Miguel A. Fernandez
We don´t play; we are “being played”
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Cartoon: Spanish humorist, “El Roto”
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Jacques Ellul once wrote that: “Leisure time is a mechanized time and is exploited by techniques which, although different from those of man's ordinary work, are as invasive, exacting, and leave man no more free than labor itself”… In effect, one of the most destructive “Trojan horses” that exist both in the Marxist and Liberal ideological standpoints is to believe that work can be avoided by economic appropriation of the means of production (Marxism) or by making money (Liberalism). To put it simply… It is assumed that labor can be avoided by becoming an industrial entrepreneur or by simply winning the lottery or making money in the stock markets. Although the latter are very persuasive ideological promises, all of them have only transitorily worked, and the volume of total work in industrial economies hasn´t but kept raising at higher paces in parallel to the increase of total primary energy output.
The promise of a world of machines subservient to humanity, hypothetically liberating humanity from toil and providing time for accomplishing the most sublime productions of the human spirit has not been fulfilled, and today the opposite is what we see in all domains, this is, an absolute surrendering of humanity to the dynamics imposed by the specific techniques of our times. What´s more, we have reached to a point in which the rich classes that have the privilege of buying time are those that are much more inclined to surrender to the persuasive alternatives offered by today´s techniques of diversion, a behavior that doesn´t differ in nature from that of the poor classes who are constantly persuaded by advertisement techniques in order to pursue a meaning in life by consuming the latest Iphone. And contrarily to the ancient aristocracies, even the political leaders of today are unable to follow their own freedom, and rather are much more concerned about following their followers, this is, to follow the traits of the public opinion of their countries.
All this exposes a recent form of human slavery, but the techniques of entertainment and diversion render it in probably the happiest mode of slavery ever appeared in History. We don´t work; we are being worked. We don´t play; we are being played… We don´t “go to work”; work rather “comes to us”, it comes to us in the most unexpected forms, disguised as techniques. Work is ubiquitous and all-encroaching. It transforms the earth, and in order to cope with such rapid transformation human nature needs to be worked and “molded” to the very same degree. But is there any liberation from this omnipresent and extremely dynamic process?...
In the worldview of ancient nobilities there exists a Latin term, “otium” that very much differs conceptually from today´s notion on “leisure”, and mostly refers to a state of being that incarnates and makes senses of the effective processes that dominate a given time. In this context, “otium” is a precondition for political and intellectual authority, and also guarantees the value of artistic production. If you ask anyone privileged with “otium” who do they actually work for, they shall very likely answer that they work only for themselves, as a precondition for refining personal freedom, an unconditional position that expresses itself in the sense that these individuals are not paid to work, and neither do they work to be paid. Their activity transcends all economic jurisdiction. So only the most responsible with their own being and with the world are those eligible for acquiring “otium”.
In Spanish traditions there are an indisputable assumption which in essence states that if one follows a slave one becomes a slave [“no sirvas a quien sirvió, ni pidas a quien pidió”…] but the presence of individuals who have gained a state of “otium” is a guarantee of freedom for a people, community and even for an entire nation. And in order to reenact in our times the sacred aspect of “otium” as the catalytic factor of liberation from slavery, it is first necessary to found institutions or orders that are capable of testing the attributes of spontaneous self-discipline, self-sacrifice, courage and wisdom of their members, even amidst the harshest conditions of work, toil, poverty and political tyranny. These personal attributes are absolutely indispensable requirements in order to distill “otium” from a given individual, and in essence such was the goal of the best warrior traditions of the past, even that of the most recent Spanish legion. However, today the most corrosive ideological persuasions of modernity have infected even the military domain –mostly due to its intensive professionalization- and this factor burdens in practice any chance of extracting from such domain one single individual that can serve as a beacon for liberating others.
“Otium” is only acquired after many years of battling against injustice, tyranny, despotism and ignorance, or in other words, it is only acquired after challenging all those aspects that vilify and enslave the human heart. So in this sense “otium” clearly overcomes any economic understanding of work, and as an inevitable consequence, the will of those who have gained it can´t be bought by anyone.