Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"What is a hobby anyway?"

I just read this in Aldo Leopold's book A Sand County Almanac.

"What is a hobby anyway? Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction. At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant. Certainly many of our most satisfying avocations today consist of making something by hand which machines can usually make more quickly and cheaply, and sometimes better. Nevertheless I must in fairness admit that in a different age the mere fashioning of a machine might have been an excellent hobby. Galileo, I fancy, derived a real and personal satisfaction when he set the ecclesiastical world on its ear by embodying in a new catapult some natural law that St. Peter had inadvertently omitted to catalogue. Today the invention of a new machine, however noteworthy to industry, would, as a hobby, be trite stuff. Perhaps we have here the real inwardness of our question: A hobby is a defiance of the contemporary. It is an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked. If this is true, then we may also say that every hobbyist is inherently a radical, and that [her] tribe is inherently a minority."

I write this because when I described Project Linus to a friend, she wondered why the money and time we spent on knitting blankets by hand couldn't be used to buy a much greater number of manufactured blankets. This statement completely misses the essence of the work: that the good of devotion, whereby a person has spent a significant amount of time crafting a blanket in the hope of comforting a stranger, is a fundamental emotional value.

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