Friday 18 April 2014

Editorial: Our lives are too short on leisure

Charles Haughey: a substantive original thinker
Charles Haughey: a substantive original thinker

SO WHATEVER happened to those post-millennial promises of the dawning of an age of leisure? Certainly for the squeezed middle across Europe and America, the promised dawn of the 'End of History' where we could devote a far greater portion of our lives to the pursuit of leisure has turned to dust.

Instead, the notion that the coping classes of society, with the fortunate exception of their colleagues in the public sector, are entitled to some quality of life is viewed with raw contumely. Mr Kenny, in fairness, tosses the occasional nosegay about how the contribution of the citizens to the recovery of the State is valued -- in theory at least. But for an increasing number of citizens life is 'poor, nasty, brutish' and definitely short on the leisure front. Instead, their apparent role is to be sharecroppers to the banks and the pay, perks, and pensions of our top public sector mandarins.

Our new age of efficiency, which obsesses on the price of everything, would do well to realise that leisure is not a valueless concept. It is the conduit to the possibility that citizens might have spare time for family and children, as distinct to outsourcing their care to the State. Leisure is also the catalyst for the pursuit of self-improvement via fostering the capacity for independent thought. This means the availability of leisure can play no small role in building the sort of healthy society all politicians claim they aspire towards. This was recognised by no less a figure than Charles Haughey who, despite his current pantomime villain status, was, on occasion, a substantive original thinker. This was epitomised by his first Budget, which featured the rare sight of an Irish finance minister giving a dissertation on the "compelling social necessity to devote increasing attention to the problems of leisure" on the grounds that "it would be unthinkable to abandon people to the monotony of a working life unrelieved by the stimulus of cultural and intellectual activity''.

It is a measure of the utter poverty of our aspirations in a theoretically more advanced age that, were a politician to advance such a proposition now, they would be greeted by mocking laughter. Instead -- in yet another example of the new poverty of aspiration in political discourse -- condemning citizens to the dismal monotony of unrelieved work is seen as 'progressive'. The consequence of this has been the return of a dreadful conformity, where a posse of galloping Gradgrinds are eternally waiting to challenge and scatter any traces of Ireland's former dominant trait of Bohemian non-conformism.

Mr Kenny, Mr Bruton and others often speak of their desire for Ireland to become the best small country in the world in which to do business. Ironically it might serve them better if they were to move away from the corporate speak of 'sweating assets' to prioritise the creation of a happier country where imagination rather than fearful compliance might thrive. In fairness, some unease with a politics centred on facilitating the content of the voters is understandable, for the bleak morality tale of the Celtic Tiger indicates it is undoubtedly dangerous for governments to be too assiduous to pandering to the insatiable desires of the citizen. But it might do no harm if they were to realise the pursuit of leisure is not a subversive activity and that the Mr Gradgrinds of the market are not always right. Who knows, Enda? There might even be a few votes in it.

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