(From YouTube):

Stuart Whatley [00:00:00]:
And then the word leisure itself comes from Lisa, which just means, like liberty, like freedom. So that's what I was really getting at, is that it's the freedom that you're working towards. And so a leisure ethic, then, know, how do you make the best use of that kind of freedom?

Dan Riley [00:00:22]:
Stuart, thanks so much for doing this. I mentioned this before we kicked this off, that I absolutely loved your essay when I came across it about six months ago or so. Welcome to the show. It's great to meet you.

Stuart Whatley [00:00:33]:
Thanks for having me. You, too.

Dan Riley [00:00:35]:
My pleasure, man. So the title of the essay we're going to talk about today is toward a leisure ethic. And I thought I might just start with getting both your interest in that idea, a leisure ethic. And if we could, for the audience, maybe give a little bit of background as to what a leisure ethic has meant in history. I know in the essay you go into some detail about what that idea has been in various civilizations in history, but I wanted to put that question to you to start, and then we can get things going.

Stuart Whatley [00:01:13]:
Yeah. So the leisure ethic, most people will probably see it as being kind of a play on the work ethic. But I guess the point I was trying to make is that the leisure ethic kind of came first. It wasn't necessarily called that, but until there was the protestant work ethic, the leisure ethic was just assumed. And so by that, I mean, know, leisure was the whole point of what you're working for. Or if you were in a position of the philosophers, like Aristotle and all of the thinkers that I cover, it was just assumed, know, you wouldn't want to spend your life working or in toil. And we can get into this. But I mean, within these discussions, there's always like, kind of, you can get into semantic debates.

Stuart Whatley [00:02:06]:
Some people like the word leisure, some people like idleness. Some people, you can get into what work really means, what it doesn't. For the Greeks, leisure was called scolia and business or work was called a scolia. And so a means, it's like non in English. So, like non work. The concept of work was derived from leisure. It was like, oh, we don't have leisure, we're working. And same with Latin, with ODM, and negotiate, which we get like the word negotiating in business.

Stuart Whatley [00:02:41]:
And so you can see the derivative nature of it, where work stems off of leisure in the language. And then the word leisure itself comes from lisair, which just means, like liberty, like freedom. So that's what I was really getting at, is that it's the freedom that you're working towards. And so a leisure ethic, then know, how do you make the best use of that kind of freedom? And my kind of general thesis is that a lot of people, and I should add that I'm only talking about wealthy societies like the United States, but affluent societies. But a lot of people, I think, in affluent societies are, for back of a better word, wasting their time both in work and in leisure. And these kind of things fuel each other, which we can get into. The leisure ethic is how to fix that, what to do with limited time honors and figuring out what time well spent is.

Dan Riley [00:03:46]:
Yeah, I know you go into, and I'm guessing you have gotten this feedback, that it's difficult to be an american and read an essay like that and not have the knee jerk reaction that you are calling for laziness.

Stuart Whatley [00:04:00]:

Dan Riley [00:04:01]:
And I think in reading the essay, that clearly is not your intention. But I want to give you an opportunity to speak to that response that you mentioned already, the Protestant Reformation and the protestant work ethic, which I want to talk to a little bit in the conversation. But how do you respond to that criticism that once your worldly necessities and requirements have been met, leisure is just going to lead people to sitting on a couch all day doing nothing, purposeless meaninglessness, et cetera.

Stuart Whatley [00:04:37]:
Yeah. So you do have that argument kind of in the literature, in the history essays, like in praise of idleness. Marx's stepson, Paula far had kind of a satirical piece by that title. And I think Brett Russell also has something along the same lines. I forget the exact title. People can look it up. But, yeah, a lot of it comes down to just context. This is what I was getting at with the semantic debate.

Stuart Whatley [00:05:12]:
But if you're a professional athlete, you're playing a sport, but it's your job. At the same time, some people might, if they had freedom from work, some people might still choose to be a woodworker, build their own furniture or something. It could be like, what's the book? Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. That's fine. So I'm not advocating laziness. However, I would say that I'm not necessarily against it either. A big part of what I'm getting at with the whole, the fact that we're in affluent societies is that there will come a time, even if we're not quite there yet. It's worth looking ahead to a time when all of our concepts about laziness and work need to collapse.

Stuart Whatley [00:06:09]:
Because the term that academics, especially on the left use is post scarcity. But at a certain point, if you are in a post scarcity situation, there's no longer such thing as a free rider problem or any of that. And so the idea of laziness itself becomes kind of meaningless, at least in how it's commonly understood, because it has a moral valence to it. But all that said, the leisure ethic I'm talking about would generally recommend against laziness. It would recommend against like, a passivity of just kind of being a couch potato, basically. And that's one of the critiques I get into in that piece, but also in other ones, which is the whole model of leisure that we've created today. Not even aspirationally, is one where we're passive kind of consumers of know. If you're just endlessly doom scrolling on Twitter, we're passive to just algorithms.

