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The Right To Laziness — A New French Theory To Put Work In Its Proper Place

A French politician recently made the case for the "right to laziness". In the era of the “great resignation” or "quiet quitting”, the idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. After all, history shows us that work is a very recent human passion.

satiric painting of a 19th century woman at a cafe with a laptop

WiFi at Moulin de la Galette, after Ramón Casas i Carbó.

Gaspard Koenig


PARIS — “The value of work” has been one of French President Emmanuel Macron and his government's priorities in recent years. Communists, too, claim that working is a source of emancipation, while the classic liberalism makes labor the core of progress. Meanwhile, the tech enthusiasts who hold the real power today also see work as the only way to save the public accounts.

Big issues are at stake here: our whole social system — from calculating pensions to paying allowances — is driven by the hunt for that next job.

In the middle of all this, Sandrine Rousseau’s dissident voice rose up. The left-leaning French economist and politician started asking for a “right to laziness.”

Naturally, many found the idea laughable — and yet, in the era of the “great resignation” and "quiet quitting," a right to laziness deserves serious consideration.

Labor is a recent passion

Let’s first remember that on the scale of human history, work is a very recent passion. The U.S. anthropologist Marshall Sahlins points out that hunter-gatherers only spent a few hours a day looking for supplies. The rest of their time was dedicated to their social interactions, as well as playing and dancing.

For citizens in Ancient Greece, too, there was no more noble occupation than political debates. Historian Paulin Ismard studied the the “dêmosioi”, slaves who were delegated high admin tasks whose jobs were considered demeaning.

French aristocrats from the Ancien Régime were very touchy when it came to their dignity. Still, they would have rather died than sacrificed otium (leisure) to negotium (the non-existence of leisure). It was not until the 17th century’s Protestant traders that we see the biblical idea of “earning one’s bread with the sweat of one’s brow” starting to be taken seriously.

Three hours a day

The right to laziness, on the other hand, is inscribed in a tradition of anarchism, and someone like Paul Lafargue (also known as Karl Marx’s son-in-law) was briefly its spokesperson. In an eponymous pamphlet, Lafargue brilliantly reports a “moribund passion for work, pushed until the exhaustion of the individual’s vital forces.”

The recent burnout epidemic that we are going through makes these ideas very relevant today. No one enjoys losing their lives trying to earn them. So, Lafargue thinks the working class should work no more than three hours every day.

Still, work, as a productive and compensated activity, cannot be considered as vain idleness. Lafargue asks a great question: why should sociability, which is an essential component of our fulfillment as human beings, be inextricably linked to our employability?

photo of a man sleeping on a couch while others work on their computers.

Who has his perspectives straight?


Response to a double emergency

The “right to laziness” is answering a double emergency in today's society. On one hand, the average hours worked per person have significantly dropped as a consequence of technology: according to the French institute for statistics, INSEE, the country is currently getting closer to the 15 hours a week that Keynes anticipated a century ago.

On the other hand, ecological exigence makes us question productivism. Yet, productivism is the foundation of the liberal-Marxist alliance. Inspired by British economist David Ricardo’s ideas, Marx states that work is at the origin of every creation of value.

So all through the 20th century, the capitalist workaholism and the Communist movement of Stakhanovism (a system designed to raise production by offering incentives to efficient workers) represented two ways of increasing material goods.

But taking the search seriously for what Sandrine Rousseau's calls "energy sobriety" means putting work back in its real place.

Promise of pleasure

The right to laziness would imply redesigning our social system in a radically different way. Social benefits should no longer be considered subsidies that one gets between two jobs but as a legitimate income to help us meet our basic needs. Hence the proposal for a universal income.

It is not about denigrating work: it is about admitting that it does not sum up the value of an individual within society. It is about remembering that creating value exceeds what is economically measurable, and that the state should remain neutral when it comes to choosing — or not choosing — accumulation.

One last thing that should however be notified to Sandrine Rousseau. “Sobriety” does not mean “austerity.” The right to laziness isn’t a vow of poverty but the promise of pleasure.

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Anti-Gay Law Leaves Nowhere To Turn For Uganda’s LGBTQ+

Disowned by their families, evicted by their landlords, and persecuted by the state, LGBTQ Ugandans have fewer and fewer places to turn.

image of LGBTQ members

Members of the Talented Youth Community Fellowship, a Christian LGBTQ group in Uganda

Nakisanze Segawa & Beatrice Lamwaka

Welcome to Worldcrunch’s LGBTQ+ International. We bring you up-to-speed each week on the latest on everything LGBTQ+ — from all corners of the planet. This week, we feature an article by Nakisanze Segawa for Global Press Journal on how Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community is living in fear under the country’s recent anti-homosexuality law. But first, the latest news…

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing

🌐 5 things to know right now

• European court slams Russia in two cases of homophobic violence: On Sept. 12, the European Court of Human Rights found Russia guilty of two cases of homophobic police violence. In one case, a man was kidnapped in 2017 by authorities and beaten while in custody. In the second case, the court sided with 11 Russians who said they had been unlawfully arrested during LGBTQ+ protests from 2011 to 2012. Russia was ordered to pay each of the victims up to €52,000 ($56,000) in damages.

• Kenyan upholds LGBTQ+ NGO registration: Kenya’s Supreme Court rejected the government’s bid to overturn a ruling ordering it to recognize the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission as an NGO. The appeal came from MP Peter Kaluma, who claimed the NGO would support the “promotion” of homosexuality. The court scolded Kaluma, writing that, as a member of parliament, he “ought to have known that this application was misconceived.”

