Politics is work and work needs breaks

Link post

A post writ­ten a few years ago, post­ing now dur­ing a time of ir­rele­vance (as far as I know with my limited at­ten­tion on poli­tics or so­cial me­dia) so as not to be ac­ci­den­tally tak­ing a side in any spe­cific poli­ti­cal de­bates.


Alexan­dra What has hap­pened is shock­ing and ev­ery­one should op­pose it.

Beatrice I’m eat­ing a sand­wich. It is bet­ter than I ex­pected.

Alexan­dra I can’t be­lieve you would write about a sand­wich at a time like this. Don’t you op­pose what hap­pened?

(Claire is ex­cited by the break­fast bread dis­cus­sion but guesses that con­tribut­ing a pic­ture of her bagel is pretty in­ap­pro­pri­ate and looks at SMBC in­stead.)

Peo­ple break up their time into work and leisure. You might think of work vs. leisure as roughly ‘do­ing stuff be­cause other peo­ple pay for it’ vs. ‘do­ing stuff be­cause you want to’. You can also think of it as roughly ‘effort­ful’ vs. ‘re­lax­ing’. Often these cat­e­gories al­ign—other peo­ple pay you to do effort­ful things, and the things you want to do are more re­lax­ing. They don’t always al­ign. Helping your aged rel­a­tive go to the doc­tor might be effort­ful but a thing you do be­cause you want to, or your job might be so easy that you come home with a bunch of en­ergy for challeng­ing tasks.

I’m go­ing to call these ‘rest­ing-’ vs. ‘challenged-‘ and ‘-boss’ vs. ‘-em­ployee’. So en­tirely free time is mostly rest­ing-boss and paid work is usu­ally challenged-em­ployee. But you can also get rest­ing-em­ployee and challenged-boss ac­tivi­ties. This all maybe re­lies on some mod­els of rest and at­ten­tion and effort and such that don’t work out, but they seem at least close the mod­els that most peo­ple prac­ti­cally rely on. For what­ever rea­son, most peo­ple pre­fer to spend a de­cent frac­tion of their time do­ing non-effort­ful things, un­less some­thing ter­rible will hap­pen soon if they don’t.

Peo­ple mostly use so­cial me­dia as leisure, both in the sense that no­body would in­ten­tion­ally pay them for it, and in the sense that it is not effort­ful. When im­por­tant poli­ti­cal things are hap­pen­ing, so­cial me­dia nat­u­rally turns to dis­cus­sion of them. Which, if you are lucky, might be thought­ful anal­y­sis of world af­fairs, with a bunch of statis­tics and re­think­ing your as­sump­tions and learn­ing new facts about the world. Which is all great, but it is not leisure in the ‘not effort’ sense. When I need a break from re­search­ing the likely so­cial con­se­quences of ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence, mov­ing to re­search­ing the likely so­cial con­se­quences of chang­ing iden­tity poli­tics in Amer­ica does not hit the spot as well as you might hope. I as­sume some­thing similar is true of many peo­ple.

When there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to move a lot of leisure time from rest­ing-boss idle chat to challenged-boss poli­ti­cal dis­cus­sions, peo­ple can be ap­palled when oth­ers do not redi­rect their use of so­cial me­dia to talk­ing about the prob­lem. They are think­ing, ‘when you are do­ing what you want, you should be want­ing this! If you would re­ally spend your limited time on pic­tures of an­i­mals that look like pas­try when you can help to stop this trav­esty, you are ter­rible!’

How­ever this means mov­ing time that was in ‘re­lax­ing’ to ‘effort­ful’, which as far as I can tell is not su­per sus­tain­able. In the sense that peo­ple usu­ally need to spend some amount of time re­lax­ing to be happy and able to do effort­ful things at other times. Redis­tribut­ing all of the re­lax­ing time to effort­ful time makes sense when there is a very im­me­di­ate threat—for in­stance, your house is on fire, or you have a dead­line this week that will cause you to lose your job if you don’t ded­i­cate all of your time to it. How­ever if you have a prob­lem on the scale of months’ or years’ worth of effort, I think most peo­ple would fa­vor mak­ing that effort as a sus­tain­able trek, with breaks and lunch and jokes. For in­stance, if you are try­ing to get tenure in a few years, many would pre­dict that you are less likely to suc­ceed if you now at­tempt to ban all leisure from your life and work all of the time.

When there are poli­ti­cal events that seem to some peo­ple to war­rant talk­ing about all of the time, and some peo­ple who re­ally don’t want to, I think this less im­plies a differ­ence in con­cern about the prob­lem than you might think. The dis­agree­ing par­ties could also be fram­ing work and leisure differ­ently, or dis­agree­ing over how short-lived the im­por­tant prob­lem is, or when the high lev­er­age times for re­spond­ing to it are.