Idiotic Holiday

beachWell, it’s Spring Break, or Spring Break is just over, and if it’s over, then Florida beaches may return to normal for this time of year.

A friend, in a stroke of genius, remembered an apt line from Nietzsche. If not “found-art,” then in a relevant sense, “found-philosophy.” Here it is, from Morgenröte (The Break of Day or Dawn):

The only thing that cannot be refused to these poor beasts of burden is their “holidays”—such is the name they give to this ideal of leisure in an overworked century; “holidays,” in which they may for once be idle, idiotic, and childish to their heart’s content.

Of course, it might be argued that American students, partying day and night, are far from “beasts of burden” during the rest of their term. But it has to be conceded that “holidays”—especially Spring holidays, especially for snowed-in Northeastern states—are exceedingly welcome after months of bitter cold and darkness. (The roof-snow in Boston got so iced that crews from Minnesota moved in to melt it with special heat-jets, at several thousand a pop.) So perhaps the chance to be “idle, idiotic, and childish” can be forgiven.

Of course, Nietzsche doesn’t have students in mind, but ordinary day laborers, including those who commute to high-end desk jobs. Are weekends in the Hamptons “holidays”? A summer cruise on the Rhine, from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, is a chance to be “idle” rather than drone on. But does that entail being “idiotic, and childish” to boot?

Marx had a philosophy of work that pinpointed causes of alienation that still operate to disaffect the vast majority of contemporary wage earners—not just the so-called “working classes.” But he lacked a philosophy of holidays. Perhaps he had a philosophy of play: one could “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize [do philosophy] after dinner.”

Hilary Putnam begins an account of Jewish ethics with the rabbi’s tale of God’s varied routine: good works in the morning, study in the afternoon, sporting with whales in the evening. Apparently the Good Lord wisely built holidays into his daily cycle. Nevertheless, you might think that sporting with leviathan remains “idiotic and childish.”

Nietzsche and Thoreau both had a philosophy of play. And who else? We have plenty of advice about how to de-stress, unwind, meditate, exercise, get serene. But do we have a philosophy that would highlight the virtues of play—short of being “idle, idiotic, and childish”? I’ll leave that question hanging. You can row to the middle of Walden, lay in the bottom of your skiff looking up, take in the heavens, and ponder.

— Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor


Citations: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn of Day, Book III, no. 178; Karl Marx, The German Ideology, “Private Property and Communism”; Hilary Putnam, “Jewish Ethics?”, The Blackwell Companion to Religious Ethics, London: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 159-175.

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