Netdud‘s recommended article from his comment on yesterday’s post, and his return email address (makemeonewitheverything), got me to thinking. His article talks about how the misguided way we measure national wealth began in 1650; and “Make me one with everything,” is the punchline to my all-time favourite joke: “What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?” What he got me thinking about is why bars are slightly disreputable in western culture. Why, during the prohibition, certainly, but in a vague way before and since, is time spent in a drinking establishment considered time wasted?
According to a book loaned to me by my friend Dave, it’s all the fault of the 17th century Scots. They had just gone through their Protestant Reformation which brought in hardline Presbyterian values about eschewing pleasure and keeping one’s nose to the grindstone (idle hands are the devil’s playground!). At the same time, Jimmy Watts was busy inventing the steam engine, and the Industrial Revolution was gearing up.
Up to that point in time, people were generally craftsmen, tradesmen, farmers, etc. You got by, or didn’t, by dint of your own skill and effort. If you wanted to take a break for a few minutes or hours, that was fine. There was no such thing as a “factory job” where humans are replaceable cogs because virtually no skill is required, and everyone is driven to perform the tasks over and over, constantly. When factory jobs were invented, they needed factory workers to fill them. Well, no-one would really want a job like that, but there were enough poor people to fill the spots. And the church gave them almost hero status for working so hard for so little. So the kings of Capital could thank the church for making the hell bearable.
And the church benefited, too: once the “religion” of hard work became accepted dogma in society and industry, the rest of the church’s not-much-fun ideas about self-restraint and limiting one’s pleasures didn’t look as bleak. So a mutual reinforcement cycle developed which to this day makes most of us feel slightly guilty when we are not doing anything, or even not doing anything productive. It’s a rare person, and a lucky one, who can truly be inactive in mind and body and be at peace. (I wish I was one.)
And, of course, to answer my question of why bars have a stigma: it’s virtually impossible to be “productive” in a bar. Sure, I suppose you could have a business lunch over a beer and get some stuff done, but the vast majority of time spent in bars is “leisure time,” and therefore bad.