Why we need a new word for “lazy”

The other day on Twitter I said:

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 4.57.37 PM

Here’s why this is important. In an ideal world, I claim, the way you would make decisions about how to spend your time would be something along the lines of:
– Think about what you like / dislike
– Think about the most efficient ways to get the things you like while minimizing the things you dislike
– At the same time, consider how tractable it is to modify your likes and dislikes

For example, some people really like attention and prestige; other people don’t care for those things and prefer pleasure, or autonomy, or discovery. Some people really dislike pain, or tedium. Other people don’t mind those things as much, but especially dislike risk, or being disrespected, or compromising their principles. We all have different bundles of likes and dislikes, so the ideal lives we choose for ourselves will be different.

And some people find it more aversive to work hard than other people do. In theory, that should just be one of the terms in your decision calculus — Could you get a lot more of the things you want, if you self-modified to be more tolerant of work? How tractable it is for you to self-modify in that way?

But if we only have a morally judgmental word like “lazy” to refer to a dislike of work, then that screws up your decision process. It becomes hard to think objectively about the questions in the previous paragraph.

Instead, you feel pressure to choose a life that involves a lot of work, because that “should” be fine with you, even if it isn’t. Or you feel pressure to self-modify to become more tolerant of work — even if that’s not very tractable for you, or even it’s actually possible to get the things you want without working hard. Or you still end up choosing the optimal life for you, but you feel unnecessarily guilty about the fact that you chose to optimize for avoiding work.

When I advocate for finding a non-judgmental term for “lazy”, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t work hard, or that they shouldn’t learn to be tolerant of work. I’m saying that whether you should do those things depends on your utility function, your specific bundle of likes and dislikes. And I’m saying that it’s easier to think about those questions if you strip them of their normative undertones.

(NOTE: This new word for “lazy” doesn’t need to become widely used in our culture. I agree that’s a hard problem, and subject to connotation creep, as many people have pointed out. I was more imagining some individuals choosing to use the new word when thinking about their own lives, or discussing their choices with close friends / partners. Simply deciding to strip the normative connotations from “lazy” could also work.)