“Hang out more” was an unofficial slogan among my friends during college. We’d say it when anyone had the audacity to go to class, go to sleep or go to the library to study, instead of staying behind to spend countless hours stoned on the couch, playing Super Smash Bros.
The strength of our social circle was directly proportional to the time we spent together. In our minds, the world was split between Hang Out Guys, those who contributed to our collective well-being, and Not Hang Out Guys, those who placed their personal goals ahead of the group’s.
Really, this was just a way for us to justify being lazy stoners. But in advocating for more hanging out, we were unknowingly advocating a progressive urban design principle: That the health and happiness of a society can be measured by how much its citizens hang out with each other, and that a truly successful civilization is one in which its denizens do a hell of a lot of hanging out.
“The most important thing in life is hanging out with friends. More chill hanging out with buds is the goal of a truly enlightened society,” Poncho Martinez, a New York City-based fitness instructor and political organizer, wrote on his Facebook page late last month.
Martinez arrived at his theory earlier this year when a series of New York City subway outages prevented him from seeing his friends, at which point he realized chilling on the reg is the true mark of a thriving society.
“Hanging out is the core of the human experience,” he tells me a few weeks later over the phone. “But as we’ve advanced, we’ve lost sight of the things required for human happiness.”
Indeed, every year, the U.N. releases its World Happiness Report, listing the happiest countries in the world, and every year, without the fail, the top of the list is populated by a handful of Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Finland and Norway, despite those countries having the kinds of long, arduous winters that cause Seasonal Affective Disorder and make people question their wills to live. What separates those countries, however, are their strong sense of community.
That communalism is in direct opposition to America’s ethos of individualism, Martinez says, and probably explains why the U.S. consistently ranks below other Western countries in terms of happiness. And so, over the last few months, he’s been trying to distill his developing theory of chilling out with buds into a political treatise.
In researching his manifesto, he’s identified certain social elements necessary for a hang-out culture. “It requires enough advances in labor rights that people have enough free time to do something other than work themselves into fine-grained powder and then pass out immediately after work,” he explains. To that end, Martinez, who identifies as a socialist, advocates unionization, and workers reclaiming the 40-hour work week.
People also have to be in close proximity to each other, which means living in cities, and combating the isolating effects of suburban sprawl. “[Suburbs] encourage atomization. Everyone has their own little castle, shut off from each other,” Martinez says.
Similarly, hanging out demands the creation of public spaces, such as parks, museums, concert venues, sports stadiums and other locations where the hanging can occur, and a public transportation system that makes those places accessible to all citizens. “The platonic ideal of New York is when you’re just bumbling about and you stumble into someone who’s entirely unlike you and you share a weird connection,” Martinez says.
The problem, though, is that cities often neglect to build free public spaces or robust public transportation systems, Martinez says, thus forcing people to congregate in bars, restaurants and other areas that are cost-prohibitive to certain residents, and only accessible by car. “Sure, New York has a lot of parks and museums. But often the city feels like it costs $11 just to stand in a given spot,” Martinez adds.
Martinez points to Austin as a city that simultaneously encourages and impedes its citizens from regularly hanging out. On one hand, Austin culture revolves almost entirely around going to honky-tonks together to drink Lone Stars and see live music, or eating barbecue in communal settings. Some of the city’s best bars are converted single-family homes on Rainey Street, where patrons knock back Shiner Bock on porches and replicate the small-town communal experience. But Austin also has a woeful lack of public transportation, which has created nightmare traffic and parking scenarios amid its population boom over the past two decades.
Here, Martinez admits he doesn’t have all the answers for creating a utopia of chilling. He’s skeptical of universal basic income, and concedes his Theory of Hanging Out is still nascent and development. But there is some academic literature that supports his pro-chill thesis. In his famous 1973 book Tools for Conviviality, philosopher and priest Ivan Illich warned against the dehumanizing effects of industrial society, and advocated people create more environments where they could just kick it. Renowned urbanist Ray Oldenburg frequently spoke about “third places” — places away from a person’s home and office — as fundamental for a healthy, happy society. And as German philosopher Jurgen Habermas duly noted, democracy was born out of 17th and 18th Century Enlightenment Bros straight chilling in coffeehouses and salons.
Shooting the shit, it seems, leads to the exchange and development of ideas — as well as more empathy than you might otherwise have since it involves engaging with people from different backgrounds. That said, too much chilling can mean you do nothing but waste your life away high on your couch.
True utopia then is achieving a healthy balance between the two. Or as Martinez says, “You should still have a cause greater than yourself that you’re willing to strive for. But to have a greater cause and no one to share it with is its own kind of misery.”