Meme of the week: laziness still doesn’t exist


I wrote about this last year, but the point remains and bears repeating: laziness does not exist. I mean… that’s not quite true. Laziness does exist as a word and a concept. We all have a good sense of what it means: it means that from a particular vantage point, a person is accused of having the requisite resources to accomplish some task but chooses not to. The key to the definition is that laziness is an accusation “from a certain vantage point.”

The point here is that laziness is used as a cudgel, a club. It is meant to make a person who has chosen inaction—or is metabolically incapable or believes themselves to be metabolically incapable—feel badly for not doing something. It is generally used to moralize in instances of power. For instance, a person who owns a production facility might look at their workers as lazy: they could work harder and faster. And that is so: they could work harder and faster, but the owner of the facility doesn’t pay wages that are commensurate with that faster pace of work. So it’s not laziness. It is a worker’s relationship to their boss and workplace that doesn’t incentivize them to work harder. That is simple economics. But the owner doesn’t want to pay their workers appropriately, so they turn to moralizing language: e.g. “if you were better people you’d do more work.”slothWe see this same dynamic play out in a religious context. In fact, Christians have a special name for laziness: sloth. And sloth isn’t just any old problem for the Christian church, it is one of the seven deadly sins. But just as with the example of bosses and workers above, sloth is the means by which religious figures can point their finger at their flock and say, “God wants you to do work on his behalf and if you do not… then it’s a sin.” Imagine that: categorizing a person’s decision not to do something as a crime against their god. I would call that ecclesiastical gaslighting. Gaslighting is a much  misunderstood and overused term, but I think it fits here. In this instance, a person of the church asserts, when making the accusation of sloth, that the reason you have chosen to abstain from some activity is not because you have made some reasonable decision about the way that you choose to use your personal resources but is, rather, the result of your inherent sinfulness. And, to conclude the gaslighting, if your immortal soul is to be saved, you must do the things that I tell you to do. That is manipulation on a cosmological order.

slothThe reader might reasonably ask, “but I sometimes call myself lazy. Doesn’t that disprove the point of this essay?” I don’t think so, because calling oneself lazy is simply the internalization of that external vantage point I mentioned earlier. You might find yourself on the couch thinking, “I’m such a lazy sack of shit. If I was a better person, I’d get up and do something good and productive.” This is the gist of the meme above: it is the big and angry part of oneself that is yelling at the self and letting that self know that laziness is the reason for their lack of success. But… that’s just bullshit, because as in the comic above—as in actuality—laziness does not exist. Laziness is the cruel and moralizing way we label mental illness and neurodiversity and overwhelm and exhaustion.

Laziness does not exist. It is simply a strategy of making you feel badly for not doing the thing the person accusing you of laziness wants you to do.