Stuart Whatley [00:07:11]:
And so generally, if you go all the way back to Aristotle, like I do in the piece, none of them would recommend laziness, as we would call it. They would say, if you have the freedom to do so, you should read, debate, learn about the world, et cetera, et cetera. Even the ones who are most kind of famously associated with laziness, which is the Epicureans, weren't really, I mean, their whole point was to achieve tranquility, but they put the most pride on just like friendship, which is like basically hanging out with friends. And in a modern context, what they were going at was almost kind of like, it's like being in college again, but without any exams, no responsibility, but debating, doing philosophy, but being with friends, although they actually weren't even into booze as much as people think. But that's another matter. But, yeah, so that is a common critique, though, and that's because the whole project of trying to come up with a leisure, I think, just flies right totally in the face of our culture that's always going to get that.

Dan Riley [00:08:31]:
It's one of, I think, the reasons why I was so captivated by the ideas in it. It just really spoke to me when I was reading it. And it reminded me of other comments that some more public thinkers have alluded to, I think in some of their writing and speaking, I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that modern addictions are rampant in the US and around the world. You just mentioned doom scrolling on twitter. I think that's a common problem with a lot of people that is finally getting some recognition and the loneliness that I hope to do some episodes on this in the future. But I think that a lot of people in their little tech silos are often feeling very isolated these days. And the ideas in your essays seem to provide a potential alternative perspective and value set that might be worth considering for, especially, as you noted, people who are living in very wealthy societies where their concerns are, I'm sure, manifold, but they're not necessarily. Where am I going to get my next meal from? I want to get into a little bit more about the history here, and you seem to be the perfect person to speak to about this, where for us to learn more about how the great thinkers of history and other societies before the protestant reformation occurred, how they thought about work and leisure.

Dan Riley [00:10:05]:
And there are some quotes that you give in the essay that I want to read out a little bit later. But if we could give a little bit of time to just giving more of some space to a bit of a history lesson to how civilizations, some civilizations, had viewed the difference between work and leisure and really the point of work in the past.

Stuart Whatley [00:10:28]:
Yeah, well, to put it bluntly, for most of history, work was kind of looked down upon because it was the stuff of slavery. You had slaves. And so I'm obviously not advocating that, but it does show. So there's a really interesting passage in Aristotle where he envisions automation. He says, like, if we had machines that could do everything, and so you can sub in the position of people who were in a position to think and write, which was always the leisure class, as it used to be called throughout history. You can sub in their position for our own, if you just sub in machines for slavery, for example. But the whole point is that you have some mechanism that's taking care of necessities, the means of. Yeah, you almost get Alice Huxley's perennial philosophy.

Stuart Whatley [00:11:34]:
Leisure is kind of the perennial thing across. You have it like in the hebrew tradition, Genesis, I think, book two. Basically, after they ate the apple, God says, from now on, you will have to get bread by the sweat of your brow. It's basically work as a punishment for original sin, and it just goes all the way down from there. All of the Greeks had their. It was just taken for granted, basically, that toil is the stuff of slaves. Leisure is where man elevates himself above the other animals through reason. You get a slightly different tone with the latin world, with the Romans, like, Cicero was not a fan of the Epicureans, but most of that is because he is driven not by work, as we would call it, but by a public spiritedness.

Stuart Whatley [00:12:30]:
He's a statesman, so he saw it as a duty to be active in public life, which is fine. And again, not the same as just being a slave to the office. The christian tradition just kind of recreate. I mean, a lot of that's recreated and turn. They take the pagan and they make it christian, but they still the same thing. Augustine, Aquinas, all were basically just building off. Well, especially not Augustine. Aquinas was building off of Aristotle directly, but Augustine had his own leisure ethic, where he said, we should do that if we know we should be in leisure, if we can, because that's where you contemplate God.

Stuart Whatley [00:13:13]:
So it's the same principle as Aristotle. We should seek to contemplate the world, and leisure is where you do that for christians. You contemplate God, but same principle. And then it goes up until. So Montaigne is kind of the last figure before the industrial revolution, and locke and everyone kind of ushers in the world we know today. But Montaigne was very much an epicurean, said all the same things. He was like a mayor, basically a magistrate in Bordeaux in the 15 hundreds, and quit his job, as you would say, at age 38, and retired to his house. Sometimes you see it written as a castle, but if you look it up, it's not a castle, it's like a cottage.

Stuart Whatley [00:14:02]:
But anyways, he spent years writing the essays, inventing the art of the essay, and writing, if you get the collected works, it's like 1300 pages. And so he wasn't lazy. That's not lazy. He's produced a lot of output, but he also did what he wanted when he wanted. He was free and he had the means to do so. But the idea is that in an affluent society, eventually more and more people would have the means to have more and more of that kind of lifestyle. And so Montaigne is a good example of what you can do with it. Mean, he had a bookish life.

Stuart Whatley [00:14:41]:
But again, you don't have to be a bookish. Not everyone has to be a philosopher. That's just what you get through history, is you get philosophers saying it. So they always, of course, pick philosophy as the ideal. But I take a more expansive view of it, basically, where if you could do anything, what would you do? Where you're truly free from algorithms or influences or the quest for prestige or anything, what do you genuinely just like to do? That's what they would say.

