14 February 2008


We are perhaps the laziest nation around.

I'm not talking about work ethic. Too many Americans are too caught up in the idea that their identity resides in their occupation, and that's a sad, sad thing. Marx would call it alienation, but you don't have to go to Marx for a critique of that position; you need merely go to Emerson's "The American Scholar":
Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state, these functions are parcelled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies, that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters, — a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

Sure you can take issue with Emerson's assumption that there is an unmediated state (an "original unit") of human essence and purity, but his general point that the division of labor creates isolated experiences and "amputation from the trunk" of generalized human experience (even if it is mediated) should be well-taken. We aren't summed up by our occupations.

However, I really wasn't writing about our obsession with job status and the world of work (as witnessed by the eternal DC party question, "So what do you do?"), but about our laziness as a nation that is obsessed with eliminating any amount of physical exertion from our daily lives (yet simultaneously supports multiple physical fitness facilities, sometimes with steep price tags -- I think that involves a consumption thing actually).

Yes, I'm talking about my bĂȘte noir, the automatic door opener.

This clever device was invented to facilitate access for physically disabled individuals, and have a most useful purpose in society to that end. However, almost nothing pisses me off more than to see a non-disabled lazy-ass sloth push on those buttons that are almost always clearly marked with the person in a wheelchair symbol because they're just too damn precious to push the door handle.


m.a. said...

And it also makes buildings cold in winter. Stupid doors.

cuff said...

MA: you know, in Chicago just about every building I went into, even the lowliest store fronts like 7-11 and starbucks, had revolving doors, which eliminate that blast of air you get with regular doors.