Monday, 23 February 2015

The busyness of Mormons - compared with me...

The busyness of serious Mormons (specifically Mormon men) arises naturally from the three life priorities of family, church and work.

Families are the priority. There should be as many children as can be raised decently; and families must be given adequate time and energy.

The LDS church absolutely depends on members to run it, and good works are mandatory. There are 'callings' to numerous necessary specific part-time, unpaid church jobs (of which the heaviest may be Bishop and Stake President, but many are very time-consuming, and at unsocial hours).

Work for Mormon men must be harder than for most people; because there is a tithe to support the church, a larger than usual family (indeed, the family should ideally be grown until it uses-up all surplus income), missions to be saved and paid for, more education than usual to be paid for. And this means the added busyness of careful, detailed budgeting.

In sum, to do all this; active(devout) Mormons almost-must be busy- and by all accounts they are. Very.


This is as it should be; this is the way the world runs.

And most people seem happier to be busy - and being busy at good things is the best kind of busy - and I say nothing against it.

Busyness has a cost, of course - in terms of depth, contemplation, originality, spontaneity... but it probably is a cost that is (nearly always) worth paying - at least the good things of life - family and church; and also work, and therefore 'society', are beneficiaries of the cost paid.


But for myself, I cannot tolerate a life of busyness.

I have tried, several times, and failed to lead a busy and efficient life - but I simply cannot make myself do it.

Like Thoreau, but probably more so, I absolutely require a life 'with a broad margin'.

If I am not getting it, the need grows to become irresistible; I become possessed by a kind of slowly-exploding rage until I have (by whatever means) created an adequate margin.


All this is exacerbated and enforced by my not having a great deal of energy - I fairly soon tire of anything; even supposed leisure activities like watching TV. I find 'fun' especially exhausting. It seems that I need (or at least want) a lot more unstructured time, and also sleep, than most people.


I cannot justify this - and it would probably be wrong to try. It all sounds like - and no doubt is - self-indulgence.

I can claim that I would not do what I do, unless I was not busy - but them who cares about what I do? And is it any more, or better, than what other much busier (and more socially valuable people) do? No. Not really. Not remotely. 


I know that if everyone was like me, there would be no society; humanity would collapse into chaos, and go extinct.

Thank Heavens for busy people! Salt of the earth! - but I am not one of them.


Note: I should clarify that although I am not 'A Mormon'  - not a member nor even an attender of the CJCLDS - I believe all the Mormon doctrines and fully support the church and its leadership.


Brandon said...

I can relate to you very much. I've suffered from low energy my whole life and am a young man of only 27. I too find "fun" exhausting and it has taken me nearly eight years to complete a simple baccalaureate degree which the usual student completes in four. This is a depressing state of affairs as I would like to have a decent sized family, but my need for "broad margins" as you say make it appear a labor of herculean proportions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Brandon - I put off marrying and having a family for the same reason (also I was an atheist, and my then perspective was essentially hedonic/ easy life). Nonetheless when I eventually married, and then eventually had children, they were by far the best things I ever did - love provided what was needed. However, family and work had/ has me at full stretch with the broad margin - and I gave up on most organized hobbies, general socializing etc. mostly due to lack of drive/ energy.

AlexT said...

What you said about growing a family until it uses up all the surplus. How does this go together with the mormon church urging its members to save for a rainy day plus pay for missions? I understand that mormons have one of the highest savings rates in the US.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AT - That is correct,preparation for adversity is one of the extra financial demands, and therefore a further worthwhile activity which must be budgeted with money and time.

My point about the family is that active Mormons have continued to display the traditional fertility patterns of wealthier parents having more children than poorer parents - and this is planned because contraceptive use is almost universal. So both explicit preferences and revealed preferences show that income is a constraint on numbers of children.

Denise said...

Ah, it seems I am very much like you (as you have described). But I am also an “active” mormon - in the sense, that I serve in various callings, visit others, am friendly. Certainly, I believe. Like you, I want/need much sleep and a good day for me is one that isn’t full of scheduled events. A common phrase that begins any speech given to a group of women (especially in my church) is: “I know we women these days are all so busy, but…(insert the requisite reminder of what important principle busy people might overlook in their busyness). I never feel that I relate to being called busy - even when life (children) has required my constant attention. My requirement for a life lived “with a broad margin” has often made me feel I don’t really belong among the Saints.

After many years of living with the anxiety that others would finally find me out (for how could they not, they are remarkable people after all), I am less anxious now. I’ve noticed lately that I do have a place. (And how awful if we really were all the same.) You say that if everyone was like you, humanity would collapse, etc…. I think the people attracted to me, the friends and family members that desire my presence, find comfort, conversation, exchanges of ideas, empathy, and a bit of good humor. I imagine it is the same with you (only more so, you being such an amazing thinker and writer). I think you ought to redefine what you think it is being the Salt of the earth.

Felix said...

I am a devout Mormon, a young associate at a large law firm, and a father to three young children. I am thus quite busy, and I read your post with interest, and found myself identifying with you to some extent.

It made me recall John Glubb's masterful "The Fate of Empires."

I'm not sure if you've read that essay, but in it, the author identifies certain patterns through which every great civilization passes. Each civilization begins with an "Outburst" stage -- one that he notes is characterized by "energy and courage." Whether it's the Macedonians in 320 B.C., the Arabs in the 600s, the Mongols in the 1300s, or the United States in the 1800s, Glubb identifies small nations, "treated as insignificant by its contemporaries, suddenly emerging from its homeland and overrunning large areas of the world." Maybe Mormons are a group of people still in the "Outburst" stage.

The outburst leads to growth and growth leads inevitably to wealth, however, and it is wealth that Glubb identifies as the cause of decline in empires. Empires become so rich that wealth supplies much more than mere necessities. It supplies the pursuit of knowledge. And every period of decline, he argues, is characterized by an "expansion of intellectual activity." Intellectualism leads to discussion, debate, and argument. And this is a problem as far as the empire is concerned, because these things destroy the loyalty and self-sacrifice required to maintain an empire.

Where is Mormonism currently at? Hard to say. We're still pioneers in a certain sense. And I think that as long as we're having lots of kids, to the limit of what we can provide for, we'll be too "busy," i.e., wrapped up in providing for those kids (and saving for their future missions, and weddings, and college tuition) to sit back and intellectualize the whole enterprise too much. And according to Glubb, that's a recipe for growth. In all honesty, while I identify with you to a large extent, I constantly try to tell myself to stop intellectualizing and just "do more." It really is a secret for happiness and satisfaction, and according to Glubb, empire.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Felix - Thanks for the comment. You ask "Where is Mormonism currently at?" - a very good place, I think - with an inspired and strong leadership; and on the cusp of a new era because after a century of increasing acceptance and assimilation the mainstream US culture has again decided that Mormonism should be extinguished. My hope is that more people will do as I do - look to the CJCLDS for discernment and spiritual authority in their lives, even when they cannot become church members.

@Denise - Thank you. I think you have put your finger on the difference between being a convert and being already a member. If I was *already* baptised into the CJCLDS there would be no problem at all about my remaining within the church and supporting it 100 percent but in a rather suboptimal and feeble fashion. But it is not possible to convert on that basis.