Justin Lines says that that true idleness is to be found not as a freelance but in the bosom of large corporations
The idyll for idlers, I would argue, lies not in the precarity of self-employment, but in the corridors of corporations. Salaries break, not make, the chains of serfdom. Not only are conglomerates a save haven for idlers, they are the most attractive home for those living an examined life.
The solace of a salary
A salary is the ultimate enabler of the idler. What can be more charming than a significant number of zeros being added to your balance at the end of each month? With no bargaining needed. No phone calls chasing payment. No frustrating moment with the calculator as you work your way through the impossibly complicated tax system. No missed dances, dinners or dates due to a deal fallen through. No matter the weather, your wallet will welcome your wage.
Mooching in the modern office
And what do you have to do to keep this monthly donation going? Turn up; at least most of the time. With flexi-time on the rise, even getting up early is a dying fashion. It’s bloody hard to get sacked nowadays. I try my best, but the buggers still keep me on. Yes, you must attend the most banal of meetings. But, what better time to ponder existence, or contemplate where the bees might have gone, than when a senior manager is droning on in the background? It is the background chatter in a pub, an enabler of thought. There is always somewhere to take your well-deserved nap at lunchtime. Walk away from the desk. Turn off your phone. Shut your eyes and hope that you don’t snore.
Loafing in lockdown
The opportunity for loafing has increased tenfold during lockdown. Now I can wake up at 8.58 and have my laptop (waiting by my bedside) powered on for the 9am call. After making my way through emails, satisfyingly deleting them as I go along, I can fall out of bed into a hot, soapy bath. I have stolen some wood from my neighbour’s shed which creates a perfect desk when laid above the water. From here I can fend off calls, jolly in the knowledge that, unknown to them, I am naked. I can plant my table, borrowed from the local deli, onto the cobbled bricks in front of my house. And spend the afternoon solving fascinating problems in the sunshine. All whilst sipping on a sensual Sauvignon Blanc.
Socratic market research
Because that’s the pièce de résistance of the corporate life. You get to work on fascinating problems. What can be a more Socratic profession than my own, market research? I spend my working hours (and plenty of sleeping ones too) examining people’s beliefs and behaviours. The Ad Man, David Ogilvy, once said “People don’t think what they feel, don’t say what they think and don’t do what they say”. So we carry out the Socratic “disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning”. In business, we either try and find a person’s problem and provide them with a solution, or are given a solution to which we must find a problem. Studying the public both at scale and one-to-one, you create the most enchanting dialogues of discovery.
Stoic Risk management
And even the second worst of the corporate world (accountants being the worst) lead the modern lives of ancient philosophers. Seneca said, “Reckon on everything, expect everything.” Isn’t this exactly what our fellow humans in insurance and risk management do? They do not hide away from life’s tragedies. They stare them straight in the face, then make rather a lot of money from their soothsaying. Unstoic foolish hope, and ignorance, would lead to people lending money to people who can’t pay it back. It would put too much faith in historically successful mortgage-backed securities, that just couldn’t fail. That would be a disaster if that happened.
If you want a life of leisure, of the pursuit of knowledge, and a good kip, there can be no better place than the offices of the managerial class. The future looks idle. More flexi-time, more working from home, more fascinating problems. As we lounge about in our ergonomic office chairs, we will spare a thought for those in pursuit of a false freedom. They will be fretting away with forms, chasing payments, and working too bloody hard.
Click here to see Justin Lines’s research