Hanging Out: Chapter 1

The answer is to change the value of work and reorganize the society so that people don’t feel that they have to work so much and so that their identities are not oriented around work.  The myths that people live by which make them obsessed with work and competition and threatened by cooperation and communication have to be dissolved and replaced.  We have to rid ourselves of myths of work, myths of profit, myths of nation, and myths of competition.  Then we can begin to restructure a society on the basis of the actualities of the human condition rather than on the myths which currently support the crumbling system.

(An unemployed anthropology teacher) 1

I’m still suffering a kind of disbelief that my job was eliminated because I really did produce.  I did a super, super job.  And I loved my job because they gave me a chance to experiment make some mistakes and learn.  What I learned and what they gained from it were just out of this world. For the first time in my life I had a job that I really, really enjoyed and which came close to fitting my ideals. It wasn’t perfect but it was closer than anything I could imagine.  Not having that any longer has taken away a great deal of satisfaction … What I’m going through now is lonely. There’s no one else who can feel what I feel. There’s no one else who can feel the disappointment from having lost a job because you did a good job.

(Unemployed business executive)

The first three months that I was unemployed I just went crazy.  I went to place after place and interview after interview.  Job-hunting was all I thought about from the minute I got up in the morning.  I would systematically call every single possible number in the Village Voice and even the Times.  I went to employment agencies and temporary agencies. I would answer ads like “Nice company, good benefits, call us now,” where they wouldn’t even say who they were or what kind of job it was … My main problem is wondering what direction my life is going in.

(Unemployed artist)

What’s happening now is the drinking habit.  I used to drink every day.  I started drinking just hanging out, ’cause there ain’t nothing else to do.  There ain’t no work for me, so what am I going to do?  I just come to the same corner, day every day, never miss a day, just to drink wine with the guys and get into trouble.  It’s been going on a year.

(Unemployed Puerto Rican-born man in late 20s or early thirties) 2 

These statements by down-and-out people poignantly remind us that unemployment is no respecter of persons.  It is a destructive condition that saps people of their self-worth, energy, health, and hope.  The end result of months without work is a searing disillusionment.  As one unemployed union hall occupant said, “they’re ruining the young men right now, they’re breaking souls.”                                                 

The rate of unemployment in the United States is between eight and ten million people who get on the official government rolls as being out of work and looking.  Lots of others, perhaps twice the number, have quit looking out of discouragement or have settled for part-time work.  World-wide, the situation is alarming to say the least.  Estimates have it that by the year 2000 one billion mainly residing in over-crowded cities in the Third World, will find themselves unemployed.  They will be overwhelmingly the young.

Unoccupied time plagues all of these persons, time that hangs heavy, like an albatross around the neck.  The statistics grimly tell us out of work people are more prone to ill health, mental disease, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, and delinquent behavior.  

It stands to reason that the unemployed would have little desire to do volunteer work for some social organization, to take a trip, to play golf or get some other kind of physical exercise, even if some could afford it.  Being without work, the unemployed tell us, is not leisure or free time.  How can you possibly think about being useful and creative when society is screaming at you that you are unwanted and incapable.  “You see yourself winding up on a park bench and that really scares you,” an unemployed roofer lamented.

Others suffer as well.  Though the unemployed agonize over their plight, those who are in the work force find themselves in dead-end jobs, or in jobs that require them to do useless work, repetitive, mindless tasks which dehumanize and destroy their dignity.  Moreover, they find themselves driven by work which demands their staying at the office inordinate amounts of hours a week, taking more work home with them, causing them at the end of the day or week or year to ask if anything more has really been accomplished.  Later in this book I detail some of their laments and discouragement.  In sum, they work too much, too long — as we shall see, Americans enjoy only a little over two weeks of paid vacation per year in contrast to the Europeans who have six weeks annual leave! — at tasks that have dubious value all of which detracts from their overall sense that is worthwhile.  They often are heard muttering, “There must be a better way, there must be more to life than this.”  

