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Jean-Miguel Pire, sociologist. “Work is getting closer to what it was before the 1930s. a kind of survival”

This historian and sociologist has made this free time dedicated to “intelligent entertainment” the subject of his research and his hobby horse. Faced with increasingly invasive work and a heavy dependence on screens, he encourages us to reconnect with slowness and reflection, to better find ourselves. Interview:

Madame Figaro. – How to define otium?

Jean-Miguel Pire. Like intelligent leisure, this part of free time that we use to develop our consciousness, our knowledge, our clarity, our imagination, our compassion… It is the life of the spirit in the non-religious sense of the term, which allows; to advance us and make us more protagonists of our mental lives. Otium, Latin translation school, born in the 5th century in Greece, with the advent of philosophy. Today we use that word without knowing it when we talk about the trade that is coming nec otium, “the denial of otium”. we are talking about the market. The search for otium therefore means a struggle against the market forces that tend to dominate every aspect of our lives, from work to health care to education. However, it is striking to note that philosophy, as a mode of rational thought, imposed itself… but not the time required to think. All this works in a very paradoxical way.

Why, what do you think?

Because we don’t immediately see the usefulness of this time devoted to thinking. In ancient survivalist societies, devotion to reflection, while highly valued, continues to be seen as an aristocratic privilege beyond the reach of the majority. We are always in this software, very ambiguous. everyone knows that we need time to think, but automatically we tend to believe that we don’t have time for it. Apart from school. Thus, otium focuses on the essential question of once again becoming the protagonist of one’s own life. is the time it takes to reflect in a day and the way one can ritualize it.

Sure, free time and paid vacations have increased, but mental strain is invading all of our space

There’s no shortage of obstacles, starting with work…

On the scale of human history, it has been a source of radical alienation and crushing available time for the vast majority of individuals, right? In the 20th century, social laws mandated dignity, control of conditions and maximum working hours, but also paid holidays. Entertainment dedicated to entertainment, recreation, but also education, therefore intelligent entertainment. Workers took art history classes in the evening and then, for example, went to a museum. This virtuous curve grew until the 1980s, during which commercial values ​​invaded the professional field. Speed, material utilitarianism, short-termism, the idea that work can no longer be feasible… Work today is closer to what it was before the 1930s: a kind of survival. Of course, free time and paid vacations have increased, but mental workload invades our entire territory. So much so that we no longer have either the taste or the energy needed for otium, which requires effort, a certain discipline and, above all, availability. This is the danger of this evolution of work, which is terrible because it does not speak its name, which preserves the appearance of social rights but takes away the enjoyment of them.

Can we really combine work and free time on a daily basis?

In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, due to tensions in the world of work, candidates found themselves in a position of power to impose their terms. Wages, of course, but also related to quality of life and free time. This period shows us how important it is among all the levers that can make us the protagonists of our own existence. In my opinion, we ignore too much the importance of how we imagine our free time and how we value it or not. Of course, some people don’t have a minute to themselves. But never before have so many people had as much free time as they do today. Some of it may be available to gain intelligence and liberate ourselves. However, he is monopolized by the mental load of work, but also, above all, by his dependence on screens.

Is this where the real danger lies, according to you?

Yes, it is a predator that plays on our inability to understand the mechanisms created to break down our barriers. Former TF1 chairman Patrick Le Lay said it well in the 1990s. “We sell available brain time.” Where movies and television were a mess, social media and online platforms have stepped up. Their economic model must occupy more and more of our brain time to evolve. Not to educate us, but to make us more passive and addicted to screens. All this thanks to the help of laboratories responsible for maximizing addictive mechanisms, invading our consciousness with advertisements and ultimately turning us into a pure object: a credit card.

What do you suggest to counter it?

A step aside to question what constitutes the heart of our lives. “Everything else is borrowed, time is our only value,” said Seneca. My idea is basically to think of your life as a series of moments, to ask yourself which of them are free of all limitations. When in our days do we do nothing, not work, not vital things: eating, sleeping, not family affairs? Some sociologists call this arbitrating time, for which we are not accountable to anyone. There is necessarily half an hour in our day, or half a day in our week, therefore free from everything. I suggest discovering it and ritualizing it with the same care with which we organize our time with work or family. Let’s impose on ourselves a certain chosen discipline, the goal of which is to become better, to gain clarity, insight, compassion, to move towards greater selflessness.

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But what exactly should we do with this half hour?

What the ancients called spiritual exercises. You can set aside half an hour, for example, to look at works in a museum, or indulge in the “royal exercise” of reading. Let’s take the time to dive into a book that we know will feed us, answer some questions. Maybe we do it with a pen in hand to take notes, to copy some passages… Even if we write a lot on our screens, handwriting allows us to re-introduce density into our relationship with time. Let us not judge this half hour of otium by its speed, as we judge everything else, but by the density, the intensity, that it brings us. This intensity is a luxury for everyone.

What do we have to gain?

The pursuit of fertility rather than utility. This is perfectly suited to commercial software, which is aimed at a precise goal, according to the monetary interest, therefore calculable. Fertility is not. He explores existences and unforeseen possibilities. When we engage in a productive process, such as reading, having a long, deep conversation with someone, walking through a museum, we don’t know where it will lead us. Life is liberated and that is its beauty. We all long for this time to think, understand and act better. But no word in our language means this effective use of free time. However, what is not mentioned does not really exist, cannot be defended or appreciated. Bringing otium into our daily vocabulary ultimately gives value to this time, which is decisive for our liberation and our contribution to the common good.

Source: Le Figaro

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