The serious business of recreation

By Bruce Walker
web posted April 9, 2001

Dennis Praeger wrote a good book a couple of years ago entitled "Happiness is a Serious Problem." Indeed. We live in an age with few real material needs. Obesity, not hunger, is the greater health problem for most humans, and only in the industrialized western democracies could sympathy be genuine for "eating disorders" and similar patterns of deliberate malnourishment. Food has been abundant for many decades now. During the Second World War, for example, most people in occupied countries for most of the war grew healthier because they ate less and road bicycles more.

While we may think that computers and the Internet have revolutionized our lives, this transformation occurred many decades ago. Telegraph -- the Victorian Internet -- railroads, breakfast cereal, electric lights, typewriters, and mechanical machines of every sort made the last hundred years something new in the history of humanity -- lots of free time.

This had been true for royals and high priests as far back as the pyramids, but it had never been true for the ninety-nine percent below that level of certain comfort. If morality is what we do when we think that no one else is looking, then recreation is what we do when we do have to do it.

Liberals spend their free time making work for others. That is one reason that they lavish attention on government, academia, and bad culture. Each of those areas gobbles up time and leaves us feeling hurried, harried, and harassed. Why? When machines and genetically engineered crops could produce almost everything we need to live comfortably, then why should anyone want to steal someone else's recreational time?

Because of what we might do with it! The rationale for creating mountains of paperwork unrelated to the recordation of knowledge, currency, and literature for which paper was invented is identical to the rationale for denying us handguns, disposable income, and vouchers: We might make the wrong choices. Some of us would pray or meditate. Others would study, analyze, and compose. Many of us would spend time as our ancestors did -- on farms or in shops -- working beside loved ones.

Public libraries are filled with treasures. Ray Bradbury's delightful description of his journey through the children's section of the library, reading everything, enjoying everything is a testament of the dangers of true recreation to totalitarians, as the firemen of his classic Fahrenheit 451 know! The days when one person could know all that mankind knew passed centuries ago, and today each of us can gain new inspiration for life and creation each day (if we didn't have to do our taxes!) That means diversity, in the finest sense of the word, is truly possible for each of us.

Diversity (or individuality) is the last thing liberals want. So they fill our lives with "make work" and "busy time" intended not to produce goods, services, art, companionship, insight, or anything else of real value. Rather, they wish to limit the potential of each of us because they are so dependent upon their status as members of the Inner Party (as Orwell so aptly described it) and that status is in its turn dependent upon us being rushed along through the offices and hallways of modern life.

So we should stop. We should recreate ourselves. Each of us has more potential to comprehend and enjoy reality than the greatest conqueror or ruler of the Ancient World. With scraps of time, Bach composed measures of musical ecstasy each week. Forty years ago, sociologists spoke with dread of the "Organization Man." Not quite.

It is not our ability to organize work efficiently that threatens our sanity and happiness. Invention, recordation, education, and replication are gifts for us to use: Don't reinvent the wheel! Why? Because, as marvelous as axles and wheels have proven in easy the labor of men, making the wheel again adds nothing to that body of knowledge which is our growing universe. The "Organization" can make better lubricants, finer ball bearings, better tires, stronger rods -- and organized man does all these things.

Organization of willing people into rational roles is good. Whether Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford ever stopped to smell the roses is irrelevant: They had full and productive lives, and the fragrance that seduced them may have been molten iron or combusting gasoline fumes. Luther Burbank doubtless did smell the roses, but his pleasure was less their fragrance than his creativity. No corporation ever gobbled lives that were not surrendered to it first.

But when the sum of wealth exceeds our power to consume, then liberals with satin covered brass knuckles start knocking some inefficiency back into our lives. Were we sated and reflective, then their lust for power would be too clear for comfort. Their own idea of recreation to impose new regulation, create social offenses, and add chaos to our lives.

What we want is quite different. Those who sailed across the turbulent Atlantic or vast Pacific sought most of all the right to live life as they chose. To re-create their lives on terms that pleased them most. Felling forests, planting wheat fields, building steel mills -- these were all means to an end: The joy of owning oneself without owning others. The warm breeze beneath the apple tree (if I please) or babbling of a city crowd (if I please more). The joys of life which the Founding Fathers of America described so sweetly, so forcefully, and so clearly in their Declaration of 1776 -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No dopey, drugged amnesia, but the conscious, deliberate, and quite personal pursuit of happiness and meaning -- the very serious business of recreation.

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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