Elle Hungary cover features gay fathers: The Hungarian edition of Elle Magazine put two gay fathers and their baby on the cover, under the headline “Born From Love”. Elle editors said that they wanted to “contribute to the acceptance of rainbow families” as the Hungarian government continues to introduce more anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

• Andorra’s prime minister comes out as gay: Xavier Espot Zamora, Prime Minister of the tiny European country of Andorra, revealed that he is gay during an interview with the nation’s public broadcaster. He said that he’s “never hid it,” and added that his orientation has no bearing on his politics. He said he hopes that his coming out might help young people see that “regardless of their condition or sexual orientation, (they) can prosper in this country.”

• Almost half of Grindr’s staff resign: Dating app Grindr lost 45% of its employees after announcing a strict return-to-the-office policy – shortly after a majority of staff announced they planned to unionize. The new schedule would require workers to be in the office two days a week, and would force many employees to relocate. The Communications Workers of America union has filed a labor complaint against the company.

Anti-Gay Law Leaves Nowhere To Turn For Uganda’s LGBTQ+

KAMPALA — Just two days after the Ugandan Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in March, Sam received a call. Her landlord asked her to leave the house she had been renting for almost two years in Kyebando-Kanyanya village, about 4 miles from Kampala.

When Sam, a lesbian who prefers to be identified by one name for fear of stigmatization, asked why she was being evicted, her landlord asked to meet her the following day in the presence of the local chairman (a village leader). She declined, asking for a one-on-one meeting. At the meeting, Sam’s landlord told her that her son, a human rights lawyer, warned her the new law would punish landlords who rent rooms to “homosexuals.”

“‘I don’t want to be arrested on accusations of promoting homosexuality because you are my tenant,’” Sam says the landlord told her.

The landlord told her she — and the community — knew she was in a sexual relationship with another woman. At the time, Sam’s partner had not been living in the country for months, but with the probability of the president signing the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law, the witch hunt was already on to identify those who should be reported.

Sam didn’t deny or confirm her sexual identity to the landlord but immediately vacated the premises.President Yoweri Museveni’s recent signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law threatens to make the lives of community members who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer) even more difficult, as landlords will face consequences for renting property to them.

According to reports published in April and May by the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, a local nongovernmental organization that provides legal aid, there was increased violence, including evictions of LGBTQ persons in Uganda, after Parliament passed the bill but before the president signed it.

In the two-month period from March 21, when Parliament passed the bill, to May 29, the last day before the law came into force, HRAPF handled 141 cases involving LGBTQ or suspected LGBTQ persons. This is twice as many incidents than were reported in all of 2021.

Of these cases, 65% involved violence or violations that targeted individuals purely or partly on the basis of their presumed sexuality and gender identity, and affected a total of 159 persons. Twenty-eight of these cases were evictions, affecting 66 persons.

In the 21-day period after the law came into force, from May 30 to June 20, HRAPF handled a further 43 cases involving LGBTQ persons, of which eight cases were evictions that affected nine individuals. The evictions were mostly carried out by property owners, though local council leaders were also involved in some. The evictions in these three weeks are almost three times as many as were reported in all of 2021 and only slightly higher than those recorded in the second half of 2020.

Sam believes the bill has ruined the relationship between landlords — many of whom were previously tolerant of members of the LGBTQ community — and tenants.

A statement issued by Anita Among, speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, after the presidential signing of the bill, reads, “I now encourage the duty bearers under the law to execute the mandate bestowed upon them in the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The people of Uganda have spoken, and it is your duty to now enforce the law in a fair, steadfast and firm manner.”

The law is explicit on the risks to those thought to be housing members of the community. The main section dealing with tenancy is titled “Brothels,” but it could easily be construed as anyone renting property to someone from the community. Clause B of section 12 reads, “A person being the owner or occupier of premises or having or acting or assisting in the management or control of the premises, induces or knowingly causes any man or woman to resort to or be upon such premises for the purpose of being unlawfully and carnally known by any man or woman of the same sex whether such carnal knowledge is intended to be with any particular man or woman, commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for one year.”

But John Musila, member of Parliament for the Bubulo East constituency, says, “Those claiming to be evicted are artificial homosexuals promoting homosexuality for monetary gains. No landlord will come to look through your door to see who you are sleeping with. Then how can they be punished for housing people they have not caught in the act of sex?”

The lawmaker, who voted for the Anti-Homosexuality Act, adds, “The law is very clear. It doesn’t discriminate or punish someone for being gay or a lesbian because we know that in our African communities, we have always had these people.” Speaking about a 75-year-old bisexual woman in his village, whom the community knows about and who has never been attacked, he says, “The law only punishes those who are caught in the homosexual act: a man having sex with a man, an individual raping a minor, a woman having sex with a woman. It also punishes those who promote it.”

Musila also says that the HRAPF reports on evictions and violence against the community are a ploy to get donor funding and “not an actual reflection of events where homosexuals were caught having sex, therefore breaking the law.”

Musila’s statements reflect the confusing language of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which lists one of its primary principles as “prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex and the promotion or recognition of sexual relations between persons of the same sex.”

Those being evicted could be suffering an unintended consequence of the law. Eron Kiiza, a human rights lawyer, says landlords are required by the law to terminate the tenancy of those they discover “engaged in homosexuality.” Not knowing that their tenant is a member of the LGBTQ community is a legal defense, but one that is difficult for landlords to prove. If members of the community are found living in a certain premise, the landlord could still be subjected to criminal proceedings which are traumatizing and can lead to stigmatization of the landlord even if they eventually get acquitted. Kiiza also adds that prior to the law, there were already landlords who were hostile to the community due to religious or cultural reasons. The new law not only empowers them to evict LGBTQ individuals but also obligates them to do so as soon as they discover their sexuality.

Read the full story, translated by Worldcrunch here.

— Nakisanze Segawa & Beatrice Lamwaka / Global Press Journal

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