The discouragement and distress in the countless stories I have read or listened to by the unemployed, underemployed, and ironically, those who work too long and hard at jobs they find has little value or meaning, have prompted me to write this book.  Henri Saint-Simon, that intrepid troubadour of the French and industrial revolutions, once declared, “the only way one will ever get anything done is if he does it with passionate feeling.”  In this spirit I have written this book.  

There is precious little future for the existence of a sufficient number of jobs employing all the persons who need and will need paid work in this society or any other one as far as that goes.  All of our societies face the certain decline of paid work time.  This decline is not something that has happened overnight.  The figures on employment time tell us unmistakably this trend has been going on for at least the last 100 years.  This fact is a strangely kept secret.  Many of us are unaware there has been a revolution in time.  It has slipped up on American society like Carl Sandburg’s “Fog,” creeping in on cat’s paws.  

Instead of just “the poor we shall always have with us,” there are now the unemployed or underemployed.  The technological optimists assure us the new machines currently displacing workers will eventually provide new jobs and the services can employ all the rest.  What these seers fail to take into consideration is that a critical megatrend, to use Naisbitt’s 3 term, has emerged unnoticed.  That megatrend is growth of time free from paid work, whether wanted or unwanted.  Naisbitt defines a “megatrend” as a broad pattern that orients a society. Naisbitt, like so many futurists, however, has a one-dimensional view of post-industrial society.  At no time throughout the pages of Megatrends does the author acknowledge the free/leisure time factor.  He overlooks the flip side of the coin of paid work and in so doing distorts one of recent history’s most startling developments.  

Data from time budget surveys in which respondents keep a 24 hour diary detailing what they did during each 15 minute interval dramatically reveal what has happened.  In the last decade, an average worker in the United States worked fewer hours on the job during a week than he or she had of free time. That is immensely important to how people see themselves.  Yet, as I noted previously, John Naisbitt ignores this megatrend of free time altogether.  Daniel Bell in his The Coming of Post-Industrial Society 4 sweeps non-paid work time under the rug as non-existent.  Why?  

Our culture is imbued with the paid work ethic.  We have linked work to employment which limits this concept in terms of how we actually live it.  We refuse to conceive of a society which has greatly reduced opportunities for employment.  We cannot think of doing other kinds of work than that connected with a paid job per se.  Yet the reality of the world we now live in is insisting that we rethink the relationships among paid employment, unemployment and free/leisure time.  

Presently, free time and leisure rely on paid employment for significance.  Can there be another social ethic which will bring meaning to being unemployed and transform it into free time and leisure?  Can the blocks of free time which make up the major periods of our waking lifetime hours possibly become the locus of our social identity in the near future?  Presently, paid work is the source of personal identity, status, and membership in an economic class.  An analysis of the current crisis must begin with this employment source of identity, but subsequently it will have to describe a type of society in the making in which paid work is one of several sources of personal and social identity and becomes relatively unimportant in comparison to the others.  

Such a statement is possible because of the revolution in social times described above.  Free time, as the largest social time of persons living in technologically advanced societies, is producing a whole new culture, i.e., new norms, values, ideals, dreams, symbols, and creative expressions.  On its dark side, it is spawning aberrant, sometime criminal behavior.  The overwhelming majority of serious and petty crimes take place during free time.  Drug and alcohol abuse are primarily free time activities.  Hence, time’s mutation is having an immense impact on the total life of this society creating new ways of living in its wake.  This mutation is part of the wrenching changes producing the post-industrial society we are entering.  

Social forces to a large extent shape and direct human behavior.  Human social life is not random, but patterned and to a degree predictable.  One of the ordering or patterning mechanisms which we create through our interactions in groups is time.  Periodicity or rhythmic flows and ebbs are conventions we humans create.  They do not come from outside our group life.  There is in each of us a biological time clock, which creates a circadian rhythm assuring us we will have some alternation between activity and rest.  However, the major ways we order the periods or times of our lives are creations of the groups to which we belong.  Their purpose is to assure some semblance of order and predictability.  One may recall that during World War II the government made the decision to set the clocks forward during the spring in order to have more daylight, thus “daylight saving time.”  Some churches in the rural communities of Kansas where I lived during those years hotly debated the decision.  Many questioned whether it was right for the government “to mess with God’s time”!  Such conventions take on a sacred quality.  This is a good illustration of how customs provide order and security to group members.

