The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Lazy V.S. Uninterested & Quiet Quitting

Being lazy and being uninterested are two different things. When I was a kid I was usually reluctant to do most farm work, because it was boring, but would go for 10 miles runs or long runs, or read multiple books in a day (which many people who love farm work would hate doing.)

Most of what passes for lazy is uninterested in drag.

The old maxim: “work is what you wouldn’t do for free” is part of it, but there are four types of activities on this spectrum.

  1. “I enjoy doing it for itself and would do it even if I wasn’t getting anything from doing it.”
  2. “I enjoy it, but wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t getting anything from doing it.”
  3. “I don’t enjoy it or dislike it, but I’m willing to do it because I’m getting something from it.”
  4. “I don’t enjoy it or dislike it, and I won’t do it even if I get something from it absent coercion.”

One is your hobbies, vacations and so on. Two is work you like, which doesn’t also fall into the hobby category. Three is most people’s jobs. Four is things you do because if you don’t do it something bad will happen, usually because someone else will make it happen.

When I was a kid most (not all) farm work fell into category four, and most of the rest fell into category 3. I didn’t ever get paid for any of it, but I used to spend some holidays on an Uncle’s farm, and I liked him, and we’d do the farm work then go do something fun. I was getting something from it.

Most of my jobs have been in category 3: I did them because I needed the money. I’m not working construction or baking or being a bike courier, or painting houses or doing life-insurance back-end administration if someone doesn’t pay me.

Blogging and writing fluctuates between category 2 and 1. Some of it I’d have done (or do) even if I wasn’t getting paid , but some falls into “this pays my bills and I enjoy it, but I wouldn’t write this article if it wasn’t my job.” From about 2004-early 2009 the category 2 blogging also fell into “getting something for it” in the sense that I believed in the Netroots, and that we might get enough political power or influence to make good things happen politically. I would never have worked 70-80 hour weeks at FireDogLake just for the money (which was liveable, but only just), I did it because I believed in the mission and when it became clear just how awful Obama was and that the Netroots was falling apart, I quit, because I hadn’t been doing it mostly for the money.

I’m not entirely sure that laziness exists much. So-called “Quiet Quitting”, where workers refuse to stay late or do extra work is just enforcement of what moderns call “boundaries”, and classifying work as category 3. “I’m not doing more work than you pay me for, because I don’t enjoy it.” High wage workers understand that implicit to their high pay is doing more than is “on spec”, but doing more as a low paid worker, unless you think there’s a chance of meaningful promotions and wages is stupid.

When the people at or near the top get a 100x what the people in the middle get, and 200x what the people at the bottom get, and when most people know they’re never getting to the top and most won’t even get to the middle, and when they don’t share in profits, why should they work hard at jobs they don’t enjoy, or wouldn’t do for free?

I had a friend who, for years, had a rule that he wouldn’t do anything for money he wouldn’t do for free. It eventually broke down because if he’d kept the rule he’d have wound up homeless and then dead. His problem wasn’t super-fussiness, he wanted to do jobs that helped people and used his skills, but our society pays best for doing things that don’t help people. Since helping people is sort of an intrinsic reward (you get to feel good about yourself), we think people should do that form almost nothing, or nothing.

The weird thing is that getting people to do what they enjoy means they do more and better work, and that helping people has strong (econo speak) positive externalities. The more your society is focused on doing things that actually help others in some way, the better it is.

But our society concentrates on negative sum games (we are doing more harm than good, overall) and uses money primarily as coercion, rather than using it to allow people to do good things that they want to do, or are at least willing to do.

I don’t like farm work, but I have known many people who love it and do it for almost no money because they want to be farmers. We take advantage of that sort of impulse, in nurses and care workers and increasingly in teachers. Things that are good are done for cheap, and by less people than want to or than we need doing them, so that we can pay other people well to do things that are bad.

What you want to do absent excessive compensation or e is often a good guide for what you should be doing (not always) is often a good guide not only to what is good for you, but what is good for society and we need more of it, not less.

