12 November 2006

Leisure as Self-Expression?

One might think of leisure as being both a negative and positive concept. We have leisure, negatively, when we are free of necessities; but we dedicate that 'free time' to something that, positively, we regard as most valuable.

Of course these are related: those who lack a sufficiently powerful, positive conception of leisure will find, I think, that all of their time is taken up with perceived necessities. Or, one might say: they regard as necessary what really is not so. We can dismiss some apparent necessities as merely apparent only if we judge that something is most valuable.

As a matter of human experience, it proves difficult to reserve time for 'leisure', however we conceive of it. Consider simply the centuries-old battle among those who honor a Sabbath, to preserve that day as something set apart. When Bertrand Russell stopped writing philosophy and began writing tracts of social criticism, he made all kinds of predictions about how modern inventions would give the average man several days of free time each week--which would be true, were the average man content to enjoy the same standard of living that moderately well-off persons enjoyed in 1920. And modern man does not spend what free time he has, studying science or the arts, as Russell hoped, but rather watching low-brow television shows.

The truth (as is often said) is that we don't 'find time' but have to 'make time' for valuable activities, and most of us don't.

It is with this fact in mind, I think, that we have to evaluate Pieper's thesis, that 'the ritual of public sacrifice' has traditionally and commonly been the safeguard of leisure in societies. Ritual: thus, codified and even (somehow) legislated. Public: because one might doubt whether one person can enjoy leisure on his own, while others do not, or even whether a private conception of leisure is coherent. 'Sacrifice': because this implies an acknowledgment that all of the activities of the polis (the buying and selling, and improvement and preparations, the organization and coordination) give way and yield to something more fundamental. (This more fundamental thing need not be something 'higher'--the gods--but can be something prior, such as the acknowledgment of nature inherent in a harvest festival.)

Broadie seems less than successful in navigating through these issues. What is it that marks the limits of necessity ('negative leisure') for her? Apparently, a Jamesian moral holiday:

How is leisure-freedom related to the other senses of freedom studied by philosophers? It is not freedom from coercion, nor is it freedom from servitude to one's passions. More than anything, it is freedom from requirements, duties, and obligations (358).
The positive conception of freedom which she then supplies to complement this is 'self-expression':
Leisure-freedom consists in the possibility of being active without any particular reference to circumstances and constraint, or only with reference to ones chosen or laid down by oneself, and from which one can disengage at will. So "self-expression" is a key concept (ibid).
But then this notion of leisure, which to me seems slightly adolescent (as in, "aw shucks, do I have to?") only problematically involves other persons:
Then can comething be a good lesure activity if it necessarily involves doing something with others? ... If the answer is "Yes," as it surely must be, does that suggest that the self being expressed is in some way corporate--and what can that mean?
And then leisure for Broadie becomes tangled up with questions of different 'selves' and 'individuality':
Is there any sound basis for an argument that the self to be expressed is in some way "higher" than the self of ordinary work? ... And, if so, might there be any interesting analogy or other connection between this and that other possible "higher self," the subject of moral duty and practical reason? ... In what way do leisure and leisure activities contribute to individuality?
And at this point I want to say we know that we've gone off track.