Social scientists have given short shrift to this structural feature of time.  One of this book’s purposes is to help correct this.  Indeed this decline in paid work time has brought about a mutation in the pattern of time.  We cannot continue ignoring this reality.  An intention of the pages which follow is to re-examine and punctuate the importance of the concept of social time, now profoundly important to the whole of social life.  Jeremy Rifkin argues eloquently for a serious examination of the role of time in contemporary life.  It has gotten out of hand.  “Modern man has come to view time as a tool to enhance and advance the collective well-being of the culture.” 5 However, is society really better off careening toward an ever higher-speed culture?  Perhaps the “artificial time worlds we have created only increase our separation from the rhythms of nature. Just maybe we need to begin reintegrating ourselves back into the periodicities that make up the many physiological time worlds of the earth organism.” 6

The Swiss sociologist, Jean Ziegler, has written about just how powerful this structural element of time is.  He recounts that when the king of the Fiji Islands dies, time stops, and the social order is suspended.  Those who were his subjects are released from their “moral obligations.”  Every kind of crime can be and often is committed.  Emin Pacha reported that the Bahima of the Unjoro in East Africa place the body of their dead king on an elaborate catafalque of wood.  Then, they enter into a protracted period of mourning during which the country is totally paralyzed.  Pacha recorded how he saw vast herds of cattle die because their udders ruptured from not being milked.  If the death of the king comes at the time of planting, the subjects put no seed in the ground.  They do no regular work.  The only sanctioned activity is mourning.  To break such a commandment means death:  “In a word, the vacation of power (the king’s death) is synonymous with the death of the group.  In order that the people can revive, a new king must be enthroned to start the world moving again.” 7

The Bahima show how the social order itself depends on social time.  Here the source of both social order and social time is the god-king.  His death meant the death of order, social control, the group itself.  Applying  this to our society, which is currently undergoing crisis, we find ourselves confronting a similar condition.

Just as the death of the god-king was such a sign to that East African group of the ending of their society, so industrial society has signs of a death-like presence.  The social times of work, unemployment, free time, and leisure all conflict and contradict each other, signaling  that critical changes are ushering in a new order, and with it new social times.

Contradictions, conflict, and ambiguity point to this being a dialectical age.  Just as free/leisure time is a phrase which raises so much emotional reaction, so dialectics have an equally bad press.  Perhaps, this comes from a distortion of dialectics by over-zealous leftist thinkers who tend to be as one-dimensional as those on the extreme right.  The world we live in is “pluri-dimensional”.  As banal as this sounds, it remains a fundamental truth.  This forces us to see the many-sided character of social life.  No one perspective will do.  The dialectic of complementarity which sees the many perspectives as complementing each other, results in a more complete picture of what is.

For instance, the best learning comes when each of the participants in a classroom contributes to the discussion of the subject bringing to bear his/her own perspective which comes out of his/her particular experiences.  Each of these concrete views complements the others, giving a clearer understanding of what is true.

Dialectical analysis is itself many-sided.  The dialectic of polarity, what some call the conflict of opposites, is too simple.  An effort will be made to employ a multi-dimensional analysis, and hopefully this will clarify and illuminate both the past through which we have come and the present which so bedevils and bewilders us.

The Individual and Community

A second task motivates this writing.  The way of our fathers is no more.  Work as we have lived it on the farms and ranches across this land in the 19th century is past.  The present “farm crisis” punctuated by foreclosures and the wrenching uprooting of small farmers and their families is just the latest signal of fundamental shifts in American commitments and ways of life.

