Then there's this image which has been going round on Facebook, which reads as follows:
IT’S PRETTY AMAZING THAT OUR SOCIETY HAS REACHED A POINT WHERE THE EFFORT NECESSARY TO EXTRACT OIL FROM THE GROUND SHIP IT TO A REFINERY TURN IT INTO PLASTIC SHAPE IT APPROPRIATELY TRUCK IT TO A STORE BUY IT AND BRING IT HOME IS CONSIDERED TO BE LESS EFFORT THAN WHAT IT TAKES TO JUST WASH THE SPOON WHEN YOU’RE DONE WITH IT.
(This image annoys me a lot).
There's personal experience also. I have a disability which makes certain tasks either extremely difficult or very slow. Particularly as a child, but sometimes still, I've been called lazy as a result of that. And on the flip side of that, I found some activities so incredibly easy that I could do them in half the time others did and spend half of that time staring in to space - and worried that I must be being incredibly lazy as a result. I have something of a terror of being seen as lazy, and at times have pushed myself to injury by taking on unsustainable amounts of work to avoid that.
And then there's the speculation on why the turnout at the election was so low. There have been a number of comments along the lines of "I don't mind people who make a conscious decision not to vote but I do when they're just too lazy."
When I started to think about laziness, I struggled to understand what exactly it was. It's something we talk about all the time, but none of the definitions I could find really made sense. Dictionary.com is probably as good a starting place as any:
lazy [ley-zee] Origin la·zy [ley-zee] Show IPA adjective, -zi·er, -zi·est, verb, -zied, -zy·ing. adjective
1. averse or disinclined to work, activity, or exertion; indolent.
2. causing idleness or indolence: a hot, lazy afternoon.
3. slow-moving; sluggish: a lazy stream.
4. (of a livestock brand) placed on its side instead of upright.
I think we can safely ignore 4 for the purposes of this discussion. 2 and 3 (and I know these are not specifically applied to people, but the associations are still there) have real value judgements implicit in them. 3 is related to speed. There are a lot of values we attach to speed (remember that 'I want to punch slow moving people in the back of the head' facebook group). Speed of movement, speed of thought, speed of learning. Huge issues there when thinking about disability.
When it comes to 1, here's the definition of idleness (and I promise I won't spend all this post quoting dictionary.com:
idleness [ahyd-l] Origin i·dle [ahyd-l] Show IPA adjective, i·dler, i·dlest, verb i·dled, i·dling, noun adjective
1. not working or active; unemployed; doing nothing: idle workers.
2. not spent or filled with activity: idle hours.
3. not in use or operation; not kept busy: idle machinery.
4. habitually doing nothing or avoiding work; lazy.
5. of no real worth, importance, or significance: idle talk.
Everything there screams judgements on the value of work or activity. And we've all heard those before. Women's work vs men's work. Paid work vs unpaid work. Paid work vs unpaid work vs non work activities. Etc.
I think the first definition of lazy is the most interesting. It refers to not wanting to work, the favourite trope of beneficiary bashers everywhere. But if the definition of work is relatively complicated, that of activity is even more so. Not to be facetious, but what is not an activity? Watching television is as much an activity as running a marathon but only one of those activities would led the participant to accusations of laziness. So the way I'm looking at this is in terms of allocation of resources (and yes, I do find it deeply ironic that the image I posted referred to spoons). Laziness is a value judgement on how we, usually as individuals, allocate our personal resources.
The image I posted earlier, the one that berates people for not washing the spoons? Think for a minute about what types of work are involved in washing a metal spoons versus manufacturing a plastic spoon. One is individual, the other is part of a process involving many people, which theoretically allows for types of work to be allocated according to people's abilities, for predictable shifts, sick leave. It may not in practice, but the idea is not alien. Washing a spoon isn't a big deal - unless turning on taps is painful or impossible. If you take lunch to eat outside the home and there are no washing facilities, it should be easy to take it home and wash it. If you don't have memory impairments that mean chances are the remaining yoghurt on it will end up going mouldy in your bag. If you have a car to put it in rather than cart it round with you all day, that makes things easier. If you can afford a dishwasher, that makes things easier. If you are responsible for a number of people, you're going to have more spoons to wash. And it's not going to be just spoons - the same extends to plates and forks and cups.
So there are two things going on here. One is presenting washing a spoon as an activity which takes a universally equal and minimal amount of effort, rather than a task that can be difficult or impossible or cause a whole series of problems, depending on the individual and their resources. The other is to compare two ideas of work: one linked with individual unpaid labour in the home; the other paid employment in often traditionally male occupations. The former is a trivial activity; the latter hard and excessive work.
Voting is an allocation of resources also. I think in this country voting, for most people, uses less resources than it does in most others, and I'm happy about that. But it still requires resources, mental and physical. To complain about someone not voting, you're claiming the right to a say in how they allocate their personal resources. And that may well be in ignorance about factors which either cause them to have less personal resources, or to have more demands on those resources. I know people are frustrated about the result of the election, and see - rightly or wrongly - a low turnout as partly responsible. But if increasing the turnout is a primary goal for you, berating individuals is not the way to do it.
Of course, as I indicated at the beginning of this post, laziness is implicitly linked to fat. 'Fat and lazy' is such an automatic phrase I had to stop and think about why they are associated. Of course, there's the obvious belief that lack of physical activity causes fatness - or fatness causes lack of activity - or... oh dear god people, please make up your minds. In any case, it comes back to the privileging of one activity (physical exercise) over others. But there's more to it than that. By being fat, there's an implied judgement that you have allocated resources incorrectly - you have consumed too much and you have worked too little. Accusations of laziness are simply the next strand of that. Your allocation of resources is a moral failing on your part.
We all have things we should do. But that is not the same as giving some activities inherent moral worth (as opposed to moral value attached to what happens as a result of these, which is a different question entirely) over others nor is it demanding a certain level of exertion, physical or intellectual, for a person to be considered worthy or 'not lazy'. I think judgements such as these are very common in activist groups - I'm sure I've made them myself and I've certainly had them made against me. But laziness is, when it comes down to it, full of implied fatphobia and makes - often heavily gendered - statements about what work is and isn't valued, something I've had more than enough of.