Idle Theory Busy and Idle Psychology

Busy and idle people are likely to think and act in very different ways, form opinions in different ways, and regard people, wealth, and possessions in very different ways.

The following remarks are generalisations. Although idle people have plenty of time in which to think if they wish to, they may decline to do so. And although busy people have little time in which to think, they may think intensively in what little time they have.

Strictly speaking, nobody ever 'has' any time, in the sense of possessing it as they may possess some object. Time flows like a river, and does not stand still. It slips through one's fingers as one tries to take hold of it and possess it. It might be better to say that idle time is available to idle people in ways it is unavailable to busy people.

Busy people, with little idle time available to them, will generally not know what to do with it when they find themselves idle. In idle time, they will tend to become bored. They will often set out to 'kill time'. Or else they may structure their idle time as their work time is structured, and thus convert idle time into a simulacrum of working time, complete with schedules, deadlines, quotas, etc.

Idle people, with much idle time on their hands, rapidly learn that there are infinite possibilities to such idle time. They will use their idle time to read, think, talk, experiment, adventure. Idle people will seldom be bored.

Busy people are, by definition, people who are working for their own maintenance and survival. Thus busy people are necessarily self-centred or selfish to the extent that they are busy. It is only in their idle time that anyone can act altruistically. Busy people with little idle time will seldom act altruistically.

Idle people do little work for their maintenance and survival. Thus idle people are mostly not self-centred or selfish. Idle people are perfectly capable of acting altruistically, and may often do so.

Idle people have time to personally consider matters of concern to them, and form their own opinions. Thus idle people are likely to be independent-minded - and non-conformist.

Busy people don't have time to personally consider such matters, and are consequently unable to form their own opinions about them. So they rely on other people's opinions. Sometimes they rely on acknowledged authorities. In the absence of such authorities, their opinions on any matter tend to be something like the average of all the opinions they encounter. Busy people will tend to be social conformists.

Busy people, whose opinions are a reflection of all the opinions they encounter, are easily propagandised - where propaganda involves generating many expressions of the same opinion. Authoritarian states will try to keep their populations as busy as possible, so as to ensure maximum conformity.

Idle people will generally only hold independent points of view on those matters which they have considered sufficiently. But where idle people have not been able to form their own opinions on some matter or other, their opinions will tend to be shaped in the same way as busy people's.

Idle people tend to see through their own eyes, and trust their own opinion. Busy people tend to see through the eyes of other people, trusting the opinions of others rather than their own opinions, because this is how their opinions are formed.

Seeing the world as other people see it, busy people will generally be greatly concerned with how they themselves are regarded by others. They value themselves to the extent that others value them. And since what others see of them is their visible appearance, and their visible possessions, they will tend to enhance their perceived worth by looking as strong and healthy as possible, and owning as much as possible. A man's idleness, by contrast, is not a visible asset. And so busy people, in search of the approval of others, will act to increase their visible possessions rather their invisible idleness.

Busy people tend to follow fashions of which others approve. Busy people tend to desire status or fame - which is the approval of others. Busy people will tend to be concerned with superficial appearances rather than with underlying reality.

Idle people, who form their own opinions rather than follow the opinions of others, will generally be more concerned with their own opinion of themselves rather than those of other people.

Idle people's opinions will tend to be flexible, generally because their independence of mind soon teaches them to change their minds. Idle people will be open to rational debate, and will often be prepared to change their minds very quickly.

Busy people's opinions will tend to be dogmatic. Since their opinions are those of other people, or of authority figures, they will generally not have argued over these opinions, and will be unable to rationally defend them. And since their opinions have not been generated through rational argument, they will generally not be swayed by rational argument. Busy people's opinions will generally only change slowly with those of the society around them.

Busy people, who value the opinions of other people more than their own, tend to value themselves as others value them. And for the most part, while people value their own lives for the idle time available in such lives, they mainly value others for the work that they do. So busy people, who value the opinions of other people, will value themselves for the work that they do, rather than the little idle time that they enjoy.

So busy people will hold themselves in esteem to the extent that they are regarded - and consequently regard themselves - as busy, hard-working contributors to society. And they will correspondingly regard themselves as valueless and useless to the extent that they are unable to work and contribute. [related: Work ethic]

Idle people, who value their own opinion above that of other people, will mostly not value their lives for the work they do, but for the idle time they enjoy.

A busy life is an insecure life. Life is only secure to the extent that it is idle, because idle time provides a buffer or cushion against misfortune. In a time of difficulty, idle people can always become busier - even a lot busier. But in a time of difficulty, busy people have little or no cushion against misfortune. And so busy people are likely to be constantly insecure and anxious, living on the brink of disaster.

The actual experience of misfortune will generally come in the form of not having something - like food, or shelter, or money. And so, instead of building up a buffer of idle time, insecure busy people will tend to build up a buffer or cushion of material possessions. They will want big houses, with well-stocked larders and freezers, and well-filled wallets. But however great a pile of material possessions they accrue, it can never be enough. And so, even when they have grown as rich as Croesus, they will keep on heaping up material wealth.

Avarice or greed is not some natural human propensity. It is ultimately driven by chronic insecurity and anxiety and fear.

Busy people will tend to collect possessions. They will tend to want to own objects, and perhaps even own people, or own ideas. Idle people will tend to regard possessions as impediments and obstacles. They will tend to easily give away what they own, or share whatever they possess.

Busy people will tend to measure their worth in the material things they possess. Idle people will tend to measure their worth in their degree of freedom, their idleness.

'Nervous breakdown' may well be what happens to people who have too much to think about, and too little time in which to think about it. Human minds are not capable of infinitely rapid thought, and so cannot process too many problems at once. Faced with too many problems all at once, they are likely to try jump from one unsolved problem to the next, going round and round in circles, faster and faster, until they grind to a complete halt.

If, in our increasingly busy world, people 'burn out' or 'break down', it is most likely that they have run out of time in which to think. This isn't strictly a psychological problem. It's a time allocation problem. And it is a problem which the busiest people are most likely to face. If so, the solution does not lie in drugs or therapies, but in giving such people the time to think.

The above essay is closely related to another, earlier essay which argues along similar lines, although in slightly different directions. In both cases, the principal argument is that people's attitudes and behaviours are largely determined by their degree of idleness, and not by some sort of inherent, genetically-determined, character traits. Greed, selfishness, conformity, violence, and the like, are regarded as consequences of degrees of social idleness.

However, it is perfectly possible that once people have acquired a set of attitudes and behaviours, they will find it difficult, perhaps impossible, to change these ingrained attitudes should their circumstances change. Thus selfish, greedy, conformist busy people may become selfish, greedy, conformist idle people. And unselfish, non-materialistic, non-conformist idle people may become unselfish, non-materialistic, non-conformist busy people.

But regardless of such exceptions (and possibly many others), the general argument is that it is for the most part the conditions of human life that shape human mind, rather than human mind that shapes the conditions of human life. That is, it is not human psychology that primarily determines human society. And consequently any attempt to change human society by attempting to change human psychology - through indoctrination, law, psychoanalysis, or drug therapy - will regularly fail.

Another way of putting this is simply to say that there is nothing wrong with human mind, any more than there is anything wrong with human hands or human eyes. Instead what is always missing is human knowledge, or human understanding. Humans - even the most penetrating scientists - are profoundly ignorant about almost everything. And such ignorance is not psychological in its origin.  

Idle Theory

Author: Chris Davis
First created: May 2007
Last edited: