Being Right

“Now that ain’t workin’; that’s the way you do it. Lemme tell ya them guys ain’t dumb. Maybe get a blister on your little finger. Maybe get a blister on your thumb. That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it. Money for nothin’ and chicks for free.”
Those poignant lines of classic literature were crafted by British artist Mark Knopfler, with assistance by Gordon Sumner (a former English teacher at Newcastle). The lines borrowed the metaphysical musings of the working class at the time regarding a short film by musicians known as Duran Duran.
It’s not as if doing nothing is a bad thing: Steve Martin (not him, the other one — the director of Influence at Work) points out that sometimes “simply offering people the option to ‘do nothing’ can have a surprising influence on how committed they subsequently become to that choice over time.”
As to “nothing” itself, don’t assume it’s a thing of none existence. Nothing “has a topology, it has a shape, it’s a physical object,” according to philosopher Jim Holt. Eastern Philosophy emphasizes nothing (“emptiness”) as the ideal state of mind.
Physicists object: “’Nothing’ is a denial of the existence of a particular entity.”
“‘Nothing’ is just that: nothing. It doesn’t exist. It has no identity. It’s not a vacuum. It’s not dark. It’s not cold. It has no characteristics. As a tool of cognition, it can be useful, but doesn’t exist.” (Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience)
Nevertheless, remember that “nothing” is not the same as “zero.” For mathematicians, nothing signifies the total absence of something. Zero is not nothing. It is a thing. More than just being a symbol, it is a number. Zero is a non-negative integer, followed by the natural number “one” and with no natural number preceding it.
Anyway, nothing is apparently that frowned upon in the Western world as much as nothing.
Samuel Johnson: “It is certain that any wild wish or vain imagination never takes such firm possession of the mind, as when it is found empty and unoccupied.”
Backed up by Michel de Montaigne, “The mind that has no fixed aim loses itself.”
The problem with Montaigne is that he also confusingly admits that doing nothing leads to something. Withdrawing to the country for idle contemplation leads him to the compulsion for work:
“As we see some grounds that have long lain idle and untilled, when grown rich and fertile by rest, to abound with and spend their virtue in the product of innumerable sorts of weeds and wild herbs that are unprofitable, and that to make them perform their true office, we are to cultivate and prepare them for such seeds as are proper for our service.”
At least one saint looks down on doing nothing. Josemaria Escriva sees idleness as “something inconceivable in a man who has the soul of an apostle.” Rest if one must but rest “is not to do nothing: it is to relax in activities which demand less effort.”
But, like Montaigne, Escriva felt the need to balance over action (“activism,” as he calls it) with stillness: reminding everyone of the importance of “prayer, self denial and those means without which it is impossible to achieve a solid piety: receiving the Sacraments frequently, meditation, examination of conscience, spiritual reading.”
Which actually sounds like carving out time from work, which to some is really the definition of doing nothing.
So doing nothing, taken reasonably, should be a good thing.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” So says Thoreau.
And his remedy is to do nothing, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Which bring us to Bond, James Bond.
Action heroes are aplenty (there’s Jack Reacher and John Wick) but nobody beats Bond when it comes to musing.
Bored by the long hours cross European driving in pursuit of Goldfinger, his DBiii was suddenly overtaken by a beautiful girl in a Triumph — “Bond thought: That would happen today! The Loire is dressed for just that — chasing that girl until you run her to ground at lunch-time, the contact at the empty restaurant by the river, out in the garden under the vine trellis …”
“Bond smiled at his story and at the dots that ended it.”
Anyway, Shakespeare has Henry V shout: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”. Which is what every working person can mutter to himself every Monday morning.
Still: “All things are ready, if our mind be so.”
Which is really all fine and well. I myself couldn’t stand long periods of doing nothing.
Still, at the back of my head, this constant thought:
“I shoulda learned to play the guitar.
I shoulda learned to play them drums.”
Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.
Twitter @jemygatdula