Dan Riley [00:15:17]:
I don't know if you agree with this, but in my experience living in this country, I think there are many people that I have come across who I feel like if they indicated that the goal of their life was to free themselves from toil and to get into a place where they basically had control over their time and energy. Getting out of the rat race, getting out of corporate life, getting out of the demands of economic production. That admission, I think there is a fear for many people that that would be met with scorn and would result in some form of shame. That admitting that you don't like the system, the system is exhausting. And doing work that you don't particularly care about, making widgets your entire life, there's something soul destroying about that endeavor. And I guess I would ask you, why do you think in our culture, that is so commonplace, that reluctance to admit that, that reluctance to have an open desire to rid yourself of the rat race?

Stuart Whatley [00:16:43]:
Yeah. Well, first of all, as you say, the word shame is a good one, because what you risk when you say it, when you say, I'm checking out, I'm getting off the train, you kind of make them feel shame too, because they have to then question, like, wait a minute, what am I doing? Why do I identify with my job so much? You get them questioning themselves, but you also get it just because, as I mentioned, this holdover from the era of the work ethic is the term contributing to society. Actually, this brings me back to another point about laziness. So a good counter to this is you cannot simply assume that by going to a job, any job, that you are contributing to society. And you can't assume that by working, you are actually making the world better than if you were just simply doing nothing. There's a perfectly good argument to make that a couch potato who won the lottery, or even who's drawing social benefits, has done less damage to the world than plenty of tech executives. Like, I don't know what people's views on Mark Zuckerberg is, but I like to use them as an example. People like this, or even, if you want, even just non controversial, like tobacco executives for previous generation, those people going to the office and working every day, we're not contributing to society.

Stuart Whatley [00:18:22]:
And so this whole assumption that work is always contributing is bullshit. And in fact, I would say that the scope of, if you look at everything from advertising to social media to finance to lots of industries, you can start broadening the scope pretty widely to say who's really contributing and who isn't. And then you can also look at the fact that people who are contributing aren't even really valued when you get into all the care work and what we pay teachers. So I think at the whole, I know that these are what everyone thinks. I even think them. This is ideology at work. But as soon as you start kind of digging into it, none of these assumptions really stand up. But, yeah, so when you kind of reject it, you get this whole class especially.

Stuart Whatley [00:19:15]:
I mean, honestly, the more educated, the worse it is. You get people graduating from, like, Yale and going to Time magazine had something recently about millennials who demanding purpose, as they call it, from work. And then the example they list is a recent graduate who's happy that she found purpose working for a yogurt company that is committed to making its supply chain more sustainable. And if that's your meaning in life, then it seems like an impoverished search for meaning to me. But people don't like to be told that you're not going to make friends telling them that maybe they'll think about it and come back and be like, oh, yeah, you had a point, but people generally, they're going to bristle at those kind of arguments. And that's always been the case. But I do think the project of trying to make a leisure ethic, trying to make leisure more available to more people and instill a concept of a leisure ethic does have to be cultural. You're not going to do it through policy.

Stuart Whatley [00:20:19]:
So it does have to start by changing minds slowly, incrementally, by just calling out some of the false assumptions that we make.

Dan Riley [00:20:30]:
I want to read out a long ish quote, and so bear with me, but this, I thought, summarized some of the major points in the essay and would love to read it and then get your response. And this is from you. Quote what is time well spent? Philosophers and social critics have long pondered variations of that question and offered rather consistent insights over time, even across radically different eras. Many have extolled a leisure ethic, and none would say that time well spent lies in ambitious careerism or in drifting on a sea of addictive content. Most would agree that flourishing in time consists of free, active, thoughtful engagement with the world in accordance with one's nature. Such flourishing can best be achieved in activities pursued for their own sake during time that is truly one's own. To the classical greek philosophers, who generally had the luxury of knowing what true leisure felt like, time was best spent freely developing one's own faculties, observing the world, and contemplating the universe. Hence, and I'm going to butcher this.

Dan Riley [00:21:37]:
In the theatus, Plato draws a distinction between a lawyer orator representing work and a philosopher representing leisure. Both use knowledge, but while the philosopher lives for knowledge itself, the lawyer orator values it primarily as a tool for achieving some other end. The lawyer orator's time and intelligence are committed to a serval art. When he wakes up in the morning, everything he does is in the service of his clients, demands his own ambition and some other insatiable appetite. He lives a life of means with no ends. I don't know if you have any comments on that, but I wanted to read that out loud.

Stuart Whatley [00:22:19]:
Yeah. The last sentence is where I fall on kind of defining what a leisure ethic would mean. So the work ethic, with its puritan roots, says almost the opposite. It says you should work for its own sake. And so the origins, like in Calvinism, the idea is that you work nonstop your whole life to prove to yourself that you are among the elect, destined for heaven. And you do so within a calling, which means it's what God called you to do, which means it's not what you chose to do or necessarily would have chosen to do. And so the whole thing is the opposite of what I'm saying. And so what I'm saying boils down to, like, it's kind of a cliche, but this whole idea of, do you live to work or work to live.

