Laziness Does Not Exist

by Devon Price

Cover image

Publisher: Atria Books
Copyright: January 2021
ISBN: 1-9821-4013-5
Format: Kindle
Pages: 216

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The premise of Laziness Does Not Exist is in the title: Laziness as a moral failing does not exist. It is a misunderstanding of other problems with physical or psychological causes, a belief system that is used to extract unsustainable amounts of labor, an excuse to withdraw our empathy, and a justification for not solving social problems. Price refers to this as the Laziness Lie, which they define with three main tenets:

  1. Your worth is your productivity.
  2. You cannot trust your own feelings and limits.
  3. There is always more you could be doing.

This book (an expansion of a Medium article) makes the case against all three tenets using the author's own burnout-caused health problems as the starting argument. They then apply that analysis to work, achievements, information overload, relationships, and social pressure. In each case, Price's argument is to prioritize comfort and relaxation, listen to your body and your limits, and learn who you are rather than who the Laziness Lie is trying to push you to be.

The reader reaction to a book like this will depend on where the reader is in thinking about the problem. That makes reviewing a challenge, since it's hard to simulate a reader with a different perspective. For myself, I found the content unobjectionable, but largely repetitive of other things I've read. The section on relationships in particular will be very familiar to Captain Awkward readers, just not as pointed. Similarly, the chapter on information overload is ground already covered by Digital Minimalism, among other books. That doesn't make this a bad book, but it's more of a survey, so if you're already well-read on this topic you may not get much out of it.

The core assertion is aggressive in part to get the reader to argue with it and thus pay attention, but I still came away convinced that laziness is not a useful word. The symptoms that cause us to call ourselves lazy — procrastination, burnout, depression, or executive function problems, for example — are better understood without the weight of moral reproach that laziness carries. I do think there is another meaning of laziness that Price doesn't cover, since they are aiming this book exclusively at people who are feeling guilty about possibly being lazy, and we need some term for people who use their social power to get other people to do all their work for them. But given how much the concept of laziness is used to attack and belittle the hard-working or exhausted, I'm happy to replace "laziness" with "exploitation" when talking about that behavior.

This is a profoundly kind and gentle book. Price's goal is to help people be less hard on themselves and to take opportunities to relax without guilt. But that also means that it stays in the frame of psychological analysis and self-help, and only rarely strays into political or economic commentary. That means it's more useful for taking apart internalized social programming, but less useful for thinking about the broader political motives of those who try to convince us to work endlessly and treat all problems as personal responsibilities rather than political failures. For that, I think Anne Helen Peterson's Can't Even is the more effective book. Price also doesn't delve much into history, and I now want to read a book on the origin of a work ethic as a defining moral trait.

One truly lovely thing about this book is that it's quietly comfortable with human variety of gender and sexuality in a way that's never belabored but that's obvious from the examples that Price uses. Laziness Does Not Exist felt more inclusive in that way, and to some extent on economic class, than Can't Even.

I was in the mood for a book that takes apart the political, social, and economic motivations behind convincing people that they have to constantly strive to not be lazy, so the survey nature of this book and its focus on self-help made it not the book for me. It also felt a bit repetitive despite its slim length, and the chapter structure didn't click for me. But it's not a bad book, and I suspect it will be the book that someone else needs to read.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2021-01-24

Last modified and spun 2021-01-31