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The Sleepwalkers Are Revolting


As ever more work’s combined with ever more stress – among other results – people sleep less and less. And, as various spectacular pseudo-events dominate the public’s reputedly shrinking attention span (a phenomenon indistinct from the shrinking span of the reputedly public itself), it should come as little surprise that the Center for Disease Control’s nearly year-old finding that sleep deprivation has reached epidemic proportions has failed to generate significant public outcry.

To be sure, no small degree of irony inheres in the fact that the people most affected (negatively affected, I should add – since many business interests are indubitably positively affected by this epidemic-cum-business enrichment plexus) are too sleep-deprived to even recognize the gravity of the situation – a gravity determining our mechanical somnambulation toward ever-graver ecological and physiological degradation (the generally unsustainable situation).

Having passed the point where exposure to toxic waste (like lead, radioactive waste, and e-waste – from our designed-to-be obsolete gadgetry/machinery) now comprises as significant a public health menace as tuberculosis and malaria, and the very air we breathe constitutes the single most significant known carcinogen, we nevertheless trudge along, insensate.

These “hidden,” collateral costs, or harms (which are, let’s not forget, part and parcel of profit), are intrinsic to this disposable commodity economy – a political-economic arrangement that, lest we forget, doesn’t just pollute our skies and oceans and stultify our imaginations, but distributes the resources of the world according to an exchange insuring, among others, that ever-increasing amounts of labor receive ever-diminishing levels of compensation; an arrangement that not only deranges the ranges of mountains and reduces the rainforests of the world to pulp, but also degrades and deranges untold lives; for of what else are these lives comprised if not, among other things, time? Indeed, in a manner  analogous to Lavoisier’s law of the conservation of mass, what is somewhere deprived somewhere else comes back. And the aggregate of this abuse of energy and time returns not only as toxic pollution, and poverty, cancer and general immiseration, but also in this epidemic of sleep deprivation.

Symptoms of this disease, of this malaise, include, by the way, degrees of disorientation “equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication” and results in, among others, poor decision-making abilities – i.e. poor judgment – as well as misplaced or unfounded optimism – a process of stupefaction and stupidity that, in addition to theories of cultural hegemony and heteronomy, can significantly contribute to our understanding of that flap where the ideological and the empirical, or physiological, overlap – one of the loci of that dead-eyed and narcotized blitheness with which so many face the waste and haste that these days typifies our culture – or, more specifically, our barbarism.

With respect to these thoroughly diseased conditions, insisting on and then actually sleeping – especially when this involves potentially punitive repercussions – can constitute a genuinely revolutionary interruption. In other words: wake up – and go to sleep.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and contributor to He lives in New York City, and can be reached at, or on twitter @elliot_sperber

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at and on twitter @elliot_sperber

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