Friday, May 9, 2014

Is Star Wars a waste of time? What about the NFL Draft? (now updated with commentary on pot!)

So a week or so ago, there was an extended discussion on a friend's facebook page about whether it's wholly inappropriate for grown men to pursue Star Wars fandom (rewatching the movies, reading the fanfiction novels, discussing the movies online, going to conventions, etc.) as a hobby.  Someone linked to an article which started with "Star Wars fans are weird" but basically argued that, well, Star Wars-ing and video gaming and similar activities are unproductive.  "My dad didn't do any such thing; he worked, he played with the kids, he fixed leaky faucets and did other useful things."

(Sorry, I can't find the article any longer.)

You know what?  My dad's main hobby was sailing -- every summer weekend growing up, we sailed.  But during the week and during the winter, did he do something marvelously productive after dinner?  Not really.  He watched TV.

But tonight my husband has the TV tuned to the NFL draft, and the reality is that as much as there's a gut reaction to mock geeks and video gamers, the Men With Time-Wasting Hobbies are largely the ones whose eyeballs are currently glued to the TV, looking to see who their favorite teams have picked.  And I would guess the amount of time that men spend on spectator sports has escalated, with the mushrooming of televised sports (how many sports channels are there, anyway?) and the amount of time some men spend following their teams, not to mention the increasing number of teams in the first place (though the large expansions of the major league teams is a bit old by now, I guess).  Which in one respect is a boost for the economy, right?

What impact does Star Wars fandom, or sports-obsessing, have on the rest of us?  Is this really nothing new, and just something some men simply choose to do in their off-time?  Or are these men being irresponsible, failing in their fathering obligations?  Are these men deferring marriage in order to pursue their hobbies?  Or is the cause and effect reversed, and are they pursuing their hobbies because they don't have relationships (because, after all, Star Wars fans and gamers are geeky, and if they're disproportionately male, it gets to be a bit difficult to meet a woman in the first place)?  And, not to go all "Men on Strike" on you, but do men have an obligation to society to do something Useful and Productive, whether it's marrying and starting a family, or Getting Involved in the Community in some other way?

And, really, the economy of the future seems to be reliant on the growth of Time-Wasting.  Video games (from World of Warcraft to Bingo Blitz).  Spectator sports.  I can't tell you how many yoga studios are opening up around town.  Kids' sports, and the growth of travel teams.

What do you think?

UPDATE:  When it comes down to it, this is fairly connected to the question of pot legalization.  There are a lot of issues with pot where it's difficult to separate cause and effect.  For instance, does pot cause schizophrenia, or are people headed towards mental illness more drawn to pot than others?   And, more generally, does pot take away ones motivation to achieve something in life, or are slackers (or executive function-impaired people) more likely to smoke pot in the first place?

In any event, banning pot is justified by a legal principle that says "we ban substances which, by their ingestion, cause altered states of mind.  We don't want otherwise competent people unable to handle emergencies of whatever kind because they have voluntarily incapcitated themselves."  (We don't ban alcohol because one can drink in moderation.)

But I think it's reasonable, in addition, to say that a lot of the reason for opposing pot is, in the end, this presumed pot --> laziness causation, and the fear that, if pot-smoking becomes legal, and normalized, that large numbers of young people will become more content to work whatever job is sufficient to buy their day's ration of pot, without attempting to further their education and gain promotions, nor to marry, start a family, and save for the future, let alone get involved in their communities (churches, charitable groups, etc.)

And of course, our society can't function with nothing other than slackers, and one of our core values, as Americans, is the idea of pushing yourself to achieve great things, whether it's heading out to the frontier or Thomas Edison's "invention is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration" dictum.  To be sure, I find it hard to say that any individual young person has a duty to go out there and make something of themselves, or has a duty to start a family and raise the children responsibly -- but it does become a "tragedy of the commons" issue, as one aspect of the overall issue of voluntary childlessness.


  1. If something brings you enjoyment and relaxation, that's not a waste. Now, that's not to say that there are more productive things that could be done, and to the extent that you are neglecting things you NEED to do, then yes, I would argue that someone is "wasting" time.

    But just because something isn't tangibly productive doesn't mean there is nothing productive about it. The amount of information that someone has to absorb to make watching the NFL draft meaningful is surely an exercise for their brain. Same with something like World of Warcraft (before it got too easy) - group coordination, problem-solving, maximizing effort - those are skills, too.

    The pot connection is a bit of a stretch, I think. I thought that there actually was research that showed that pot DID cause neural damage, causing habitual, heavy users to become ... err ... less mentally agile and less motivated. So that changes the equation for me. I think we should treat pot as a prescription pain-killer rather than either: 1) a basically harmless recreational drug; or 2) completely illegal substance.

  2. What I'm not sure about, with respect to pot, is whether the causation has been firmly established. But, in any event, you're correct that we need to treat this in the same way as prescription drugs -- and if we had, from the start, then the medical marijuana --> recreational pot might not have evolved the way it has.