Stuart Whatley [00:23:22]:
Most of us would say one thing, but we lead lives where we're doing the opposite. Most of us would say that I don't live to work, but most of us do, in fact, work. Now I butchered it. Most of us would say that we want to work to live, but most of us don't. We end up living to work, partly because you don't really have a choice. Five days a week, 40 hours minimum. For most people. Most people, it's more.

Stuart Whatley [00:23:56]:
And then this isn't like a punching the clock type situation for most people. It follows you home either through emails or just, it's in your head. You're thinking about like, oh, I'm so mad about that meeting, or I have this meeting coming up and et cetera, et cetera. So it takes over your whole life. And that's why people find these little escapes. And just like, binging tv or Zoom scrolling or Instagram or whatever, and none of those things are ultimately satisfying because they're kind of like just scratching itches or pursuing insatiable needs. So what I'm getting at with the Plato reference is, is this end means distinction. And, like, a good example, when you find this when you have kids, it's like the perfect example.

Stuart Whatley [00:24:45]:
It's like when you have a kid, the things you're doing for them, they are the end in themselves. You do stuff instrumentally. Like, you want to prepare them eventually for college or whatever, but when they're young, you literally just, like, they're the end. Spending time with them or whatever is fulfilling for its own sake. You're not hanging out with them and having fun at the playground for any other reason than that moment. And so that's like a good, just real world example. What do people really like to do? Most people rarely even get a chance to think about that because of how much work takes over. So end means distinction is what I'm getting at.

Stuart Whatley [00:25:34]:
And you get this kind of religious secular breakdown here, but it doesn't really matter in the end. So, like, religious people would say that it's all for God in the next life, which is fine if that's what you believe. I just kind of reverse it. So you have, like, Pascal's wager, where you're better off just believing in God, because if you're wrong, then you're screwed. I kind of flip it, and I would call it like, epicurious's wager, where if you only have one life, how do you really want to spend it? Either one gets you back to. Neither one encourages you to dedicate yourself to the office. Right? Either you're in leisure drawing closer to God, or you're in leisure doing whatever you want to do. But both would reject work.

Stuart Whatley [00:26:26]:
And that's where I kind of see this big tent coalition that could be built between religious people and secular people. And left and right, it's this kind of forgotten common humanity, at least not to be too aspirational, but eventually you could get there.

Dan Riley [00:26:47]:
I can just hear people listening to this conversation and saying, that's easy for you to say. And I know you have kids, but someone could listen to this and criticize this conversation and say, I have kids. I have college to save for. I have bills to pay. I have a mortgage to pay for. I'm sure this is a lot of the feedback you get when you bring up these ideas to other people that life is expensive. And in order to pay for a modern life, it requires a decent amount of toil and potentially day in and day out work and effort until your kids are at least through college. How do you respond to that?

Stuart Whatley [00:27:30]:

Dan Riley [00:27:30]:
The devil is really in the details here, and I'd love to hear how this has influenced how you spend your time and spend your money and think about those issues that people might bring up.

Stuart Whatley [00:27:42]:
Yeah, I try not to get too self helpy, but I will in this case, because it's useful. The first step is not to just tell everyone to quit. Like, I'm not telling anyone to quit their job. The first step is just to be more thoughtful about how you spend the free time that you do have. And everyone knows the experience of getting lost just an hour on Instagram or something and then being like, oh, wow, it's 05:00 already. I just lost an hour that I don't even remember what I was looking at. So that's just the first step. But the second step is also the same kind of anti consumerist sentiment that you would get from everyone, from the stoics to the epicureans to plenty of people today.

Stuart Whatley [00:28:37]:
But again, to be more thoughtful about what you're spending your money on. I didn't do this when I was younger, but now that I'm in my late 30s, I'm super committed to saving and putting as much stuff into the market or whatever as possible, to retire as early as possible. And so I'm not very good at it. Still working on that. But again, an Amazon doesn't make this easy. But thinking about what you're really spending your money on, there's like a saying that people, you don't get rich by how much you make, it's by how much you save, right? And so if your income doubles and you just double the size of your house, then you haven't gone anywhere in terms of what we're talking about. And I'm not saying these things don't matter. I do think that's like a bullshit argument you run into is where money doesn't matter.

Stuart Whatley [00:29:36]:
It does. I don't accept that claim at all. There's nothing. Financial stress and anxiety is like the ultimate just killer of the type of tranquility like the epicureans are talking about. It's like 24/7 around the clock lack of tranquility. So you're not going to have any kind of leisure ethic under those conditions. So I totally get that. So in terms of broader changes, what I would say is you start small.

