In between activities, I write science fiction. In my world, the obstacles to progress are temporarily removed from power. People can actually solve their problems. But that means I have to describe some of those problems and, much harder, come up with some solutions. For example: What would people do if they had more free time?
Our allotted time is all we have, when you think about it. One may pile up wealth and fame while another languishes in a never-ending rut, but they both get about the same length of time. At their funerals, who can actually say which one of them spent their time better or enjoyed it more?
What’s the value of leisure?
In the system we live in, everybody wants more free time. Or at least they say they do, but it isn’t always true. For example, I did a quick study of union grievances at my factory job and found that “overtime” grievances were far and away the most numerous. I assumed it meant that everybody was like me and trying to get out of working longer hours. WRONG! Those grievances were all, every one, about people trying to get more overtime hours!
Normal work weeks in the oil field are 56 hours. But most of my fellow workers would tell me that they tried to get at least one or two “doubles” (16 hour days) every week. I did it myself, whenever I got the chance. What’s the value of leisure measured against time-and-a-half overtime pay?
Increasing Productivity Should Result in More Leisure
If you add up the accumulated productivity as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you will see that the average worker today creates more than four times as much wealth per hour than he did at during World War II. He didn’t get four times as much salary, and he darned sure didn’t get his his working hours reduced to 2 hours/day!
BTW, unions used to demand cuts in working hours as a way of fighting unemployment. “30 [hours] for 40 with no cut in pay” was the slogan of the CIO from around 1938 to around 1957.
But in my sci-fi world, they do reduce working hours and maintain full employment. Or, they can. If people create 4 times as much product, they could and should cut their working hours by a factor of 4. Here’s where I’m having my writing problem: What would they do with their extra time?
Under Today’s System, I Know
Under today’s system of alienation and every-man-for-himself capitalism, people who were only required to work two hours a day would likely sign up for four jobs! Our greed is endless when we’re scared, and workers in America are always scared. The bosses want it that way.
But the world I’m creating is solving problems. It will solve the problem of unemployment by shortening the working day (which we should be doing in the present world, but the bosses won’t let us). It will solve the problem of boredom and what to do with leisure time, too.
There Are Wonderful Examples
I have known people who work at traditional jobs as little as possible. Instead, they spend their time trying to improve the human condition. They are environmentalists, feminists, civil rights activists, socialists, and my neighbor down the street who picks up everybody’s loose trash after the truck goes by. Are they the people of the future? Are they the “new persons” that Che Guevara speculated about?
Compared to the general population, there aren’t very many of them. As far as I know, that type of people didn’t come to dominate Cuba, China, South Africa, or the Soviet Union. Why expect them to dominate here?
So far, the best I’ve come up with is this: revolution is a long process. People make changes, but changes also make people. In my new world, working hours will be shortened at the same time that people are figuring out how to best spend their leisure time. They won’t all have the same answer, but I’m hoping that many of them will take up the cause of improving the human condition. Actually, I’m hoping that real people will start now.