Stop Working

The psychoanalyst Josh Cohen has written a spot on book about the perils of overwork that make up the life of the average Londoner. He traces back the productive always on mindset to the "protestant ethic", which extols us to do good work in this life, in order to assure us a place in heaven

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The analyst Josh Cohen thinks of himself as an idler, and a bit of a day dreamer.  He's a bit annoying because he seems to be very good at what he does.  He is both a Professor of English and a practicing analyst.  He clearly works long hours but he doesn't feel that he's working.  I imagine he's like a batsman that seems to strike the ball effortlessly to the boundary. It just seems to flow, happen naturally.  Others would heave and lunge at the ball and get caught out. He seems to have fallen into something that fits his idling mind, lucky sod.  He likes day dreaming and reading books, and listening to people's stories.  Being an English professor and analyst allows him to inhabit these sides of his character.  Paradoxically, he is very productive, but as if by accident, happening on to projects and themes he likes.  He admits that he also has to do the boring stuff, that comes with adult life, like attending departmental meetings, with all their related politics He values the states of mind that are not about being super busy.  The drifting, lazy, indolent, slacker states of mind best captured by various anti heroes.  

He finds that many of his patients come to him because they are either alpha types, who are experiencing "burnout".  But he also finds other types of non-productive people, whom he has an affection for, and terms as slobs, slackers and dream

But he is not the HR department, and he doesn't see these people as necessarily having anything wrong with them! They are human.  In fact he is drawn to them because he is a secret slacker. It's more that they represent something that is getting lost in our culture of being busy.  The ability to slack off has been part of the human psyche since the beginning of time.  Life has always been full of work and hardships, but also times of doing nothing very much, and going to ground.  Underground.  Fallowing.  Chilling.  Whereas the elites of previous years showed their status by showing they didn't need to work, based on their income from inheritance, or rent, and demonstrating their capacity for leisure.  Things have completely been turned on their head now.  High status people show their status through parading their busy lifestyles.  Long work hours represent the cultural pinnacle of modern western alpha life.  Long work hours, committees, events, sporting holidays.  Even holidays are an opportunity for personal development.  No time for lazing about!  Holidays are an opportunity to train for the next ultra-marathon, preferably in the high mountains, or a desert, and carrying your own equipment!  Slackers are allergic to triathlons and would die if a number was involuntarily pinned onto their vest.

However, many of us have become lazy again, as a result of the pandemic.  Enforced laziness.  Jokes about sourdough bread making aside.  We have reacquainted ourselves with the state of mind of lazing about.  We have become re-acquainted with such states of mind during the pandemic.  States of mind where nothing much happens.  Lazy, non productive, non capitalist states of mind...Loafing, chilling.  

There is no cost-benefit analysis that can truly capture the value of an idling state of mind.  In fact it would be a very strange thing to try and prove the value of an idling state of mind in terms of economic value.  The whole point of an lazy state of mind is that it cannot be defended in terms of creating value.  To say that a lazy state of mind is valuable it creates the conditions for a mind to replenish itself doesn't quite feel right.

As the lock down lifts the majority of people don't seem to keen on going back to the old industrious ways.  In fact, it seems, many people have developed a fondness for idling states of mind.  I have a feeling that we are just getting reacquainted with this way of being.  It seems a bit brutal to have be wrenched away with this new state.

To find out if your a slob, slacker, or just plain burnout, read "Not Working:  Why We Have to Stop" by Josh Cohen.

I have a selection of further articles available for free here




Ajay Khandelwal PhD

Ajay Khandelwal is an experienced psychotherapist and consultant. He welcomes contact and enquiries and is accepting new clients via zoom during the shut down.