Writing in Men’s Health, and sadly not available anywhere I can link to, Will Self reflects on what we’ve collectively learned during the pandemic.
In it, he uses a quotation from Nietzsche I can’t seem to find elsewhere, “There are better things to be than the merely productive man”. I definitely feel this.
[T]he mood-music in recent months from government and media has all been about getting back to normal. So-called freedom. Trouble is… people from all walks of life and communities [have] expressed a reluctance to resume the lifestyle they were enjoying before March of last year. Quite possibly this is because they weren’t really enjoying that much in the first place — and it’s this that’s been exposed by the pandemic and its associated measures.
The difficulty, I think, is that lots of people (me included at times) had pre-pandemic lives that they would probably rate a 6/10. Not terrible enough for the situation by itself to be a stimulus for change. But not, after a break, the thought of returning to how things were sounds… unappetising.
We all know the unpleasant spinning-in-the-hamster-wheel sensation that comes when we’re working all hours with the sole objective of not having to work all hours — it traps us in a moment that’s defined entirely by stress-repeating-anxiety, a feeling that mutates all too easily into full-blown depression. And we’re not longer the sort of dualists who believe that psychological problems have no bodily correlate — on the contrary, we all understand that working too hard while feeling that work to be valueless can take us all the way from indigestion to an infarct.
I’ve burned out a couple of times in my life, which is why these days I feel privileged to be able to work 25-hour weeks by choice. There’s more to life than looking (and feeling!) “successful”.
It’s funny, I have more agency and autonomy than most people I know, yet I increasingly resent the fact that this is dependent upon some of the very technologies I’ve come to realise are so problematic for society.
[I]t might be nice in the way of 18 months of being told what to do, to feel one was telling one’s self what to do. One way of conceptualising the renunciation necessary to cope with the transition from a lifestyle where everything can be bought to one in which both security and satisfaction depend on more abstract processes, is to critique not just the unhealthy economy but the pathological dependency on technology that is its sequel.
Ultimately, I think Will Self does a good job of walking a tightrope in this article in not explicitly mentioning politics. The financial crash, followed by austerity, Brexit, and now the pandemic, have combined to hollow out the country in which I live.
The metaphor of a pause button has been overused during the pandemic. That’s for a reason: most of us have had an opportunity, some for the first time in their lives, to stop and think what we’re doing — individually and collectively.
What comes next is going to be interesting.
Not a sponsored mention by any means, but just a heads-up that I read this article thanks to my wife’s Readly subscription. It’s a similar monthly price to Netflix, but for all-you-can-read magazines and newspapers!