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The idle society: Why the Puritans had the right idea

By | December 05, 2013 | Opinion

Do the math: Seven hours of taking care of two two-year-olds equals 100% exhaustion. So, after taking care of my twin niece and nephew all afternoon with my mom, I sat down to relax after putting them to bed at 8:30 p.m. 

I rarely watch TV on an actual television set, preferring to binge watch “Downton Abbey,” “Modern Family,” and Girls unhealthily on weekends. I didn’t quite know what to do with the 800-plus channels that faced me, so I settled on “Cupcake Wars.”

Mistake.

I only watched the show for about five minutes before I grew so annoyed that I decided to write this.

What does it say about our society that a show about competitive cupcake making is so widely watched and salivated over?

Have we all decided that there’s no better use of our time than watching strangers concoct sugary confections? If it weren’t so frustrating, it’d be comical.

I understand the idea of guilty pleasures, and of mindless entertainment.  I completely understand the appeal of coming home after a long day and wanting to relax and de-stress.

But I would argue that there is a point when mindless becomes too mindless. At least sitcoms provide some laughter and a base amount of mental stimulation.

Cupcakes? Not so much.

When I took American literature and we studied colonial-era literature, we slugged through Puritan author after Puritan author at a rate not dissimilar to churning butter (Puritan joke).

However, I think — despite their stringent no-fun policies — they had the right idea in some ways.

Puritans believed idleness was a sin, and that the best way to glorify God was to improve their society through industry and hard work. They didn’t believe in “free time,” assuming that if you weren’t working, you were sleeping or taking care of your family. This is definitely excessive, but I think they have a point.

Perhaps a more moderate version of this idea of industry comes from Thomas Jefferson in a letter to his wife in 1787 (original spelling): “The idle are the only wretched. In a world which furnishes so many emploiments which are useful, and so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we we ever know what ennui is.”

There is so much to learn, so much to read, so much to know and so much to contribute to our world. We can either use our Puritan-hated “free time” to better ourselves, or use it to watch strangers bake cupcakes in an unnecessarily frenetic environment.

I say, let us eat cake. And let us read while doing so.

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