Stuart Whatley [00:30:10]:
There's a kind of growing movement around the four day work week and there's studies being piloted with corporations that are trying it and checking their productivity stats and their work well being and everything. That's a great place to start. Let's see what happens with those. There's all these alternate metrics beyond GDP growth for like, I think the Greens in the UK or somewhere have proposed like a free time index as part of how you assess the macroeconomic policy outcomes. All of these are interesting ideas. I'm not necessarily advocating any of them because they need to be tested, but to see kind of what happens, you're getting the same thing with, like, Ubi. Everyone used to think it would just make everyone alcoholic gamblers, but pilots. Studies have shown that that's not really what happens.

Stuart Whatley [00:31:11]:
I think the first step is to be more thoughtful about your own life, but also kind of start changing the culture. And you can see the difference between the US and Europe. In France or Spain, it's a different culture towards work and that matters. Employers cannot dare demand the things of workers there that they do here. There's laws in France against emailing after, like, 05:00 p.m., again, I'm not endorsing any of these specific measures because some of them might, you got to see how they work out. But these cultural changes matter, and over time, they could matter more and more. But I do think it has to be gradual. I'm not, never going to call for a revolution or for everyone to quit their job.

Dan Riley [00:31:55]:
Yeah, a couple of things come to mind just during this is, you know, I'm sure you've heard the Kurt Vonnegut line, which is one of my favorite quotes, where he's at some billionaires party and they're talking about all of the beautiful things in this house. And Vonnegut says to a friend, yeah, but I have something that he'll never have, which the friend says, what is that? And he says, enough, which has always stuck with me. And then another line or idea that has always stuck with me as well, about what to do once. If at some point you have won your financial freedom, what to do next. And I think that is a real struggle for some people that I have known who have been able to achieve that and aren't quite sure what to do. It's such a shift in how they've been oriented for so long. I mean, typically, if you're on the younger side and have achieved that, it's probably because you are type a extremely hardworking and have probably been that way for decades. And there's a quote that Naval Ravikant said that what to do once you have reached that, his response to that was art, and he defined art as that which was worth doing for its own sake, which I think you allude to a lot in your essay about achieving.

Dan Riley [00:33:19]:
I want to read one more quote from your essay, and I would love to get your feedback on this as well. And this is not quite as long as the first one, but a couple of paragraphs and this is from you. Quote, there are common threads running through these expressions of the leisure ethic. For starters, a society with a leisure ethic would systematically deprioritize work, regarding it merely as something to be endured and busyness for the sake of busyness, as something to be pitied or scorned. Once the necessities of life were attended to, those with a leisure ethic would occupy their time doing things they both wanted to do and would not regret having done upon later reflection. For most people, an honest deathbed reckoning would return to long held truths common to most philosophical and religious traditions. A life devoted to feeding insatiable desires for wealth, status, success, followers, for example, will always ultimately disappoint. Indeed, most previous generations would have considered such an existence pathological.

Dan Riley [00:34:31]:
Insatiable desires are literally unfulfilling by dint of their being insatiable. Moderation is key. Quote, taking advantage of fortune's gifts, but not becoming their slave. I don't know if you have any feedback on that, but that was another section I wanted to read out for you.

Stuart Whatley [00:34:49]:
Yeah, I think that last line, especially, some of those are kind of drawing on the stoics, but others are drawing on the Epicureans. But again, to go back to what you said about people who type a, types who don't know what to do with themselves, to start there. So this is what Aristotle means when he talks about, you know, critics would just say, oh, he's talking about the fact that he has slaves. That's not what he's talking about. He's talking about the ability to be alone with yourself without anyone giving you any guidance on what to do, basically. And he was a famous taxonomist, basically, not taxonomous. But he taximized. He went out in nature and saw like, this fish is different from this fish.

Stuart Whatley [00:35:38]:
He's, like the first biologist in many ways. And so, again, this gets back to the laziness point, too. He was not lazy, but he was genuinely interested in analyzing nature and figuring out how it works. And so if you're free from work, there's nothing stopping you from doing those kinds of things. People are generally into astronomy, or if you're an astrophysicist, there's nothing stopping you from doing that. The summary that you offer there is the part about regret is where I'm getting kind of at the, where you've wasted an hour on Instagram type thing. It's about being thoughtful about it, but at the same time, it's going to take some kind of exploration. If you don't know what you like doing.

Stuart Whatley [00:36:36]:
You're just thrown into a state of permanent leisure that can obviously be kind of discombobulating. And it's one reason why you get the shock of people who retire. You hear about kind of people who don't know what to do with their retirement. A lot of this, though, is just simply because we don't have a concept of a leisure ethic, and no one's ever thought about it before. This is why up until recently, liberal arts education was always like, the top priority when it came to education, because the whole point of it is to equip you to have a broad interest in the world, to have a broad base of knowledge. You're not solely studying stem so that you can be a perfect employee for a tech company. You're learning how to ask questions about the world and how to be self sufficient in your own mind. Schopenhauer had funny things to say about.

