Some things stick in memory. Things that people said which were manifestly absurd. Or which I thought were manifestly absurd.
Like the time, many years ago, when my vegetarian landlady remarked that tigers wouldn’t eat meat “if they knew better.”
For, since tigers are predators that survive by killing and eating other animals, my landlady’s reformed tigers would all die of starvation, shortly after getting to “know better.” Or did she imagine that they would all start eating fruit and nuts and grass and leaves? I doubt they’d be able to manage. Their teeth are ill-adapted to grinding up vegetation. Their teeth are adapted to cut and slice slabs of meat.
I occasionally get into these sorts of discussions with vegetarians. I think they become vegetarians because Meat Is Murder, and killing things is wrong. But if Meat Is Murder, isn’t killing and eating plants just as much murder as well? In fact, isn’t it far worse? All the animals we cook and eat are usually dead by the time we cook them and eat them, and so won’t suffer, but most of the vegetables we eat are alive when we start cooking them. A potato, for example, is something which, if put in the ground, will sprout leaves, and grow into a potato plant. Keep potatoes long enough, and they’ll start sprouting leaves. They’re embryonic plants. So they’re very far from dead. And yet we cheerfully chop them and boil them. If they could, they’d be screaming while we did it. And probably the only reason they don’t scream is because they haven’t got lungs. Or a central nervous system. So vegetarians think it’s not okay to chop up and cook and eat dead living things that have central nervous systems (and lungs), but okay to eat living things that don’t. It’s the same sort of debate that surrounds abortion: some people see it as murder, and some don’t.
Another passing remark made to me by another woman friend, in respect of the world in general, was that “This could be heaven.” By which I took her to mean that, with a good will and little effort, this world in which we live could become heaven. My landlady had merely wanted to reform a few tigers, but this other friend wanted to reform the entire world.
And I immediately disagreed. For I don’t think this world can be made into a heaven any more than I think tigers can be reformed and made to stop eating meat. Because for me, heaven is above all a condition of perfect idleness. And in Idle Theory perfect idleness is unattainable. Our world will only become a heaven when we no longer need to work to stay alive. And that will never happen. Or if it ever does happen, it will be many thousands or millions of years from now. i.e. never.
Idle Theory is a vision of an imperfect world that can never be perfected, but might just possibly be improved – made more idle – very, very slightly from one century or one millennium to the next.
For the underlying vision of human life (and all life) in Idle Theory is that living things must work to stay alive. They have to work to acquire the energy that they expend. Humans have to work on farms to grow the food they need to survive. And animals have to work to get vegetation (or other animals) to eat. And plants need to grow leaves to capture the energy of sunlight. Ours is a very busy world. The best that any living thing can do is contrive to minimise the work they must do. But however much they manage to minimise it, there will always be some irreducible minimum of work. Perfect idleness is an unattainable ideal.
But even though it’s unattainable, that doesn’t deter some people from trying to attain it. The world is full of idealists trying to create an ideal, perfect world. They seem to think, like my friend, that it would actually be quite easy. And some of them seem to think that all you have to do is to ban all the imperfect things in the world to reveal its underlying perfection. All you have to do is wipe off the grime, and the pristine beauty beneath will be revealed. And much of the grime consists of smoke: the smoke of factories and chimneys and cars and trucks and cigarettes and pipes and cigars. Wipe it all away, and voilà, and you’ve taken a simple step towards creating an ideal world. All you need do is ban everything else that’s unsightly and dirty. Like alcohol. And meat (as discussed earlier). And industry of any sort. And carbon dioxide. And racism and sexism and homophobia. And unacceptable language. And so on, and on, and on. You have a vision of an ideal world, and you gradually construct it by removing everything non-ideal from it.
And each step you take along the way is Progress. And you call yourself a Progressive. And you surround yourself with your equally progressive friends, as you set out to construct a smoke-free heaven.
They’ll never succeed. They never can succeed. The only thing that they succeed in doing, in their attempts to build Heaven on Earth, is to construct Hell on Earth. For it’s much easier to construct a hell than it is to construct a heaven. And if, in Idle Theory, heaven is a condition of perfect idleness, hell is a condition of complete busyness, and is the threshold of death. Hell is perpetual toil.
All the Hitlers and Lenins and Stalins and Maos and Pol Pots of the world were, I strongly suspect, idealistic progressives who were trying to build a socialist Heaven on Earth. And every single one of them only managed to create Hell on Earth.
And the same goes for the Barack Obamas and Hillary Clintons and Nancy Pelosis and Jeremy Corbyns and Deborah Arnotts and Stanton Glantzes and Simon Chapmans. They see themselves a constructing a new heaven. But all they’re actually creating is a new hell.