We are unable any longer to live with the idea that small-town principles are the moral fiber of this society.  We little realized that the small town mentality had already faded when the 1920 Census revealed the majority of United States citizens lived in metropolitan areas.  The myth lived on and kept us from assessing what was really happening.  There is no hiding place now.  We watch the auctioneer’s gavel pound homes into coffins as family farmers lose their land and tractors to the large operators or corporations.  Technology has gone along with this movement, accommodating it and causing it.  Tractors, combines, discs and plows are bigger, costlier, on a scale that fits the number of acres now making up an average farm.

We are an advanced industrial economy relying on large-scale organization, technologies, and wealth, wedded to the idea that growth is the great good.  Bigger is better; getting bigger is the engine of success; more is profitable; and increasing profit is the measure of accomplishment.  The individual is the point person in the searing, often unruly, zero-sum game.  In other words, sharp competition is the process.   And the winner takes most.

Bankruptcies abound among small businesses, and this is having repercussions on larger firms.  They’re folding, too.  Mergers are commonplace as consolidation gives a false notion of growth.  In the face of these dynamics, ordinary people get anxious, disillusioned, alienated, and seek ways out of the rat race of endless pressures with few personal rewards.  They retreat to the private spaces of their lives, into their homes, those havens in a heartless land.  The irony is that this move towards privacy undermines community, a place where the public and the private meet, where mutual responsibility and caring exist.  Large-scale bureaucracies, machinery, national debt, government spending on military technologies–all underline the preference for size.  Such gigantism overwhelms and demeans.  

Among those who feel the smallest are the unemployed, the outcasts of community.  Many of the homeless in the United States are without work or have too little to enable them to make ends meet.  In the summer of 1986, the city of Santa Barbara, California, initiated a campaign to rid the city of all homeless people.  An examination of why Santa Barbara lacks the compassion to harbor the homeless uncovers some unseemly aspects of the American character.  This character is more prone to satisfy the lifestyle requirements of the wealthier and those who make profit from tourism than to consider the whole community’s welfare and what simple principles of peace and justice would require.  The social bonds of small town inhabitants were forged from moral principles which everyone more or less agreed to.  Now that mobility and wealth have undermined those principles of communal association, the “naked” individual refers to what feels right as his/her principle of life.  Bob Dylan asked in one of his 1960s ballads, “How does it feel to be like a rolling-stone, a complete unknown. . ?”  With the cutting of the hawsers of small-town community we have lost our mooring and find ourselves rowing tiny boats in raging seas.  Small craft warning are out everywhere.  

Particularly perplexing is why unemployment and underemployment have gotten so little attention.  The 1980s’ presidential elections really did not turn on this issue.  One hunch as to why the issue is neglected is that we view unemployment as an individual matter.  People could work if they wanted to.  We have internalized the idea that it’s up to the individual to make it or not, and we as a community have little to do with being “our brother or sister’s keeper.”  Being our sister’s keeper was part of the small-town community ethic.  What Bellah calls republicanism and the biblical tradition were its sources. 8  They were the hawsers we cut as we adjusted to and adopted industrialism.  Across the country signs in establishment windows tell the true tale:  “Now hiring;” “Help wanted.”  Some jobs are out there.  But what kind of jobs?   How much do they pay?  Can one work full-time with benefits?  If one does have a “good” job, what does that mean?  And does that work ethic linked to paid work drive us to spend inordinate amount of time and energy in order to gain more salary or wages which then allow us to buy more.  And if we do buy more, are we satisfied?  Are we happier?  Are we more productive?  We shall explore these crucial questions later.

This book’s second aim is to find some way to recover the sense and reality of community.  The French sociologist, Durkheim, worried about the loss of social bonds and believed that the development of what he called anomie–a feeling of normlessness–would happen to people living in the industrial order.  He was for the most part positive about the contributions of a social solidarity (bonding) that allowed for individuals the freedom to express themselves as they took on personal responsibilities within the tightly knit confines of an ever more interdependent division of labor.