Stuart Whatley [00:37:36]:
Yeah, I can read up a quote, if you don't mind, for sure. Yeah. So he calls leisure is the flower of the plant. The plant of life might be, or like the stem is work. Leisure is the flower. But anyways, since then, leisure is the flower, or rather the fruit of existence as it puts man into possession of himself. Those are happy indeed who possess something real in themselves. But what do you get from most people's leisure? Only a good for nothing fellow who is terribly bored and a burden to himself.

Stuart Whatley [00:38:10]:
And so he's kind of repeating the same aristotelian point where people just feel empty. And I don't think you can blame most people living in 24 for that. That's kind of what I'm getting at with this call for more attention on what a leisure ethic would look like and what education for it would look like. And I have that quote from Carla Henderson, who's a leisure studies, retired leisure studies scholar. I got that from her, basically, where she says, nobody thinks of this when you go to college, it's all career prep now. Nobody teaches people how to just be well rounded, thoughtful, inquisitive human beings. And that's something else we've lost. We used to do the opposite.

Stuart Whatley [00:38:56]:
Everyone used to learn Latin so that they could read all the classics. And that sounds a little pompous, but there's a reason why they did that. Participating in the broader culture of humanity, since as far back as we can go, is ultimately more interesting and fulfilling than just like coming up with some startup to deliver dog food or something more efficiently. So that's what I would say to that, but again, I know it's not an easy challenge. It starts with, and it's also not a satisfying answer. I know to say education has to change, but that is definitely part of it.

Dan Riley [00:39:31]:
Well, I don't know if this was your experience, but so much of especially my middle and high school and even college educational experience was just pure busy work. It was basically prep work for rather dull long term corporate responsibilities and not encouraging that kind of original thinking or independent thinking creativity that I think all children typically have before a certain age. This has been another interest of mine, which I think is somewhat related to your essay of learning about the amount of time typically that hunter gatherers were working in a given week in prehistory. And there are extant hunter gatherer societies that I know that have been studies. There's a book, affluence without abundance, that I'm trying to get the author on the podcast to talk about this very idea. I think his name is James Salzman, and he talks a lot about what the research seems to indicate about how much time in our natural habitat people are actually working. And I think there's some debate on what the exact number is, but it's obvious that it's less than what modern corporate workers certainly are putting in in terms of.

Stuart Whatley [00:41:05]:
So this is Marshall Salon's famous Stone Age economics observation, and I think it's supposed to have been confirmed. He was writing in the 70s, but it's generally held to be true that basically with modernity we've sacrificed leisure for material well being. But you can have too much of a good thing. And so now we have rabid consumerism that's kind of destroying the planet and all of that. I don't want to go on a rant about that, but it is worth thinking about where it's like. Just like you don't consider the opportunity cost of everything that goes into your phone and whatever, you kind of forget what you've lost. And leisure is one of those things. And also the amount of work that we the more that work takes over your life like it does for most people today.

Stuart Whatley [00:42:05]:
It doesn't only take you away from pursuing art or whatever, and art being just like the category of end in itself. It also makes you a worse friend, a worse parent, a worse son or daughter. It makes you a worse person by definition. The more harried you are and the less time you have, the less time you have to commit to these things that actually matter and give life meaning, at least when we think back on it. And that's again, what I was talking about when I said the kind of thing you would do and not regret it later, these are the things that we know matter in the end, even if we don't act on it in the moment. Generally, that's what my research has shown too, is that, again, it's not to romantic. It's easy to romanticize it. Hunter gatherer societies, they didn't live nearly as long as we do.

Stuart Whatley [00:43:05]:
They didn't have vaccines. Nobody's saying go back to that, like the kind of Roussovian back to nature thing, but it is worth thinking about what we've given up and whether we can then go back and kind of reclaim it now that we've got so much stuff.

Dan Riley [00:43:21]:
Yeah. I think something you said just a couple of minutes ago is worth reiterating, which is that even for people that do achieve this sort of freedom, this sort of independence, this life, at some point where they're going to be able to enter the leisure class or be able to have a leisure ethic in their life, maybe forever, they don't quite know what to do. And I don't know that there are many well known models to role models or people that can be sort of looked to as being an example to this, that are well known in popular culture. And I guess I would put that question to you is, are there people in your mind that are known from history or that are living right now that you look to and think this individual was able to achieve economic independence at a certain age and look what they've done with their life, even if they've just become a much happier private person, much less stressed out. They're not doing public work per se, but as a citizen, as a neighbor, as a friend, their lives improved. Who do you look to, if anyone, as examples, to be consulted for people that are looking to kind of readjust their values and resonate with a lot of what you've written about?

Stuart Whatley [00:44:49]:
Yeah, well, as mentioned, I mean, montane is kind of like a paragon of it, at least if you want to get. Not just like in the ancients. He's a great life encapsulation of it, but I would say also so more modern or just like contemporary. It's some of these people with dream jobs, like the big time podcasters or whoever, who are just literally doing what they want, when they want. They read books and explore whatever topic they want. That's a good kind of picture of maybe what a leisure life would look like for someone who wants to have a public profile, but that brings me to my other point, which is that we don't necessarily know about the people who have done this and are having private, happy lives because we don't hear about them, we don't hear from them. And that's another reason why the kind of the work ethic persists, is that we hear from these people, we hear from the whole tech world that constantly wants to put a dent in the universe. And it's all about action and doing and doing and building something.

