Monday, 14 June 2010


In discussing the danger of administrators and officials, who want to tidy up the world, to run it along efficient and predictable lines, Bertrand Russell reminds us about the power of laziness:

Laziness is not one of the political motives recognised in textbooks on political theory, because all ordinary knowledge of human nature is considered unworthy of the dignity of these works; yet we all know that laziness is an immensely powerful motive with all but a small minority of mankind.

How true. A reminder of how hard innovation and radical change can be – it must fight not only the prevailing political and economic system, but human nature itself.

That said, a society used to rapid change, like ours, should be more open to innovation and activity; and within narrow bounds this is true (reading Russell I couldn’t but feel that we are a more varied and open society than a 100 years ago). However, the conformity of the culture is remarkable, with its narrowness of interest and opinion; it suggests a large passivity in the audience, which absorbs but does not contest the information it receives. A few conceive and invent, the majority simply consume.

We have a fast paced media world, and a dynamic economic system, yet we humans remain lazy…. It suggests, perhaps, that the ‘radical’ changes to society, and the people within it, are in fact a chimera. As Stephen Burt, discussing Facebook and the internet in the LRB, and the apocalyptic warnings of email alienation, writes:

…young people’s internet use just replaces hours spent watching TV; they have been trading one screen for another… Social networks in general…’do not appear to be radically altering the personal bonds and connections that young people make.’ (S. Craig Watkins)

Our cultural world is like the surface of a rapidly moving river, while the lives we live are like the river’s bed; its rocks only slowly eroding away.

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