GOR has published a series of wonderful comments under my post One last thing from Friday, and I refer you thereto. Now, far be it from me to disagree with the venerable GOR who is a faithful, old soul and regular visitor to this blog. Still, I'm not sure he isn't being a little too hard on the Europeans and a little too easy on the Americans.
But that is in a way beside the point. Something tells me the ancient Romans probably sloped off in the afternoon for a snooze, and it didn't stop them from building an empire which, for its time, was something of a minor success. I wouldn't be surprised if the Greeks on the other hand were at their desks by 7am and gave way to breakfast meetings with Spartans and Trojans alike. Nevertheless, sic transit gloria mundi. The fall of empire and the defeat of efficiency are as certain as the call of nature. The second law of thermodynamics has its effect even on culture. While it looks like the French are, technically speaking, lazy buggers, and Americans practically invented the Rodent Olympics - or the rat race ;-) - we still find Prozac is consummed in massive quantities in France and that the Americans gave us the La-Z-Boy. Entropy, moral and physical, is everywhere.
Perhaps the difference lies ultimately in contrary attitudes of soul, and in that respect it might be that neither the French (the Europeans) or the Americans have got it right. My starting is from Pieper: leisure is the basis of culture. That doesn't give the victory to the Europeans, although it does suggest the European vice of vacationing is more like the virtue of leisure than the opposite (just as prudery is more like purity than its opposing vice of laciviousness). Leisure is the basis of culture because we are not machines; our encounter with higher things takes time. It is in the nature of culture to require contemplative space of one kind or another. When Socrates declared that the unexamined life is not worth living, he didn't mean that statistics, pie charts and spread sheets were what we needed (or their ancient equivalent the abacus!).
I suppose this is what underpins the European conviction that the American way is brutalising: brutalising in the sense of rendering us into brutes. But then one could say that what American industriousness highlights is the value of responsibility. Don't get me wrong, I invariably defend American culture against European prejudice. And here is one of the reasons why: the European vacationing culture is in some ways connected to their assumptions about the providential State. Whilst looking like the old European instinct for cultural leisure, it can sometimes take on the dynamic of a child who refuses to be weaned. If the American way brutalises, the European way infantilises. Again, entropy, moral and physical, are lurking in the wings.
We have no control over these things now. Most of us now live in systems which are omnipresent and unavoidable. All I suppose we can do is to steal back from the blackhole of entropy the humanity which brutalising forces drain from us and the responsibility which infantilisation drains from us. Here we are grateful for the private spaces where we can hide away and pray to the Father. And, as John Senior says somewhere, that is our 'agenda' (things to be done): life won't be balanced, whether at work or on vacation, until we pay our tithe of time to God.