Stuart Whatley [00:45:55]:
All these terms, those are who we hear from, and we rarely hear from the others. So you have this asymmetry. But yeah, I would encourage people to read, well, you can read all of Epicurus in a day, because there's not a lot remaining, but there's like three core letters. And one of them especially, is really the only one that deals with the ethics that can give you all of epicureanism in one sitting. And I found it super powerful, especially for non believers, because his whole thing is based on. It's very modern. It's based on a modern idea of physics. No afterlife, no heaven, no God.

Stuart Whatley [00:46:34]:
But what do you do with this life? People should read Seneca. He has an essay called on leisure is like how it's often translated into English. And Schopenhauer's the wisdom of life is a good one. Doesn't sound like it, but it's actually all about leisure. It sounds more broad, but it is broad. But by being broad, that's where he ends up again, like so many others. This is like, oh, it's all about leisure and figuring out how to be self sufficient in leisure with yourself. I don't know.

Stuart Whatley [00:47:12]:
I don't know if any others are jumping off the top of my head again, because you don't often hear from them. But I would make one other point about Stone age societies and art as an end in itself. People should remember that this is where all culture came from. The second we started producing more than we needed, and people could start doing what they wanted. And in themselves, that's the beginning of culture. That's where you get all the great epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey, and just everything. It's everything that makes humans more than just chimpanzees. And so that's always something worth remembering.

Stuart Whatley [00:47:53]:
There's a famous book from the 30s or 40s, Joseph Peeper, which is called leisure, the basis of culture. And his is a catholic religious perspective. But it's the same point. Yeah, that's always worth remembering.

Dan Riley [00:48:09]:
I have brought this point up to a variety of guests that I've had on my show, including Anna Lemke, who is, of all things, she leads the addiction clinic at Stanford. And we were talking about a variety of different modern addictions. And one of the questions and subjects I remember bringing up with her was whether so many people are basically addicted to work, addicted to just, I know, just speaking from my own experience, that if you have been through the system in american education and you're being tested following often a lot of busy work, and you're getting high grades and positive reinforcement that can lead to its own reliance upon those feedback loops. And I would put that question to you. Do you think that we, culturally, generally speaking, or at least a decent chunk of the american populace, especially the working class, the white collar class, are facing a pretty serious addiction to work?

Stuart Whatley [00:49:19]:
Yeah, I think so. And I think a lot of it reflects this. So this was kind of like, it's what I call the God is dead argument, which is kind of what you get with Derek Thompson's workism, which is kind of repeating earlier arguments from the mid century thinkers. But basically this whole finding meaning after people don't really believe in God anymore. And so work is substituted for the place that religion and all that once provided. There is a good quote from Nietzsche in human, ultra human, where he points out that it's not. So to put it in your terms, it's not just addiction. The work ethic and the total devotion to a career is also kind of like fulfilling the same role that asceticism plays for older aesthetic monks, like the people who flagellate themselves in the Da Vinci code.

Stuart Whatley [00:50:21]:
And so it looks like it's a hard life, right? It looks like you're making lots of sacrifices and you're doing the noble thing. But as Nietzsche points out, it's actually easier because you already just have a playbook, you have a script that you have to follow. You don't have to think about, oh, you have your job. It's making demands on you. It's telling you what to do. You don't have to worry about what to do with yourself. And so, ironically, it's hard, but it's also easier in a lot of ways, and it's filling this void inside that a leader ethic could fill, but it doesn't for most people. Instead, work does, because money and professional status have their compensation for the lack of meaning anywhere else, basically, is how I would see it.

Stuart Whatley [00:51:10]:
And again, that's going to be very insulting to lots of people, but it's worth thinking about. I think.

Dan Riley [00:51:16]:
I think it is, too. I don't know if you know the name Derek Sivers, but he's one of my favorite writers, and he has written a decent amount about a lot of what we've talked about today. And one of the things that he has said about money, and he's somebody who sold a business when he was about 40 and basically gave it all away to a charitable trust for musicians and had already made, in his mind, enough money to support him the rest of his life. And he viewed people that generally were continuing to make more and more and more money than they really ever would reasonably need, as akin to hoarders. These were people we would criticize somebody who just stockpiled more and more and more newspapers in their home and think of them as slightly od or there's a great book called die with zero. I don't know if you know Bill Perkins's book die with zero, but he views it as akin to collecting Chuck E. Cheese tokens. That you can get very good at collecting Chuck E.

Dan Riley [00:52:23]:
Cheese tokens, but if you're just doing it for its own sake, at a certain point, it is somewhat related to a mental illness, unless it's for a bigger purpose. Yeah, sorry. Go.