    1. I used to be a Star Wars nut, back when I discovered that the fictional universe of the films had been expanded into many dozens of novels by many sci-fi authors...

      As an aside about marijuana and mental illness...

      Clayton Cramer has gathered lots of data about mental illness, and occasionally summarized it on his blog. While he is better-known for historical research into gun laws and gun culture in the U.S., Cramer made research into mental health one of his hobbies. This partially sprang from his experiences with an elder brother who suffered from schizophrenia.

    2. But what is marijuana a treatment for? I'm not aware of any peer-reviewed double blind published studies that suggest that marijuana is the optimal treatment for any disease. (Give me citations if I'm wrong.) Without those studies, the FDA could never approve marijuana as a prescription drug.

    3. A quote about motes and beams comes to mind every time the topic of recreational drugs comes up...humans have been messing with their brain chemistry for tens of thousands of years; the Mrs. Grundy's of the world need to grow up and mind their own business.

    4. @y81 - for some people, marijuana helps manage chronic pain and anxiety like no other remedy. A while back I read an article written by a woman who found that the best way to manage her autistic son's anxiety was a hemp compound which she was able to get from a medicinal grower in CA (can't find it now, but it did appear on a few years back).

  3. "And, not to go all "Men on Strike" on you, but do men have an obligation to society to do something Useful and Productive, whether it's marrying and starting a family, or Getting Involved in the Community in some other way?"

    The answer to your question is yes, men do have such an obligation, and those who waste their time with escapist hobbies like Star Wars and sports are shirking it. As Christians, you and I believe that the highest precept of the universal law is that we each love and serve God, and each love and serve our neighbor. When evaluating any particular past time, the first question needs to be whether or not it accomplishes these highest goals, and in the case of Star Wars, spectator sports and other escapist activities, the answer is that they don't. Playing or coaching sports can do that, creating culture can do that, tutoring children can do that, productive and expansive reading can do that, because all of these activities can be taken up, with personal enjoyment as a proximate goal, while service of God and neighbor are the ultimate goal. Self-directed hobbies like plane modeling, Star Wars and spectator sports cannot do that. They're a spiritual and cultural morass.

    From a Christian perspective, the only valid justification that one could make for these activities is that they give a Christian an opportunity to relate to someone they're trying to reach, but even in that case, the end goal has to be to lead the person out of that self-directed activity, and that doesn't seem to be your question.

    The defense of these kinds of activities usually turns into, "leave them alone, it's their life and they can decide what to do with it." This is a very un-Christian response. Remember,

    "You are not your own. You were bought with a price." -1 Corinthians 6:19.

    1. Also, if you're looking for a read, I would recommend Josef Pieper's "Leisure, the Basis of Culture," which addresses the subject of your inquiry.

  4. I'm as much in favor of "being productive" as the next person (for a while I was bothered by running games on computers because I didn't like the idea of all those clock cycles being wasted on a game!), but really...chill out. Everybody who spends a fair chunk of their time being productive deserves some down time with no judgements attached, whether it's following the NFL draft, watching reality TV, playing the guitar for fun, etc. If I were to believe in god (which I don't), I would not want to believe in a god that didn't recognize the healing power of spending some time every now and then just doing whatever the heck I want to do, as long as it's not to excess nor hurtful to the people I care about.

  5. Or is the cause and effect reversed, and are they pursuing their hobbies because they don't have relationships

    I'm one of your lurkers that happens to be single with a geeky hobby. :-)

    Admittedly, some geeky hobbies are turn offs to a sizable number of women, and if you don't have any other redeeming qualities like being physically attractive or charming, women are likely to you for a partner. I've had plenty of women tell me that I'm "viable", yet none of them have dated men anywhere near as geeky as me. Mind you, I'd also argue that some of the geeky men are holding out for women that may never want them, while overlooking the few women that do find them attractive, and it's something that I'm certainly guilty of doing.

    In my case, I happen to be a railfan and a roadgeek, so for me, fun is basically getting into my car and just driving endlessly or using Google Street View to just look at highways and big green signs. I'll spend my free days riding trains and taking photos of them, something that can admittedly be a bit of a problem in our current climate. I ended up going to Germany nearly four years ago just to ride trains, and nearly all of my vacations have been oriented toward riding subways and light rail systems. It's certainly not really attractive to women, and being "lonely" just reinforces the choice to go on vacation to ride trains versus sitting on a beach.

    Not every guy happens to be that geeky, but a lot of young men have simply found it harder to attract and maintain female attention, so it's easier to just disappear into a world of video games or other hobbies to fill in the empty time. And a whole generation (including myself at 30), have grown up with porn so we're not exactly starving for sex either in a certain sense.


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I've set the comments up to allow anonymous users -- but I'd love it if you "signed" your comments (as some of my readers have done) just so you have an identity of sorts.