I realise that society channels us into repetitive routines but even when the constraints of work and so on are removed we still tend to seek out repetition. When we’ve enjoyed something we immediately start wondering when we can do it again. Liked eating at an Indian Restaurant? Let’s do it again next week. Enjoyed watching TV? Let’s do it tomorrow. Like bathing in the glow of that little flat screen you’re holding in your hand? Don’t stop.
I suppose there’s a case for arranging to repeat ourselves when by so doing we can improve certain skills. If I only pick up a bow and arrow now and again I’ll never become a great archer. However, when the activity is indulged in purely for fun does that aspect really matter? I enjoy swimming in rivers. I don’t do it particularly fast. My swimming technique, though effective, is poor. I don’t want to improve, though: I just want to enjoy myself.
It’s not just the things we enjoy in a big way, either. It’s everyday routine. I get up. I eat museli, drink coffee, do the crossword. At the risk of sounding insane -I don’t think I am as, from what I see of others most people seem to be more-or-less the same in this regard- I seem to have a little policeman in my head telling me what to do most of the time. He speaks so quietly I hardly notice he’s there. We tend to constantly deny ourselves freedoms without realising it. Thinking along these lines, I got up the other day and thought, what the hell, I’m going to drive off in the car instead. I’ll go to the top of the hill and see what I can see. I might get out and walk about a bit, admire the view. And I did.
Of course there’s a big ethical side to this: how many freedoms we deny ourselves depends to an extent on our personal wealth and how we think we should use our resources. However, if I wake up at 4am I don’t consider going to the seaside to walk on the beach and then reject it because I can’t justify the use of (or perhaps afford) the petrol – I don’t consider it at all. The little policeman in my head simply tells me to make a cup of tea and turn on Radio 4. Farming Today will be on soon, he says, and you like listening to Farming today, don’t you? Yes, I say, for some reason. I’m not even a farmer. What am I thinking of?
Karl Marx once wrote that in a communist society it would be possible for him “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” However, even if it were possible for him to do all these things, would it occur to him that he could do them? And if he found he enjoyed the fishing most of all would he not quickly find himself fishing morning, afternoon and evening? As Homer Simpson said, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll spend his life on a riverbank drinking beer.
I’ve just been watching this Youtube video. I think it’s a magnificent piece and the way it forces one to confront that which is out of the ordinary makes it an appropriate choice here. I know it’s a cliché to say so but it makes me laugh and cry, all at the same time. I saw it performed in London in the 1970s – but in a concert hall. It wasn’t staged like this!