By Letter to the Editor on January 20, 2021.
We are going crazy under Covid lockdown. We have to be doing something or interacting with someone to feel alive.
We are not good at just sitting. I was once forced to spend three days in solitary confinement in the immigration detention facility before expelled from South Africa.
It drove me insane for not having things to do: nobody to see or talk to; nothing to read or write with.
During the plague of the 17th Century, depending on the country, 11 to 30 per cent of the population was killed by it in Europe. Reportedly it was the most productive period in Isaac Newton’s life.
He was a professor of Cambridge University which was closed for two years. He had plenty of time to think. He invented calculus and developed the concept of gravity.
I had an entrepreneur friend who built up a successful business. He said that it was important for him to spend at least four hours a day to do nothing but think.
Doing nothing but think is not a waste of time. It distinguishes us from other animals.
We think and do things more than what is required for survival. This is an important question when many people are proposing “guaranteed minimum income” as a serious option for the future of our society.
Even before the current lockdown, the economy had already been moving towards it.
What we call “progress” implies reduced human presence in work places. “Restructure” or “rationalization” always means getting rid of people.
The problem is: most of us don’t know who we are if we don’t have jobs.
In ancient Athens, citizens did not work. They hung around the market and talked philosophy and politics. Work was done by slaves.
Even during my mother’s time, middle and upper class “ladies” did not have outside jobs.
Today we are replacing farmers, factory workers, and paper pushers with robots and computers making people to be like “Athenian citizens” and “ladies.”
We have to learn to do nothing but doing things like make art, and think or talk about philosophy, politics, religion or nature of things.
Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui