The paradox between the Hefner lifestyle and our Puritanical dedication to hard work


I’m one of those people who is working too hard right now. I’m sure I’m not alone. But what does Hugh Hefner have to do with hard work?

Hefner was the first to turn soft porn into a mainstream industry. And that took a lot of work. It can’t be said that Hefner didn’t work hard, turning play into a 24-hour a day job, right into his 90s. Hugh managed to turn being a playboy into a full-time occupation.

At some point, pretending to be eternally 35 must take a toll. But the man was dedicated to work. Surf the web and you’ll find his 6 career lessons, including old standards like: do what you love, learn the rules then break them, and stay current.

Hef’s hard work isn’t what we’ll remember, though his activism in support of racial equality should be. What we’ll remember is excess and self-indulgence, the celebration of celebrity and wealth, and conspicuous consumption. Which included, of course, the consumption of young women. Today’s Donald Trump is ultimate product of Hef’s commercialization of expensive poor taste and shabby morality.
I know I wrote in the headline that there’s a paradox between Hefner’s lifestyle and our obsession with hard work. But that’s not really true. Hugh Hefner was one of the first propagandists for greed is good. A proto-Ayn Rand, as it were. Yes, he liked leftist art and opinion. But he dug slavery even more. The enslavement of women was visible. But his endorsement of the enslavement of the rest of us to servitude, overproduction and debt penury to create nourish the growing luxury-discriminating class, was less so. Though I’m not sure he was conscious of it. He just didn’t care.

So how did it come to this? Imagine capitalism freed from regulation. It’s that simple. Unregulated greed gets wherever it wants, pretty much like unregulated sexual predation what it wants from women and children.

As more profits get driven to the top, the rest of us have to adjust and take less. Enter the gig economy. Two-income families. Stagnating wages. Wealth inequality. Lack of wealth redistribution. Extraction of natural resources and externalizing costs like neglecting environmental cleanups. Plus financialization of the economy, easy access to credit, accumulation of debt, overconsumption, overwork and reduced quality of life.

I read recently that the Canadian workforce has separated into three groups: knowledge workers who put in long hours, low-paid service workers who cobble together multiple jobs and put in long hours, and jobless people who’ve been displaced by technology and have no work. Seen as a whole it’s a recipe for stress and anxiety on all levels, as we compete for diminishing financial resources that are being Hoovered up by the obscenely rich.

Today, Canadian couples put in about 65 hours a week, combined, on paid work. That’s up an extra day a week from what it was in 1976, when it was a little less than 58 hours. Hefner’s dream of a leisure economy, if he ever had that dream, is working in reverse. Modern workers finding it hard to make ends meet skip vacation time and weekend time as rates of burnout, depression and mental health issues continue to rise.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch here on planet Earth, things aren’t doing too well either. I just finished reading an piece in the Guardian about the old book, Limits of Growth, written back in 1972. The authors, Donella and Dennis Meadows, predicted escalating growth of industries, the collapse of natural resources, the continuing spread of pollution, warned about the effects of CO2 emissions on global warming, and the stagnation of the world’s economy. 

Australian researchers have recently revisited Limits to Growth to see how we’re doing. Turns out the book was eerily accurate. We’re doing badly. We’re right on track for environmental overshoot and economic collapse by mid-century in the “business as usual” projection. Those collapses will include shortages of every kind, money, food, fuel, natural resources. If we follow the business as usual model, the book predicts that by the end of this century we will have returned to pre-1900 living standards.

It may be time to take off the Hefner aviator shades, take a few days off to plant a garden, and reinvent our government so we can re-regulate our predatory institutions. But taking off the damned shades may be the hardest job.

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