Rest is crucial. We all need rest. We need the fundamental recognition of our humanity that says that we deserve to recharge and recover, that we deserve care. Capitalism hates rest. It tells us that our only value is our productivity and only capitalism can measure our productivity. Capitalism tells us that rest is a thing we have to work hard enough to earn - and we never seem to be working hard enough.
Hustle culture turns this brutal exploitation into an ideal. It seeks to make us eager participants in hyper-capitalism. It tells us that our humanity is measured, not in how we care for each other, but in the belongings that our hustle can accumulate. Hustle culture can make us harm and exploit each other. Hustle culture reinforces classism, undermines collective care and responsibility, and ties us to white supremacist ideals.
So if all of the above is true - and it is - why is this essay titled as such?
Lately there has been a rise in movements supporting rest. Blogs, memes, social media pages, magazine articles and more regularly encourage people to give up the hustle and take care of their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Your hustle is harming you and others. Rest can battle capitalism. Rest is revolution.
There are a lot of people doing very important work in reconnecting us to ourselves, and reminding us that we are deserving of care. Many Black women are leading this work, and I do think that it is important that we continue to make space as Black women for our own care and restoration, especially in a society that has for so long only defined us by how we can care for others. But as the idea of radical rest has increased in popularity and size, and as just about everyone has their own take on how rest should be done, I’ve found that there has been an increasing lack of nuance in the ways in which we talk about “revolutionary” rest, and I’m hoping to inject some of that nuance here.
So, what do I think of the “rest revolution?”
First off, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there is an important difference between shaming oppressors for exploiting people’s labor, and shaming individuals - especially individuals from marginalized communities - for operating within oppressive systems that they did not design and have little power in. Hustle culture sucks. The fact that so many of us have had to hustle to survive sucks. To hustle forever should never be an ideal. But we absolutely have the right to take pride in our survival, and what we’ve done to survive. The hustle being denigrated today put food on our tables when our parent’s paychecks were short. The hustle being denigrated today put the lights back on when the electric was cut due to nonpayment. The hustle being denigrated today got us the cable television that brought our favorite music videos to our homes, the dresses we wore to prom, the few presents under our Christmas tree. The hustle being denigrated today was brutal and should never have been necessary and should never have been made into an ideal. But it’s also the blood, sweat, tears, persistence and ingenuity of people who loved us.
It is important to recognize that if you are at a place where you can consider rest as a revolution, you are privileged enough be able to think of your survival beyond food, clothing, shelter, and safety. A lot of people are not. This doesn’t mean that those who do not have some measure of financial security in the world do not deserve rest - they do, perhaps more than those who do have the financial security to choose rest - it means that rest is a great concept when you can afford to only have one job, that job has reasonable hours, and rest won’t get you fired or kicked out of your apartment. As long as the mass capitalist exploitation of segments like big business, the prison industrial complex, big agriculture, and the service industry exists, there is no amount of rest that will be able to meet the needs of workers in those industries. What the vast majority of exploited workers need is not a nap: they need fair wages, childcare, affordable medical care, affordable and safe housing, affordable education, and a safe work environment.
While the idea that we all need rest and care is an important one, the idea that our individual rest and care is revolutionary can be a counterproductive one. Yes, we must care for ourselves in a world that tells us that it is wrong to do so. But the individualism that tells us that societal revolution lies in our own individual bettering alone - even if it is our emotional or spiritual bettering - is also a product of capitalism. Capitalism seeks to take us away from the collective care that can ensure our ability to survive and thrive outside of capitalist systems. The desire to find solutions to systemic exploitation that begin and end with how that exploitation impacts us as individuals will allow those systems to continue to exploit those who do not have the privilege of such autonomy unchecked - with the added bonus of blaming those trapped within those systems of exploitation for not embarking on their own “personal revolutions” themselves.
Rest is only revolutionary when we all can rest. And collective care - and collective action - are the only ways in which we can ensure that. There is a real revolution needed before rest can truly be one. And that revolution means that we still have work to do, especially those of us who have more privilege in society. If we want us all to be able to rest, and we want that rest to truly heal and affirm our humanity, then those of us who have the time, money, and freedom to rest must take some of that time, money and freedom, and focus it toward supporting those who are still trapped in exploitative systems - who still must turn to the hustle that we’ve been so privileged to be able to cast aside.
Our own individual care is important. If we have the opportunity to rest and heal, we should absolutely take it. But it is important to remember that when we take individual comfort and call it collective revolution, we are simply building a gated community around our privilege - even if the fences surrounding it are built by the fluffiest of down pillows.
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Wow. So nicely put ! It seem to me that collective rest may be achieved by worldwide job sharing. The rule is simple; hire twice as more people than needed in order to induce a labor shortage that will weaken China's economic grip. Part time workers will train better each other overtime, and become smarter. Part time workers will also waste less consume less and recycle better. Your opinion ?
Wow. “ But the individualism that tells us that societal revolution lies in our own individual bettering alone - even if it is our emotional or spiritual bettering - is also a product of capitalism.” I had to read this several times to truly absorb it because it was exactly what I was doing, and I’d never heard anyone say it was problematic. Thanks so much for pointing out the other side of the “rest is revolutionary” theory.