By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“We’re still dominated by a small group of thinkers — Marx, Freud, Darwin,” Davis tells me between chips. “Freud isn’t what he was 25 years ago, but Darwin! I just love taking shots at Darwin.” Why? “Because he sees nature as a war. This idea has permeated our whole society and it’s profoundly destructive, divisive, not just because it’s racist — and he is racist — but because the culture is permeated by the idea that skirmishing for survival is natural. The idea is a menace! War is the opposite of everything I’m trying to get to.” The biological sections of Davis’s theory quickly exceed my ability to follow the mathematical models and cellular explanations, but the general point is clear enough: Even at the most primitive level, organisms tend toward idleness. “Just as Freud brought sex to the fore, I’d like to make leisure, idleness, more important. The twentieth century was sex. I’d like the twenty-first to be leisure.”
We have another pint. “It’s very interesting to actually talk to someone about all this,” he says. He had written a long essay on idleness at the university, but it wasn’t written very well, he thinks; the couple of people who read it mistook it for a labor theory of value in the Marxian sense. One friend dismissed it with “you and your stupid ideas!” He used to wake up thinking he was crazy; after all, why should he have found this key if the world’s most renowned thinkers hadn’t, while other revered figures, like Darwin, held the opposite view? The more he looked though, the more he was convinced, and the more he found support among other philosophers and scientists, like Maupertuis, Leibniz, Euler, Fermat, and Feynman. “I’m a dreamer, and ‘Idle Theory’ is the deepest dream I’ve ever had. It’s my El Dorado, like a city I’ve discovered.”
He wrote the main essays in a burst of activity and added essays on politics, aesthetics, economics, the fossil record, Java and Tetra computer simulations of the biological data, and much more. “Yes, you’re right, for someone who believes in Idle Theory, I’ve been quite busy,” he says, smiling. “The theory’s like a tree, it grows up, it branches out a bit. It’s always surprising me. There’s always a new angle. I’ve had lots and lots of theories. This is my best one.” He pushes away his empty plate and brings his pint glass front and center. “Why do you do it?” I ask. “Why don’t you, as your theory urges, remain idle?” He looks at me kindly, as if I am perhaps a bit dimwitted. “This is my idleness. If a pot of money landed on me, I’d keep on with Idle Theory, because I think it’s a great idea.” One shouldn’t confuse idleness with inactivity, he says. The fisherman (an example Davis uses in one of his posted essays) may look like he’s idle as he sits, intent on his line, but at that moment he is constrained, not free. When he isn’t fishing he may go for a walk, and look more active, but he is actually free to do anything at that moment and so is idle in evolutionary terms; his stationary fishing is active, his walking is a form of idleness, which he engages in for pleasure. The artist’s model, sitting still, is theoretically active, the amateur sculptor chiseling away at a block of marble for pleasure is theoretically idle.
“And so it is all about pleasure, then?” I ask. Davis admits this is the least developed part of the theory. “In my imaginary little worlds, my models, I’m not concerned about whether they’re happy. The fisherman: Does he enjoy it fishing? Of course it is always better if one does.” Davis takes a sip from his glass and ponders this. “Perhaps,” he says tentatively, “like sex, there’s an evolutionary advantage in making idleness pleasurable.” He shrugs, thinks. I ask if he has tried to publish his ideas and he laughs. “As science fiction?” he asks. “No, I can’t imagine any publisher being interested.” He works on his Idle Theory, he assures me, for the pure pleasure of it. “There’s a kind of ecstasy in seeing things in a new way,” he says.
What else does he do for pleasure? He answers, in terms many in the long history of slackers from Samuel Johnson to Jack Kerouac and beyond would approve: “I spend massive amounts of time sitting in pubs like this.”