Monday, 4 March 2013

Idle Theory

The Idle Theory website is a collection of linked essays on the very interesting subject of - yes, you guessed it - Idle Theory.   

The website introduces itself with the following: 

"Life, by contrast with inert matter, is usually regarded as essentially busy, active, and dynamic. But maybe life is not different from inert matter. Perhaps life, just like inert matter, does the minimum - and we would gain a deeper understanding of life if we saw it not as trying to busy itself, but seeking to be idle. Perhaps human life, human society, technology, ethics, law, and religion have all arisen as an attempt to minimize effort. If so, the imperative of all life, and of human life, would not be 'Keep Busy' and 'Do Something', but 'Keep Still' and 'Do Nothing'. This is the speculation of Idle Theory.

Central to Idle Theory is a physical understanding of life as alternating between two states: busy and idle. While busy, a living creature works to maintain itself. While idle, it is either inactive or engaged in some non-maintenance activity. Depending upon their physical constitution and the environment in which they find themselves, all living creatures operate somewhere on a scale which extends from being nearly continuously busy at one extreme, to being nearly continuously idle at the other extreme. That is, some creatures must work very hard to stay alive, and others hardly at all. Those creatures which, even working continuously, are unable to maintain themselves, disintegrate and die.

Applied to the theory of evolution, this approach to life argues that during times when all creatures must work harder to survive, the least idle are the most likely to die, and the most idle are the most likely to survive. Natural selection favours the idlest. The fittest creatures are the idlest creatures, who survive to pass on their genes to subsequent generations.

Human life, in Idle Theory, is another variant of natural life. Human life, historically, is taken to have been hard. The uniquely human response was the development of tools. These tools speeded up human work: a knife enabled materials to be cut more quickly; a bag allowed materials to be transported more rapidly. And since they expedited work, the use of these tools increased human idleness. The inherent purpose of an economic system is to free people from work.

Increased idleness means, on the one hand, increased chance of survival, but it also gives humans idle time in which to engage in activities other than self-maintenance. It is in this idle time that humans can do as they wish, rather than as they must, and they can think, talk, and play - i.e. act as free moral agents. In Idle Theory, humans are seen as part-time free moral agents, only free to the extent that they are idle.

Idle Theory only concerns itself with tools, tool trading systems, codes of conduct and laws which serve to increase human idleness. It cannot address the question of what humans, to the extent they are free moral agents, should do in their idle time. To this extent, Idle Theory is a restricted theory.

Idle Theory's critique of modern Western ethical and economic thought is that these optimistically assume that humans are completely free agents, that human life is perfectly idle, and human trade is concerned with distributing pleasurable luxuries.

Idle Theory is an exploration. It does not pretend to be either complete or authoritative. It doesn't even claim to be right."

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