Many people think this means that important things that need to be done like garbage collection, janitorial labor and sewage work wouldn’t get done, but when Graeber did his research for “Bullshit Jobs” he found many people actually preferred that work because it felt useful, even when it paid less. I recently talked to a woman who works for a real-estate company which runs low-end housing. She used to make much, much more working for high end hotels, but she prefers this, because it feels like she’s helping people. “I’d rather clean someone’s shitty toilet after they’ve moved out than do any more of that bullshit.”

Incentives work, but they work best at getting people to do things which shouldn’t be done in the first place.



Solutions: Cash, The Unbanked, and Cashless Stores


Understanding and Surviving the Post-Prosperity Era


  1. Joan

    I felt this way about my food service job: at least I was feeding people. And in my case it wasn’t terrible stuff; I think the joy would be taken away if I were handing out really bad-for-you food. From that experience I learned that I would totally try to open a small-business bakery if it were ever feasible, but I don’t anticipate that happening in my lifetime. And in the end, the job had such terrible conditions (hard floor, no rubber mats, not allowed to sit down or lean against the counters, no breaks) that I had to quit because it was destroying my health.

  2. Raad

    Very good stuff +999

  3. Willy

    As for all these worker strikes, it’s about time. Whether it was Trump or Biden or Sanders influence over Biden or the timing is only now just right… variables that’ve emboldened strikers, might be worth discussing.

    As for quiet quitting, I was never very good at it. Since perception is reality for most, I never got the jist of the all-important office politics part. Be aware.

    At one place I took it easy performing at just above mediocre yet was being brought along as a special projects guy and potential manager. And with no political connections even.

    At another place which was under severe competitive stress from spinoff companies, with a public network where anybody could know how everybody else was doing, I worked my ass off yet still got railroaded out by bottom feeders along with a half-dozen other top performers. Might’ve been smarter to just lay low there too.

    I think one way to know if management is corrupt is to accurately observe how the poorest performers are being treated. Many poor performers will know exactly where they rate, though usually unconsciously, and will act out with stuff like finding scapegoats and spreading rumors. If they get the boot, you may have ethical management. But if the poor perfs are being catered to, you may have insecure management looking to use bottom feeder machinations to try and eliminate their perceived in-house competition. IOW, a good place to quiet quit, as long as you play their game I suppose.

    I had no idea I was in the same high school class as Jane until recently. It was a big school and we never knew each other. No loss for her, since I was pretty immature and clueless back then. But I did appreciate her legs, which she definitely liked to show off. Enough to make a bishop want to kick out a stain glass window (*rimshot*). I read she ran into some tough times recently, with illness and all, and wonder what she’s up to now.

  4. Trinity

    “Since helping people is sort of an intrinsic reward (you get to feel good about yourself)”

    I think it’s more than feeling good about yourself. It makes what you are doing meaningful, so you also feel good about your place within the greater society. It scales, in other words. At least, that’s what it does for me.

    My short time teaching will always be the best job I ever had as far as feeling really good about what I was doing (and what I was learning). That was around the same time that the elites were making sure teaching had less meaning than it should (standardized tests) and why I bailed. Bad teachers became focused on their statistics instead of teaching, to the detriment of everybody, but especially the students.

  5. GlassHammer

    You know the opposite side of this coin is “quiet firing” where employers don’t outright terminate staff but they refuse to invest in additional training, equipment, facilities, promotions, benefits, etc…

    In both cases the root cause of the issue is the expectation of a low Return on Investment (ROI). Truth be told all successful projects need people to ignore ROI or at least not put it at the absolute forefront of their mind.

  6. sbt42

    TL; DR: I echo Trinity’s sentiments about working in a field as long as you can because there’s meaning for you in it. They couldn’t pay me enough to keep doing the work I did before I became a statistic and started interning at a farm. USA society is becoming smothered in its own garbage and incompetence.

    I recently dropped-out of contemporary society to become a farm intern. Prior to that, I had been doing 15+ years of non-profit training (which fell into category #3, above). The main city where I did this was essentially falling apart at the seams thanks to city officials that really didn’t do anything other than raid the proverbial coffers and hire consultants to complete studies about all the problems facing the city. You know… all the stuff one can do except for make intelligent decisions and take action to solve things.