Durkheim saw the individual becoming more isolated as the bonds of traditional social linkages fell away.  He tried to discover a substitute for the “small town” source of affect and intimacy, love and devotion, duty and responsibility in this new social solidarity of the industrial order.  He aimed his whole teaching and writing effort at this problem.  In so doing he put the emphasis on the family, religion, and culture.

In pondering this intricate and troublesome problem, he concluded that in the occupational organizations people would form through their work, they would find some relief, would realize some renewal of social bonds.  These would be labor unions and professional associations.  His hope was ill founded.  Lamentably the condition has worsened.  Researchers and social critics like Robert Bellah, Daniel Yankelovich 9 and Paul Wachtel 10 reluctantly so conclude.  Each in his way points to the same undermining and disorienting force affecting modern persons.

They feel all alone, bereft of “ties that bind.”  Blessed be those ties, intones the old hymn.  Persons feel more than nostalgia about the small-town loss of community.  They are looking for something, and a theme to which we will return is that they have the time to find it.

The second part of this book will discuss a new solidarity which seems to be emerging in certain reaches of the cultural life of this society.  This solidarity type we might call “personal communalism.”  There is a renewed desire to recover a sense of community.  Pockets of influential persons are forming new communal bonds in the places where they live or they are forming intentional communities –communities made of persons who agree among themselves to realize the values of family-in-community.  The basis for these communities is often spiritual and religious.  The core content rests on four main commitments:  to the sacredness of the person; interpersonal relationships; the earth, sky and sea; and to smallness and decentralism.

The Time Is There

Leadership today requires not much presiding over atomic explosives as a profound knowledge of civilizations.  It requires ability to anticipate the effects of actions.  In short, it requires thought.  But who is doing the thinking?  Who is giving sustained and incisive thought to man’s most complicated and dangerous problems? . . . . Almost everyone in Washington is spending so much time being strategical that almost no one is being historical.  There are so many movers and shakers that there is hardly any room for thinkers.

The paradox is that we are busy doing nothing.  Never has so much leisure time been available to so many.  Leisure hours now exceed working hours.  But we some how managed  to persuade ourselves that we are too busy to think, to busy to read, too busy to look back, too busy to look ahead, too busy to understand that all our wealth and all our power are not enough to safe-guard our future unless there is also a real understanding of the danger that threatens us and how to meet it.

Thus being busy is more than merely a national passion; it is a national excuse. 11 

These last ten years of the 20th century promise to be “the best of times and the worst of times” to recall Charles Dickens’ opening lines to his Tale of Two Cities.  The purpose of this book is to help get us into the 21st century, with a new consciousness and awareness of what we face as a human species, and how we might think imaginatively about where we are and where we might be.

Norman Cousins, in the quote above, lays out the principal theme of the pages which follow, we have the time to think, and think we must.  The thinking we must do entails thoughtfully considering the pass through which we have come, what it means for our present situation.  “We are what we are today because of what we were yesterday.” This quote from my favorite history professor in college makes history an imperative.  History, the collective memory of a people, is the basis for forethought, which is the literal translation of the Greek god’s name, Prometheus.  It is a most critical quality of human beings.  But there is a rub.  This collective memory, history, must be correct.  And that requires more thinking, questioning, researching.

The other side of the coin is forethought itself.  Thinking ahead, planning, experimenting, trying again a different mode or way of doing things until we find one that meets our needs.  Here is where we encounter difficulty.  Humans are unwilling to change habits which are familiar, seemingly “tried and true.”  We are all conservative by nature.  We prefer what we know to the mystery of what we do not see and understand with certainty.  Yet there are habits, patterns of personal, social, economic, and political life which are literally killing us.  We cannot continue along these paths.  We must change, but oh, how painful.  As Cousins points out “everyone seems to agree, from the president down, that we have to find some way other than war to protect ourselves, support the cause of freedom in the world, and serve the cause of man.” 12  The Balkans, Philippines, Cambodia, the Middle East or Central America could spark World War III and we seem to eye these as “unpleasant business,” no more, no less.  These possible flash points plus the continuing danger of atomic attack from which there is no defense, all require thought, lots of it.  

