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Notes On Slack

Slack is extra – extra line in the rope. Slack is not keeping things tight. It means not pulling, or at least not pulling so much that you use up all the slack.

In animal training, slack is a reward. When a horse does what you want, you give it slack in the reins. You release the pressure, and that release is pleasure enough. This suggests that slack itself, having a bit of extra in your rope, is something to value.

If slack is extra, it is linked to waste. Bataille suggested that what we do with our waste, our “extra,” is what defines us. And he reminds us of the (problematic) relationship between excess, waste, and sacrifice.

The kind of slack we’re talking most about here is the slack that means wasted time. And wasted time means time not given to the future. Time not put to use. To waste time is to be present. To simply be present is to waste time. If enough time is wasted in this way, (as Prayas Abhinav suggested) you are a buddha.

At work, to slack is to strike. It is an act of refusal – the refusal to be used. Here I think you can find some of its political sting. Slacking is a kind of sabotage, like those dutch workers throwing their wooden shoes into the machines that enslaved them – wreckage as resistance. Slacking subtly wrecks the productive machine of work life, it slows it down, gums it up.

I met a poet in Prague once. He told me that before the revolution, writers and philosophers tried to get work tending the boilers in big buildings. They could sit in the basement, quietly reading and writing subversive tracts, shoveling coal from time to time as necessary. They sought out the work with the most slack, and with that slack they made their revolution.

This is another bit of the sting – people with some extra in their time might spend it thinking and talking. Slack time is free time. And any kind of freedom can be habit forming.

Time is the one kind of economic capital that everyone starts out with (though of course we never quite know how much we’ll have). Industry (and industriousness) puts time to “good” use. You spend your time, trading it for a skimming of the monetary capital it turns into. The present is traded for a future (even if that future is only dinner).

To deliberately waste time is to critique the value of that exchange.

I keep thinking of that old Aesop fable about the ant and the grasshopper. The ant spent its summer hard at work, preparing for the winter. The grasshopper spent its summer slacking and singing. In the Aesop story, the grasshopper dies of hunger, filled with regret.

But I wonder. Even the Christian bible gives us a bit more slack.

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Slacker manifestos go way back.

Personally I spent the first two days of this summit slacking ostentatiously. During one I went to bed in full daylight and slept til sunset, and the other I mostly spent playing games. These are traditionally the slackest days of my year, and they are precious to me, slacking holy days, you might say. Time is spent extravagantly, wasted easily, work is sacrificed, burned away.

This isn’t slacking as resistance or revolution, it’s slacking as pleasure, as intrinsic time, as simple freedom.


More slack at Cutting Slack: Paradoxes of Slackerdom