    I threw a lot of love into that city and the work I did, but ultimately it wasn’t just the city that didn’t provide me with a reason to keep doing the work I did. It was the dominant culture of the US at large. It’s just terrible here, in my opinion. There seem to be no systems in place to provide recompense to those who attempt to raise the tide that lifts all boats.

    Objectively speaking, the organization I worked for was one of the highest-functioning in the metro area. Regardless, continuing to do the same thing and expect conditions to improve was simply impossible in that circumstance.

    So I shifted directions, and now my energies are invested in learning how to provide for myself and a small community when all the dereliction of duty catches up to society at large (well, in all the places it hasn’t already).

    I wonder how many other forthright, able-bodied, legit hard-workers are floundering in a sea of banality and looting, wondering where they can find a society worth working for again. I feel like I made the right choice for myself, but I must admit it feels like a regression of civilization because there’s no working model to emulate. Seems like the only solution provided by those with the ways and means is to literally leave Earth behind and inhabit another planet.

    Sorry if this is so long. I’ve had to think about this a great deal over the past several years.

  7. someofparts

    I once had a decent job that I desperately needed at a time when few other jobs were available. Once I learned the job it turned out that I was expected to lie to customers to help the owners of the company swindle them. Much as I needed that job, I had to quit because helping my bosses rob unsophisticated poor people turned out to be something I could not bring myself to do at any price.

    By contrast, a couple of decades ago I discovered a niche job working at kennels and found that I genuinely enjoy the work. The pay is barely above minimum wage, but it is surprising how easy it has been to be okay with low pay when the work itself is a pleasure. The people who own kennels tend to be unpleasant types, but as long as I spend my work day around the dogs, it doesn’t matter.

    Guess it says a lot about the world I’m living in that literally scooping up piles of dog shit all day is a little slice of heaven compared to associating with other people. (I was going to say ‘other humans’, but realized that this is not accurate. We need to start calling ourselves ‘inhumans’ instead, because that IS accurate.)

  8. NL

    The defining feature of the Western life is that we have no access to agricultural land. We are either owners or workers. When you are a worker, you sell your body or mind to the owners for money, which you then use to buy food and shelter and some times medicine to recharge, rest and recuperate. When the pay is high enough, you have excess resources to marry and have children, and if not, then you don’t have offspring or your ‘family’ life is sporadic and wretched — children out wedlock, welfare assistance. When you have no job, you can’t feed or shelter yourself. The owners provide for some assistant, like unemployment benefits, for a short period of time. If you have a cohesive family, then your family could help — but we are all atomized now (as if on purpose): wives against husbands, parents against grandparents, children against parents — we divorce at the first whim, send our grandparents to elderly houses and kick out our children at 18.

    Before the owners we stand alone as a single person, which is good for the owners but bad for us, but we don’t know that.

    This is the coercive mechanism that forces us to work and lies at the heart of our economy. It was invented in England, where it is known as the enclosure movement. We are so used to it that we take it as natural and always existing. We don’t notice it like fish does not notice water. Or may be we do notice it, it eats us with anxiety and horror and we try to run away from thinking about it to drugs and self-harm…

    So, land ownership is freedom, not fake freedom of selling your body and mind in the rigged marketplace, where your wares, ie, your body and mind, are systematically undervalued, but real freedom..

    My father hated agricultural work and squandered everything, himself dying in poverty and sending me into the same. I know enough (although my knowledge is a bit outdated) to run a farm. From time to time, I look at what is available for sale and never finding anything suitable that I could afford and/or liked. The land has been putrefied to a large extent — mining, fracking, urban sprawl. But maybe one day, I find something useful and restore land ownership to the family…

  9. Joan

    sbt42, I don’t think leaving Earth is an option, but what you’re doing will hopefully be very useful for you later on. Skilled gardeners who already have experience under their belt are going to be critical during food instability with climate change and disruption of long supply lines.

    As for hardworking people not having a genuine outlet in a dysfunctional society, I totally feel you, and you’re not alone. I’ve had to switch my efforts into the direction of self-employment and running a small business that hires people on single-task-based contracts. It’s like society is filled with a sludge that drags on everything, and if I try to get a group of like-minded people working together, we end up knee-deep in mud. For now, best to be as independent as you can, so you can at least rely on your own work ethic. Good luck!

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