From “Alienation, Marvelous Pursuits and the New Nomadic Sciences”, by an anonymous author, written in 2001, sometimes a bit exaggerated, but sometimes exactly right.
A hobby is a form of consumption, the marvelous pursuit on the other hand, is a rejection of commodified convenience, it can’t be bought because it has no price. The person who reads Aramaic poetry on the sidewalk, the cramped city dweller who has an intricate knowledge of ferns, the person who can play a sonata with a blade of grass, these people interact with the things around them and the spaces they pass through in unexpected ways and make these places and moments their own. A sidewalk could be a place to pass by one one’s way from home to work or it could become a place to read Aramaic poetry to passers by. A marvelous pursuit refuses socially ascribed use. People learn such socially useless things as the names of fern and the grammar of dead languages because they are bored with the mind-dumbing options dished out to them … – Alienation, Marvelous Pursuits and the New Nomadic Sciences
I truly depends on how you define a hobby. Is any activity within the circumscribed limits offered by society automatically a form of alienated leisure? If you have a piano, and you play it it, using it as a piano, to make piano music, to play sheet music? Knave or Artisan? I suspect it’s not that easy. So yes, on the one hand, this marvelous pursuit is great, this freedom is great. And people seeing ads and hearing influencers tell them what to buy and what to do seem dead inside. But didn’t we all start out as kids, unformed, clueless? Some teacher tried to tell how great this or that book was, how to draw and paint, how to compose and sing, how to play this instrument or another. And sometimes, years later, we suddenly understand. We are quickstarting each other, overwhelming the kids, and letting them sort it out later, and maybe it works.
In this sense, capitalism then allows us to simply buy things to take our next step on the ladder. The important part is to not stay there, either. Moving on up, we use the product we bought, we learn to make our own, we build and synthesize from what we have available, and then perhaps we’re on our way, unalienated at last.
Learning to make things we use ourselves instead of buying them is a fundamental and necessary part of creating a non-capitalist stateless society.
Here we have scope problems along this line as well. How far back do you go. Surely we don’t intend us all to go from stone age to laptops in a lifetime. But learning to craft a table, a chair, an instrument, a tool – or dare I say it, write a program 😄 – are all suitable expressions of the “Do It Yourself” (DIY) spirit.
There was another aspect I thought worth mentioning:
The state did not appreciate the journeymen’s associations’ tendency to strike, nor their ability to move as they pleased when work conditions were unfavorable. … By separating intellectual and physical labor the state took power away from both types of workers. The manual laborers could then only build what others had planned and the planners — who in economic and political terms were the more powerful of the two groups — no longer had the capacity to build anything at all.
It reminds me of a podcast episode of “Thinking Allowed” I recently heard where they talked about the Luddites. Gavin Mueller, Lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, was talking about their book. There was talk of Taylor and Taylorism and Mueller said that Taylor was forced to work in the factory and hated his coworkers. He also saw that the workers had a lot of power because they knew how everything worked where as their bosses did not. And just like in the quote above with the journeymen, when Ford organized his own factories, he made sure that no single worker knew how to do the thing. They were alienated of their work and thus kept under control.
Returning to the article about marvellous pursuits, I think this is quite relevant these days:
The ‘master’ of a marvelous pursuit can never be an engineer because the marvelous is by nature useless to society (and therefore to capital). The value in marvelous pursuits lies in their self-creation which evades both use-value and exchange value. These pursuits may or may not have revolutionary potential, but it is very difficult for capitalism to recuperate them precisely because they are so useless.
When I’m on holidays, I always tell people asking me about my plans that I don’t know what I’m going to do but I do know that it’s going to be extremely unproductive.