Add to this the persistent, perplexing, and potentially life threatening degradation of the environment to which we are contributing everyday by the energy devouring ways we live in the affluent twenty-five percent of the world’s population.  The United States alone, which makes up five percent of the world’s population, consumes

  • thirty to fifty percent of the world’s mineral resources and 30-35 percent of its energy.
  • twice as much energy and mineral resources per person as in other industrialized nations such as Great Britain, West Germany and the Soviet Union.
  • ten times as much energy per capita as in such countries as Greece, Chile, and Mexico.
  • thirty times as much of the world’s resources as Indonesia. 13

We doggedly maintain certain beliefs which feed this propensity to consume everything in sight.  We affirm the notion that the natural world of America is an endless cornucopia of riches.  This abundance is for the taking.  We are reluctant to admit that the wastes spewing from industry can damage this ecological system in which we live.  We adamantly reject taxes which would go to protect the environment by setting up control mechanisms to monitor what industries including agribusiness is doing to the ecology.  Laws to control industries are fought by these companies which have the resources to marshal a veritable army of lobbyists to turn away every effort.  For instance in the state of Maryland, the bottle and can manufacturers plus food store chains, restaurants and the like have mounted a massive campaign to stop passage of a bottle bill.  They urged passage of a recycling bill instead which can do some good but says nothing about the need to conserve resources by reusing materials already in existence.  Companies resist every effort to make them control the effluent from their plants.  They continually make arrangements for unscrupulous firms handling waste materials to cart away their refuse.  They have no interest in what happens to these wastes once they leave the premises.  These waste materials firms often dump their loads at night into the oceans or out at sea against existing regulations.  Often times these firms are connected to the mafia or other organized crime syndicates.  

The bottom line is do as little as possible in order to preserve as much profit as possible and what costs are incurred pass on to the consumers.  As for the waste materials companies, their rationale is the same:  make as much money as possible even if it means breaking the law.  That is all right as long as you do not get caught.

So, a lot of thinking, awareness and consciousness raising, political action, and reworking lifestyles must be at the top of all our agendas.  

In sum, the irony of the history we have hinted at and we will describe in detail in Chapters 3 and 4 is that we now have the time to resurrect community, communion, and communality; to create the type of society we require for living on the edge of the 21st century.  Such a resource has come at no better time.

One can be optimistic in the sense that with the decrease in the amount of paid work time we gain free time, which implies having options.  This is so despite the overwhelming pressures the economy makes on us to spend this time in recreational leisure.  Following this introduction, Chapter Two takes up what is meant by recreational leisure.  The single activity which dominates all others is that of passively watching television.  Suffice it to say now that recreation also encompasses organized activities which are primarily self-fulfilling and self-serving with little emphasis placed on service to the community.  These activities often are passive and profit-making for the providers. Recreation would include attending football games or watching sports on television.  Recreation itself has the goal of helping workers recuperate from previous periods of work so they can go back to the job refreshed, i.e., re-created.  Undoubtedly, this purpose becomes less important as both the physical demands of the job and paid work itself diminishes.   Principally, because of this decreasing paid work time we do have the option to dream, plan, and implement ideas and ways of re-creating community.  This includes addressing, among a myriad of social problems, that of unemployment and underemployment, turning them into useful, creative and beneficial work and leisure.

Included in Chapter Two is a discussion of what is leisure, free time, and the other types of social times with which these interact, often in conflicting ways.

