This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008.
I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more
disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe.Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.
Issue #18, 9/15/2006
The Weird Calculus of Self-Reward
"Because I'm Worth It"
Glenn my man, you're going messianic on me.
Leisure is only enjoyable to an individual if it
is earned. People who live in a constant state of
leisure are typically unhappy, unfulfilled sorts
who are constantly wondering what they are
missing. Personally, if I come off a particularly
busy week/month/year I enjoy drinking a beer and
watching a game. I enjoy sitting on a beach
watching the bikinis walk by.
Am I sinning?
If you had said excess leisure is a sin (aka,
sloth) I would have hopped on the train.
Some (including me) would say your philosophy
lacks balance, it lacks a human element. I assume
you will retort "But I don't engage in leisure,
and I feel perfectly balanced."
You are certainly a unique man Glenn, as is
everyone I suppose. You fall under the "Mad
Genius" catagory, one I find fascinating.
Everyone is not you, some need to strike a
different balance than you have to find
fulfillment. Many people are selfish (I know I
sure can be.) but many others who enjoy an
afternoon catnap are not. You could then argue
that God didn't put us on this earth to be
fulfilled, but to do his will. Since you never
referenced God directly other than "sin" I assume
the moral authority you invoke is your own. Thats
fine, but it doesn't carry quite the same clout.
If I work harder during the year so I can enjoy my
weekends or vacation (in any way I may choose to)
am I sinning if it involves a margarita and a palm
tree? Could I be of greater use to humanity if I
spent my vacation in Darfur with refugees? I
suppose I could. But if I do not, is it a sin?
Interesting topic, but I'm not buying it.
My correspondent writes: "If I work harder during
the year so I can enjoy my weekends or vacation
(in any way I may choose to) am I sinning if it
involves a margarita and a palm tree?"
This illustrates the kind of reasoning that I call
"The Weird Calculus of Self-Reward." It can justify
all sorts of inane and wasteful acts.
The reasoning goes like this: I have worked hard
or am a special person; therefore I deserve
to do something inane and wasteful.
This attitude, I contend, is an artificial one
created by advertizing. You have heard this
warped philosophy almost since birth, so you tend
to take it without question, but in reality it is
a distorted worldview intended to sell commercial
products to people who don't need them.
You hear the slogans continuously:
"For all you do, don't you deserve it?"
"It's Miller time!"
My favorite one is: "Sure it costs more, BUT I'M
WORTH IT." This is a clever marketing ploy that
takes one-dollar hair color and sells in for ten
dollars. It panders to the consumer's naturally
low self-esteem. If you don't feel good about
yourself, then buying the right product is
supposed to make you feel better.
I am completely in favor of "Meditation" one of
my five allowed activities in The
Tyranny of Leisure. I believe that after you
have engaged in some intense and involving
activity it is a good idea to take a "time out". It
is vital to your health and balance to sometimes
not engage in intense production but
instead "kick back" by doing nothing or engaging
in some low-level activity that keeps your mind
I have no objection to going to the beach and
watching the bikinis, staying at home and painting
your toenails, or hanging out with people you like and just
chatting. These things aren't really leisure, I
contend, but are Meditation, Education, or
The one thing I strenuously object to is the
notion that you have to consume a product while
kicking back. Do you really have to watch the game or
down some brewskies whilst relaxing? At this
point, you are playing into the advertizer's hand
and sliding into meaningless mind-numbing leisure.
I'm not saying you can't have fun in your spare
time. What I'm saying is that it shouldn't be
meaningless prepackaged "fun" as defined by
An example: I have no objection at all to you
going to Switzerland, a country you have never
visited before, wandering around in some alpine
villages and maybe seeing some places you have
only read about in books. This, to me, would be a
noble vacation. You are educating yourself; you
are meditating; you are not necessarily "wasting
On the other hand, I would strenuously object to
you squandering your vacation on a packaged tour,
where you fly to Mexico, check into a resort
hotel, sit on the beach for a week and drink
margaritas. This is product consumption,
nothing more. Except, perhaps, for a little
Meditation, you will come back from the week on
the beach without having expanded yourself at all.
I'm not saying you have to go to Darfur on your
summer vacation. I'm only saying that everything
you do should be meaningful.
Think about it: The whole notion of "The Beach" is
a creation of media. Prior to the
"Age of Leisure," the beach was just the
transition between land and water. You might go
there to explore and to beachcomb, but you didn't
just "sit." The idea that you should go to the
beach and just sit there all day is an entirely
contrived modern delusion. Advertizing has picked
it up as a symbol of self-indulgence and pummelled
us with it.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoy a stroll on the beach
as much as anyone. As my photos
indicate, I am not opposed to bikini watching. To
me, the beachespecially when occupied by airhead
beachgoersis another fascinating human and
But you're not going to find me "sitting" much on
the beach. I refuse to "tan." Yes, I like to meditate, and I may do
it on the beach, but to me it is no different then
meditating at line at the DMV. I am probably not
going to consume any "product"
therebrewskies or prawns from the barbie.
I'm going to stay at this place as long is it is
interesting to me, and then I will move on.
Moving on, you see, is always much more
interesting to me than just sitting and consuming
Do you know those calendar photos of the perfect
white sandy beach, with a single palm tree leaning
out over a perfect blue ocean? Well, I have been
to one of those beaches, on the island of Kauai.
The calendar photo creates such whistful longing,
but, guess what?, once you actually go there,
there's nothing much to do. You might sit for a
spell, take some photos, and wander up and down
the beach exploring, but after that you lose
interest pretty quick.
The pretty beach was a "product" created by the
calendar folks. To a certain extent, it is an
image that exists only in your mind and that is
impossible attain or retain in real life. After a
week on such a perfect beach, it will seem like a
prison, and you'll be screaming to get back to
The Weird Calculus of Self-Reward is saying, "Here
is a perfect idealized image of some prize. After
how much you have suffered, don't you deserve
What is missing in the calculation is a credible
evaluation of the object being desired.
The advertizing says: "Sure this product costs
ten times more than any comparable product, BUT
I'M WORTH IT." People get so distracted by the "I'm
worth it" part that they don't bother to
evaluate the product itself.
The marketing world is full of this: Take an
ordinary product, package it up as a decadent
self-indulgence, and the suckers will buy it.
After a hard day of manly work at the jobsite,
don't you deserve a Budweiser?
"Why yes, I do!" says the dimwit consumer.
Budweiser has cleverly tied itself into the
natural sense of inferiority we feel about having
to work at the jobsite. This work is not
meaningless drudgery, the advertizer is telling.
It is a noble quest, and here is your reward for
it at the end of the day: a nice cold Bud.
Budweiser has successfully created a mythology for
your otherwise meaningless life, and you have
bought into it.
To me, what you do at work and what you do in your
spare time are completely separate events. There
is no "reward" connection between the two, except
in you own deluded mind.
Your work is either meaningful or it isn't. If it
doesn't happen to be meaningful, that doesn't give
you license to continue doing stupid things in
your free time.
You "free time" the time when you are not
working for money is also either meaningful
or not. Just because you are not required to make
money at the moment does not give you license to
waste what little free time you have.
My loyal reader writes: "You could then argue
that God didn't put us on this earth to be
fulfilled, but to do his will."
Ah, but what is His will? It seems to me that if
there is a God, He would expect you to make the
most of the one gift He has given you: your time
I don't think He wants to look down to see you
squandering your gift with a couple of brewskies
in front of the game.