One of my pleasures is to watch reruns of old episodes of Colombo in the afternoon, while doing a modicum of ironing in order to keep Her Indoors off my case. Certainly I can think of more productive and morally uplifting things to do, but none of them contribute so much to my feelings of serenity (or smugness, if you prefer – I really don’t mind.)
I call this exercise “Zen Idleness”. It’s rather like Zen Buddhism, but without the effort of actually learning anything about Buddhism – though clearly this is a wild guess on my part, because, by definition, I know next to nothing about Buddhism.
My wife is pursuing other courses in our semi-retirement. She sits on various committees, Doing Good. As far as I can tell, she’s handy at it, which doesn’t surprise me because she’s both a wonderful person and marvelously competent, whereas I’m a moral nonentity and an idiot. For this reason, I stay away from Doing Good. I’d only make a mess of it. I see no reason why Disadvantaged People should be put in danger simply to keep me occupied in the afternoons.
I can hear you (well somebody anyway) saying: “If everyone thought like you, the World would go to hell in a handcart crafted out of sloth.” This is true, but irrelevant. Technically the argument displays the fallacy of the Counterfactual Hypothesis i.e. it’s validity requires us to suppose facts that we know aren’t so. Everyone doesn’t and won’t think like me, so we needn’t consider how things might be if they did. “If there were a real Santa Claus, we’d all be happy” is another example…. but I digress.
A radically different attitude to mine is to be focussed, active and goal driven (I call this the Triumph of Will School). As it happens, I have some friends who subscribe to this doctrine and I can vouch for their virtues and niceness. However as a general recipe for conduct it suffers from another fallacy of reasoning, namely the False Implication. Its proponents smuggle into their advice the unstated (because self evident, so they believe) implication that all their efforts are directed at virtuous outcomes. But that isn’t so, is it? A fair proportion of the monsters who have ruled the world at one time or another have been focussed, active, goal driven people, and much good they did us. It would have been a mercy if they’d stuck to the ironing like me.
In any case in the competition between Zen Idleness and the Triumph of Will, it’s our general character that determines our allegiance not the studied conclusions of rational thought. I’m not idle out of philosophy: I just can’t be arsed. It makes my head ache even trying to figure out why this is so.
I suppose a practical comparison might be this. The Triumph of Will, if we are lucky, may just possibly improve the common lot of humanity. On the other hand Zen Idleness definitely gets the ironing done.