Here in the hills, the new silence of my days, deepened by the solitude of the pandemic, has allowed me to observe the state of our planet in the year 2021 — and it looks to be on fire, as our oligarchs take to space. From my view down here on the carpet, I see a system that, even if it bounces back to “normal,” I have no interest in rejoining, a system that is beginning to come undone.
The lying flat movement, or tangping as it’s known in Mandarin, is just one expression of this global unraveling. Another is the current worker shortage in the United States. As of June, there were more than 10 million job openings in the United States, according to the most recent figures from the Labor Department — the highest number since the government began tracking the data two decades ago. While conservatives blame juiced-up pandemic unemployment benefits, liberals counter that people do want to work, just not for the paltry wages they were making before the pandemic.
Both might be true. But if low wages were all that’s at play, we would expect to see reluctant workers at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, and content workers at the top. Instead, there are murmurs of dissent at every rung, including from the inner sanctums of Goldman Sachs, where salaries for investment bankers start at $150,000. According to a leaked internal survey, entry-level analysts at the investment bank report they’re facing “inhumane” conditions, working an average of 98 hours a week, forgoing showers and sleep. “I’ve been through foster care,” said one respondent. “This is arguably worse.”
In the United States, Black activists, writers and thinkers are among the clearest voices articulating this spiritual malaise and its solutions, perhaps because they’ve borne the brunt of capitalism more than other groups of Americans. Tricia Hersey, a performance artist and the founder of the Nap Ministry, an Atlanta-based organization, is one of them. Ms. Hersey says she discovered the power of naps during a draining year of graduate school at Emory University, an experience that inspired her to bring the gospel of sleep to fellow African Americans whose enslaved and persecuted ancestors were never able to properly rest. She argues that rest is not only resistance, it is also reparation.
Ms. Hersey now leads events across the country focused on the transformative power of rest, and she has influenced other Black intellectuals, including Casey Gerald, the author of the transcendent essay “The Black Art of Escape.” In it, Mr. Gerald reflects on a year he spent in what he calls a “disappearing act,” lying flat in Texas, ignoring the calls of friends and admirers to join them in the fray of protest politics, which he’d come to view as a sure path to self-annihilation. “Claim your inheritance,” Mr. Gerald enjoins. “Miss the moment. Go mad, go missing, take a nap, take the day, drop a tab. You’re free!”