Yesterday I ordered a book that I read many years ago, but now think I need to read again: The Pursuit of the Millennium by Norman Cohn, first published in about 1975. Cohn once summarized his work by explaining that it was all about the same phenomenon:
“the urge to purify the world through the annihilation of some category of human beings imagined as agents of corruption and incarnations of evil.”
A century or so ago these “agents of corruption” were identified as Jews: now they are identified as smokers. No doubt in another century or so, some other unfortunates will be fingered.
Also yesterday I came across a YouTube video of a speech by the former US Leftist activist, David Horowitz, 8 minutes into which he said:
“The whole agenda of the Left is to return us to Eden.”
He explained that the biblical Garden of Eden was a place where Adam and Eve didn’t have to work, and where there was no pain, and they lived forever – until they were expelled from Eden.
I’m inclined to think these days that Eden was a real place. When the ice sheets retreated at the end of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, they left bare ground that was soon colonized by plants, which in time became orchards dripping with fruit of every kind. And it was into this world that Adam And Eve arrived, and where they came to a stop. Why travel any further?
It would not have been the case that they did not need to do any work at all. For picking fruit from trees entails doing physical work, and eating it entails doing more work. But no doubt Adam and Eve would have enjoyed a very idle life, at least until a few competitors – serpents perhaps? – also arrived in the garden.
Such a garden would not have lasted very long. The orchards would have gradually become groves of cypresses or oaks. And Adam and Eve would have had to move on, and have had to work harder to survive, but would have retained the memory of the magical garden they had once inhabited, and would have longed to return to Eden.
And their descendants share that longing to return to Eden. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is just the latest:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t distance herself fast enough last week from a promise on her website that the Green New Deal would take care of people who are “unwilling to work.” First her team falsely claimed it was doctored by the GOP, then said it was part of a draft version that was mistakenly released.
But advocates for the ambitious program, known as universal basic income (UBI), say paying everyone isn’t a typo or a bug — it’s the whole point. Their vision of a country that takes care of everyone’s basic needs is gaining traction from socialist gatherings in Brooklyn to the Silicon Valley tech futurist set.
Certainly David Horowitz would have recognised it as being “the whole point”. Why did David Horowitz stop thinking that way? Why did he spend the rest of his life campaigning against the Left to which he had once belonged?
I was never quite so idealistic. The way I saw the world through Idle Theory was that human life (and in fact all life) existed on a scale of idleness ranging from complete 0% busyness to perfect 100% idleness:
The Garden of Eden was a place where, for a while, Adam and Eve enjoyed something like a 91% idle life, and when they were expelled from the garden they returned to something like an 8% idle life. Adam and Eve got lucky for a while: their descendants were never quite so lucky again.
But the development of human civilisation since the time of Adam and Eve has been one the development of work-reducing technologies of numerous kinds. Roads are one example of this sort of technology: roads allowed people to move around more quickly, and transport materials more rapidly. When the Roman Empire covered much of Europe with a network of roads, it would have served to increase the idleness of Europeans. It would have made life easier for everybody.
But it’s very difficult to make life easier. For every invention that makes life easier in one way or other, there are probably a hundred that make life harder. It’s very easy to make life harder, very difficult to make it easier. It’s easy to break things like Ming vases; hard to make them. And it takes many lifetimes to perfect new technologies, and just one to forget them.
And perfect 100% idleness is something that can only be approached. It can never be actually attained. And if idleness is not increasing, it’s almost certainly decreasing. Most likely, after the Romans had built all their work-reducing roads and aqueducts and bridges, they gradually fell into disrepair, and life got harder for everyone again.
And there are no short cuts to increasing idleness. There are no political quick fixes. All that political revolutions ever do is to redistribute idleness. They cannot increase it. In fact, they invariably decrease it. The Great Leap Forward always becomes a Great Leap Backwards. And the more that the revolutionaries make plans for how people are to live in their utopia, the less free and the less idle those people become. A planned life is a prison life.
So I’ve never been one of these utopian socialists dreaming of a return to Eden. Maybe one day it will happen, but I can’t see it happening any time soon, because ours remains as much a toiling world as it has always been. And the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes of the world are a menace. The only thing they can possibly bring is disaster.