Chapter Three lays out the historical evolution of free time, a product of industrialization itself.  This revolution in social time is the result of certain forces:  new technologies, new types of jobs, and the demand of workers themselves for more time away from employment.  This chapter takes up the first two of these.  The technological changes have made possible the increase in productivity all the while reducing work time.  A considerable amount of this reduction has enabled the economy to absorb more workers who would otherwise be unemployed.  All the while their pay checks have expanded as their work time has decreased.  Along with this change have come altered ways of working on the job.  The manufacturing positions have remained at a fairly constant level while most of the work-force has gone into the services.  With the nature of work changing, there have also come more alterations in the work time patterns themselves.

Chapter Four examines the shifts in attitudes of workers as they realize the possibilities of making good on their demands for more free time from employment without a loss in pay.  Accompanying this worker demand for time away from the job is the diminution of available paid work.  Both factors require a re-evaluation of the place of employment in the economy, in the lives of everyone.  An acute public issue coming out of this is that of underemployment, part-time work or temporary paid work. This is causing even more anxiety and driving the society to re-think what employment really means.  For instance, what does it mean to be employed?  Official government statistics count a person who works one hour a day as being employed!

In their search for shorter hours, days and weeks on the job workers were also saying something very critical about the nature of industrial work itself.  They found it dissatisfying, destructive to their humanity, debilitating and boring.  Working class people did not imbue the paid work ethic which the owners and managers did.  They early on worked to live, not to live to work.  Currently, middle management and above including many professions attached to the business world are asking themselves if all the hours and psychic energy they are investing in their paid job — even career is worth it.  Has my quality of life improved as I have continued to make more money but all the while sacrificing relationships at home and in the community?  This increasingly grave predicament will be addressed in Chapter Five.

Chapter Five considers the inevitable contradictions which come with any period of change.  They make the reading of history and the present extremely difficult and even somewhat dubious.  Policy decisions issue from the understanding institutions have of current history.  For instance, work conditions may have changed with most jobs now being in what are called the services such as clerking, teaching, selling insurance, but this does not mean service work is more meaningful.  Problems surface in new guises. The work ethic contains contradictions because the present economy encourages attitudes and behaviors which go against the very ethic that has brought the economy to its present prominence.  Advanced capitalism promotes consumption and one of its current mechanisms is credit cards.  This goes against an important tenet of the work ethic, frugality or saving.  Now prodigality is encouraged for consumption is the engine assuring constant growth of the economy.  In the face of this redefinition of the work ethic, confusions, conflicts, and confrontations abound.  

Chapter Six describes who has free time and leisure and who does not.  The distribution is uneven, leading to a consideration of the problem of unemployment as unoccupied time. This time holds little meaning because it is embedded in a cultural context where paid work is the primary source of identity.  With Chapter Six, I end the first part of the book being an outline and description of the nature of the problem we are considering.  

Part Two deals with the question of what can be done to alleviate the grave crisis which this mutation in social time raises.  Particularly, what is the impact of free time on the world of work?  This new reality of a life in which the majority of one’s waking hours is now spent outside paid work has such a bearing on defining who we are and where we are going.  The unemployed, caught in the crushing social situation of unoccupied time, are the immediate victims.  They represent so much of what we must confront and rethink if we are to make it into the 21st century with some degree of equanimity and a sense of justice.

Chapter Seven considers how to make unemployment/free time useful, satisfying, fulfilling, and meaningful.  This is particularly imperative since the majority of paid jobs in this industrial/post-industrial society are dead ends, debilitating and dissatisfying.  They have become the means to an end, enjoyment in free time.  As long as unemployment is tied to paid work, there can be no enjoyment in unemployed time. In short, unoccupied, unemployed time must be weaned from employment and seen as free time.  Both unoccupied time (unemployment) and free time (the time available after the paid job is over for the day, week, year or life) are products of constant changes in the economy.  The growth in productivity creates free time and because that growth is mainly the result of vast technological and organizational changes, unemployment necessarily results.  Only so many of the paid jobs can be shared by workers.  The stark fact is that these industrial-era jobs are becoming scarcer for more and more workers.  Robotics and the surfeit of goods and services cause unemployment.  