Stuart Whatley [00:52:37]:
Just. The stoics, especially Seneca, had a lot of good things to say about this. Basically, the pursuit of insatiable desires. Seneca, in addition to unleashed people, could do on the shortness of life. I think it's basically all about this. But, yeah, it's hoarding. It's the will to power. It's whatever you want to call it.

Stuart Whatley [00:53:00]:
But this is definitely a point that's cropped up with every generation of thinkers through antiquity, is that if your happiness and well being are dependent on riches or on other people's praise, then you're not self sufficient. You're dependent on outside forces for your own well being. And that means you're ultimately in a slavist position because you're not. What they're all talking about when they say that is that you need to be able to be alone with yourself and not feel. The Marcus rally said, a great metaphor of the puppet master, the puppet strings, like algorithms, the Joneses new car, whatever it is. These are strings twitching on us all the time. And no one's immune from it, of course, but it's worth pausing and recognizing what these things are. The Stokes would say it's external rather than internal sources of meaning.

Stuart Whatley [00:54:08]:
And those are the things that you should minimize if you really want to be happy on your deathbed, is what.

Dan Riley [00:54:14]:
They would say, yeah, and I think it's a worthy goal. I mean, we've kind of beat around this bush, but the minimalism culture that I know has become quite popular online, and the fire movement, which I'm guessing you're probably familiar with. Financial.

Stuart Whatley [00:54:28]:
Yeah, I was going to say, to answer your question, yeah, maybe some people from the fire movement could actually answer your question better about modern people who are living it. But, yeah, I'm familiar.

Dan Riley [00:54:41]:
Yeah, I know we're getting close to the end here, and there was another book that came to mind that I wanted to bring up and then give you the floor for any closing comments you might want to add to this conversation, which I think is just very thought provoking. And I think a lot of people could benefit from a lot of the ideas in your essay. And the book I was reminding myself of is the psychology of money by Morgan Housel. He tells a story in the book about his parents and his father. They always lived very modestly when he was growing up. And at 40, his dad, with three kids, decided that he wanted to become a doctor. And he did and became an ER doctor. I think he was an ER doctor for something like 20 years.

Dan Riley [00:55:28]:
And during that time, never had the lifestyle inflation that you were alluding earlier, where they lived comfortably but very modestly. And at a certain point in his dad's career, he just decided he had had enough. And because he had lived beneath his means, he could just quit. And unlike his coworkers, unlike the other doctors he worked with, because they were spending so much. And he said, I don't know if you've read that book, but one of the major themes that he writes about in there is that overwhelmingly for people, the biggest net benefit for money, if you're really looking for improvement in your life, is getting control of your life, getting control of your time and your energy, which I think really is a worthy and difficult endeavor. So I wanted to just close on that and give you any other closing thoughts that you might have that we haven't touched on or something else that you think might be important for the public.

Stuart Whatley [00:56:32]:
Yeah, well, as I mentioned before, I haven't read it, but I do have it. And I get the impression that it's recommending index funds and stuff like that, which is probably all very good advice. But, yeah, as I mentioned before, though, yeah, financial security is probably like checkbox number one to really make a leisure ethic work, but financial security, of course, again, it's not only about how much you have or bring in. It's about how much you save and how well you manage it. And so I would agree with that. It should be a priority, especially for younger people, so that you can then do what the doctor did just to kind of round up. I would say it's just worth, like, I don't think anybody can look around at american society and say that it's full of happy, tranquil people. Right? I mean, we're so far from the ideal that Aristotle or epicurus or Seneca or anyone else would have hoped for.

Stuart Whatley [00:57:47]:
And so it's really worth kind of questioning this, redefining this idea of progress, because where is it getting us? This is what Eric from was talking about, who I quote back in the, you know, and it's only gotten, if anything, worse, even though we know Preta manches on every corner and you can get stuff delivered to your door in an hour. All of that's great, but it's worth considering what it's actually done for well being. And so I think it really comes down to time and control of the time and control of ourselves. And all of which is how I kind of enshrined the idea of a leisure ethic, which is reclaiming freedom from not only jobs or algorithms, but also our own kind of neuroses and our own kind of appetites, that if we are being honest, we would say we don't want to have them. The best anti consumerist critique I've seen is Katie Soper, who points out that it's not about reducing consumption just to save the planet or whatever. It's about the fact that it would make you happier to not be caring about all of this stuff as much as you do. You would suddenly be like, oh, I have more money and more time for fill in the blank. And so I think it all just starts with questioning assumptions and recognizing that our whole kind of work ethic culture is deeply unsatisfying.

Stuart Whatley [00:59:35]:
And it's based on a lot of ideology that it's just, we're born with. I mean, not born with, but raised with to the point where we don't even notice it, but we should start noticing it, is my general spiel, very thought provoking.

Dan Riley [00:59:52]:
Stuart, thank you so much for the time and for putting that essay out in the world. I'm sure I will continue to spread it widely. So thanks so much for the time, and it was great to meet you, man.

Stuart Whatley [01:00:02]:
All right. Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks. You too.