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Page last updated at 07:32 GMT, Friday, 26 December 2008
Celebrating lack of achievement

By Tom Colls
Today programme

A man sunbathing on the beach
Do we give enough time to the art of idleness?
Every year, as the Queen's New Year honours list approaches, the Today programme sets out to nominate the great successes of the past year.

But this year, with the great and the good having presided over what might be one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression, we thought it might more suitable to celebrate lack of achievement.

"There are advantages to sitting around and doing nothing," says Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler magazine, which has been promoting the cause of idleness since it first went to press in 1993.

"All the great creative breakthroughs come when people are sitting around, or lying in bed in the morning half awake.

"Idleness is a wellspring of creativity, is enjoyable for its own sake and there are health benefits as well."

He blames the Puritans of the 16th and 17th Century for ruining Europe's old loafing culture and replacing it with a high-achievement lifestyle best epitomized by the "bossy, active, do-more culture" of the US.

In order to stem the culture of high-achievement, he recommends that we all take steps to be idle; such as having a nap on your lunch-break, working your proper hours and not listen to anxiety-fuelling news programmes (who could he be thinking of?)

Lazy nomination

Jock Scott
Jock Scott in a moment of idleness
For a lifetime lack of achievement award, Mr Hodgkinson nominates his friend Jock Scott.

"Jock hasn't done anything, really. I don't think he's had a job for 30 or 40 years, but he has children, has had a wonderful life and is hugely loved by a wide circle of friends," he says.

Mr Scott himself was "over the moon" to be nominated, and is in no way offended by his friend's nomination.

"I've never been competitive, I've always been happy in myself that I'm fine," he says.

While Mr Scott realized a long time ago that he was "too sensitive to work" - a job as a dustman became unbearable due to the close proximity of a beautiful view of the Scottish Highlands - his life is nevertheless anything other than empty. He writes poetry and has a young child to look after.

This, says Tom Hodgkinson, is one of the paradoxes of idleness. While idlers may not be willing to fit into someone else's schedule, when working on their own projects they can actually be hardworking and productive.

The other paradox, he says, is that if you stand outside of the rat race, you can't be judged as harshly as others who engage in it.

"Failures are people who have tried to make their way in the world. The world of winners actually creates a world of losers," he says.

"In a world of idlers, where your standards are much lower, paradoxically you are a winner because you haven't tried so hard."

History has left us with a legacy of great believers in low-achievement. Here are three of the most notable.


John Lennon and Yoko Ono lie in for peace
John Lennon, very productive but very laid back
Beatles singer John Lennon could certainly not be called unproductive, but his music and life demonstrate a love of taking it easy.

On the Beatles album Revolver, he celebrated the joys of lying in bed with the song "I'm only sleeping" whose lyrics could be a call to arms for the prospective idler: "Everybody seems to think I'm lazy, I don't mind, I think they're crazy. Running everywhere at such a speed, till they find, there's no need."

Lennon took the attitude one stage further after leaving the Beatles, by staging the most relaxed anti-war protest imaginable for his Bed-In for Peace with Yoko Ono - lying in bed for a week in a protest against the Vietnam war.


Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde - something of an aristocratic slacker?
Oscar Wilde could be regarded unproductive on account of his meagre output as a poet, playwright and author, or for his commitment to a decadent social life, but he also had a political commitment to idleness.

In his essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Wilde describes as "real men" those few poets and philosophers who have "no necessity to work for their living", and goes on to express a hope that a future society will come where "nobody will waste his life in accumulating things" instead having time for more leisurely creative and scientific pursuits.


Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson was a big supporter of idleness
Samuel Johnson may have been one of the 18th Century's most productive authors, plying his trade as a poet, essayist, moralist, novelist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. But that did not stop him being a layabout.

The great Dr Johnson tended not to get out of bed until after midday, and went as far as to pen a series of essays extolling the virtues of idleness, writing that "the Idler...not only escapes labours which are often fruitless, but sometimes succeeds better than those who despise all that is within their reach".

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