of higher learning.
[I]t is essential to begin by reckoning with the fact that one of the foundations of Western culture is leisure. That much, at least can be learned from the first chapter of Aristotle's Metaphysics. And, even the history of the word attest the fact for leisure in Greek is skole, and, in Latin, scola, in English "school. The word used to designated the place where we educate and teach is derived from a word which means "leisure". School does not, properly speaking, mean school, but leisure.
So, it would seem that our young, poor Relation made the wise chose of chilling in schooling -- really, the same thing.
So, it would likewise seem wise early on a Sunday evening to repair to the back porch, the rains having cleared, blue patches of sky now appearing on the horizon, the sun, here and there, making a re-entrance, but calmed by the later hour and steeper angle. And, if a briar bowl were filled and lit and finely crafted ale were poured -- well, then, so be it, we will let it happen and school will be in session.
And, we may discover the truth of the saying, rightly or wrongly attributed to Ben Franklin, that "beer is proof that there is a God, that he loves us and wants us to be happy." But, that will be subject of a future, leisurely essay.