Chapter Eight takes up community outlets for useful unemployment and free time.  These include such schemes as a National Service Corps, which would include such programs as the Peace Corps and VISTA.  It would be for all ages.  Voluntary associations of all types and their dependency on volunteers are parts of this whole scheme.   

The community dimension requires special attention.  The current emphasis on individual attainment and personal self-fulfillment have undermined the tradition of volunteering in American society.  Community opportunities for useful unemployment have declined in the last decade, yet the recovery of a commitment to community solutions is essential if we are to solve some of the vast social problems we confront.   

One of these problems is just how will people get titles of consumption (money) by which to live and enjoy the increasingly available free / leisure time.  Chapter Nine addresses this problem by reexamining the idea of a guaranteed annual income or a negative income tax and other schemes which this society might consider.

At the personal level what solutions are possible?  Chapter Ten takes up this question.  Conscious decisions of personal commitment to a certain way of life are real options for some.  For others who are laden with the burdens of poverty such choices are unavailable.  To those who have choices, voluntary simplicity is an alternative.  What is it?  This effort to examine one’s life in terms of essentials is resulting in numbers of people constructing new priorities as to what is important.  The social problems encompassed in an environment increasingly at risk; the needless waste of precious resources; the lack of happiness in the possession of things; and the ratcheting up of the violent behavior as a solution to frustration and alienation, has led to this sort of reexamination.  The amount of free time, some of it unemployed time, is forcing many of us to consider how we shall use this time.  Can free time / unemployment be “useful,” creative, satisfying, fulfilling, while emphasizing that less is more?  

The concluding section of this chapter brings together the community and personal solutions.  This is really what must happen.  There can be no satisfying personal solutions without a supportive context of community, without a vast amount of cooperation and a sense of common endeavor.  We will have to re-create and reshape institutions and traditions which will bind individual persons into real networks of caring and sharing.  The only context for the 21st century is one of cooperation and communality.  Going it alone as isolated and competitive persons is no longer tenable.  Persons need links with others in communities where families, friendships, and mutuality abide.  Free / leisure time is a framework in which people can weave the many strands of relationships into these necessary community tapestries.

Finally, Chapter Eleven briefly summarizes the main themes of the book, especially underlining the importance of the mutation which has occurred in the allocation of time in people’s lives.  This revolution in time is changing what is important and simultaneously projecting what is possible for contemporary society and its citizens.  What we describe and propose in the pages of this book does not purport to be original.  I have relied on many persons who have eloquently and convincingly put forth many of these same arguments.  What I have tried to do is come at this crisis we face in modern industrial society from the perspective of one of its fundamental principles, that of time.  If we can understand what has been happening to us, especially how our individual and collective lives are organized into new time frames, then perhaps this understanding will enable us to confront the critical problems of work, unemployment and underemployment, free / leisure time, poverty, war and peace, inequality and injustice, and the ecological peril our planet faces.  

  1. Leff, Walli F., and Marilyn G. Haft. Time without Work: People Who Are Not Working Tell Their Stories, How They Feel, What They Do, How They Survive. 1st ed. Boston: South End Press, 1983, 195.
  2. Ibid., 66, 68, 122, 124, 220.
  3. Naisbitt, John. Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. New York: Warner Books, 1982.
  4. Bell, Daniel. The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. Special anniversary ed. New York: Basic Books, 1999.
  5. Rifkin, Jeremy. Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History. 1st ed. New York: H. Holt, 1987, 4.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ziegler, Jean. Le Pouvoir Africain. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1971, 86.
  8. Bellah, Robert N., ed. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. 1st Perennial Library ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  9. Yankelovich, Daniel. New Rules, Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1981.
  10. Wachtel, Paul L. The Poverty of Affluence: A Psychological Portrait of the American Way of Life. Philadelphia: Gabriola Island : New Society Publishers, 1989.
  11. Cousins, Norman. “Take Time to Think.” The Christian Science Monitor, September 26, 1989, 18.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Eitzen, D. Stanley, and Maxine Baca Zinn. Social Problems. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1989, 106.