Does a Man at Play Seem Unseemly?
Does a Man at Play Seem Unseemly?
Many might say that an adult at play is an activity that is practically useless; merely an exercise that springs from a physiological need for discharging excess energy. Such individuals might well follow by saying that work is ‘all action necessary for sustaining life’.
Objectively speaking many would distinguish work from play as that which is useful from that which is useless, i.e. for an adult work is a complementary term and play a disparaging one.
I suspect most citizens consider an adult at play to be essentially frivolous activity; play is necessary activity only for children.
Such an attitude has had an undermining affect on our quest for knowledge and understanding especially in the sciences other than the natural sciences. Such social pleasures as those derived by art and non-utilitarian learning are easily attacked by anti-intellectual forces. I suspect that a good deal of American anti-intellectualism can be traced to such views of play and work.
Perhaps this attitude that play is frivolous is a result of evolution. “Our barbarous ancestors amid their toils and wars, with their flaming passions and mythologies, lived better lives than are reserved to our well-adapted descendents.”
Let us hope that we have not dismissed imagination directed at non-utilitarian aspects of living to such an extent as to make it impossible for its retrieval. There is reason to hope because we are genetically programmed to desire. “To condemn spontaneous and delightful occupations because they are useless for self-preservation shows an uncritical prizing of life irrespective of its content…Uselessness is a fatal accusation to bring against any act which is done for its presumed utility, but those which are done for their own sake are their own justification.”
I think that one can argue that it is in fact this very non-utilitarian aspect of aesthetics that will prove to be the most essential object of concern for the survival of our species. I think that we will find that their utility for self-preservation, while indirect and accidental, may be the very essence of our survival as a species.
“It is in the spontaneous play of his faculties that man finds himself and his happiness.”
Slavery is, undoubtedly, the most degrading of human conditions; he is a slave when all energy is directed toward avoiding pain and death. In such a human condition as slavery, the slave is directed from without with little breath and strength available for self-directed enjoyment. In such a condition play and work take on a different meaning. They become the equivalent of freedom versus servitude.
From a subjective point of view all work and no play is servitude without freedom, i.e. little self-determination.
In a culture driven primarily by the necessity to maximize production and consumption freedom to play is a prize possession. In such a point of view work becomes a disparaging term and play an eulogistic one. “All who feel the dignity and importance of the things of the imagination need not hesitate to adopt the classification which designates them as play.” The value of play is intrinsic while the value of work is extrinsic; therein lays the sources of all worth.
“Evidently all values must be ultimately intrinsic. The useful is good because of its consequences.”
Quotes from “The Sense of Beauty” by George Santayana