yesterday I smashed my iPhone - at the time I thought I had just dropped it, which I've done often enough before, without consequence, it has the usual rubber wrapper and screen protector. Later I could see very vividly in my mind's eye, or the remembered snapshot of it, it leaving my hand and heading for the tiled floor, there was a viciousness and deliberateness to it. Afterwards, immediately, I was shocked, alarmed, even grief struck, and starting to desperately consider all the implications of losing the little daemon. But very quickly I started to feel relieved, at the galaxy of things I didn't have to do, cannot do, do not in fact need to do. I can just be here, present, and let reality approach me in glowing colour, and three dimensions, at the speed of a gently ticking clock, or my steady breath and heartbeat.

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Thanks for that anecdote, so eloquently told!

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I hammered a spike through one, fully charged, and watched it burn, then bagged it and threw it from a high bridge into a wide river. There were reasons that made this necessary. Felt good too.

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evidence of real commitment !

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I got as far as the Tuan quote :)

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I don't think this behaviour you're linking to acedia is that — in fact, sloth is its cure!

People do a lot of work and expend a lot of energy processing gluts of digital information. How else do you filter through your feeds and find all these sources, often ones I have never heard of, and then set them out here? What you and many others are doing on Substack and other newsletter platforms, is filter the noise, chaos, and time-sink or life-suck of an internet overtaken with spam, junk, and too many people who bring nothing good to it. Is your experience of curation here "acedetic?" If so, isn't the cure to slow down, to loaf, and slack, like a happy sloth moving at his proper pace, setting the bar slow and pacing the rest of us? ;-)

Not that long ago people used to tell us "Luddites" off with phrases like "if you don't like it, just turn it off" or "change the channel." Nobody says this anymore. They're all hooked, burning up their brains. I don't get it! The jump into smartphones, always-on exobrains, the addiction/"necessity" of social media. You really can "just say no" and loaf with a book, stick with the slower media where all the disembodiment started, and you can even recover the old arts of alphabetic literacy as a shamanic tool, as David Abrams has written, where we can ground distance communication in deep connection, a shared culture and symbols that map to reality in good faith, and our embodied lives — all over the world.

Perhaps C. S. Lewis would make an exception for the "glocalism" of serious electronic correspondence as fundamentally the same as his snailmail relationships, which in many cases led to meetings, friendships, and his own marriage. You know, the reason I was moved to write this comment and catch up with this podcast episode/essay was because a Facebook friend in New Jersey quoted a piece of Lewis's letter because it was quoted in the latest episode of The Great Humbling by Dougald Hine (in Sweden), from whom I acquired this FB friend. And Dougald read you quoting Lewis over here, I think because I had suggested he might enjoy TCS a while back. So now, if you come into great personal hardship and all the pity of your subscribers is for nought, should we lament that we ever leaned upon TCS and Ol' Clive for succour in this overladen infostream?

What Lewis is really saying is that he's a curmudgeon who dislikes big cities and idealizes the lower classes and his ability to help folsk in need. (Which he did generously to a fault.) He was a child of the late Victorian era traumatized by two world wars, including time in the trenches, and that surely figures here — it made him hate the news as propaganda. A big connected world that brings news of war, crime, corruption, a failing empire, and a failing civilization (while also enduring an often troubled home-life, we might say) may have led him toward depression and maybe despair — as it well should if he thinks the problem is *caring* about more people he's helpless to help. No — that was how this mess all got started. (Several Illich quotes come to mind.) Perhaps the vice he needed to confront was pride — the illusion of control at even the small and local level.

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I think I had in mind acedia as a kind of paralysis, an inability to desire the good in right measure, as I think Dante, in his Augustinian manner, puts it in Purgatorio. And, in that sense, when I am feeling the particular suck of the endlessly scrolling timeline, I do feel that. I don't feel slothful qua lazy, but rather that my will power and capacity for action is being somehow siphoned off. My point here was to suggest that this has something to do with the way digital media can place me in contexts within which I have no real agency (and perhaps should not have any).

Regarding Lewis, I'm not sure that this characterization, while right in the details, is fair to Lewis's spirit in the letter from which I took these paragraphs. In the letter, which I don't have in electronic form, he explicitly says that we mustn't assume burdens that God has not placed on us. So it is not, I don't think, that he has the do-gooder need to care and help that Illich challenged. In any case, I do think that your first point about exceptions of "serious electronic correspondence," etc., is helpful. It is possible to develop depth of relationships over time and to meaningfully care for those at a distance. The question, it seems, remains one of scale.

Anyway, going through comments on here (finally), so you'll likely see at a couple of more response before the day is out.


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Yes, I was making a bit of a joke, but I do think "sloth" is our friend in this way when it means desiring to loaf around with a book and refuse to do what the digital swarm demands.

About Lewis's letter, I don't mean that he secretly desires to be an aggressive agent of world relief, bombing people into accepting the gifts of modern development if necessary — that was something that certainly triggered Lewis's antimodernism. But despite that instinct, here he also is appearing to assume "help" is the only meaningful response that could be offered, and since he cannot extend any "help" at sufficient scale or distance, he is helpless, and this is what triggers the unwanted anxiety. Maybe if this awareness of personal helplessness is carried along with distrust of large scale institutional helpers, the world itself feels chaotic. Traditionally this is the type of situation where even non-praying people resort to prayer. It is striking to me that Lewis here recommends turning inward, reducing the scope of awareness (and blaming the news media) in order to deal with the immensity of suffering or need in the world, rather than rethinking "help" and the drive to give it.

This particular letter, I've learned, was written shortly before Christmas 1946 on the day PM Attlee (Labour) proposed Myanmar's independence. Churchill led the opposition, saying it would hasten the undoing of the empire. The previous day, the Việt Minh began the war for independence from the French. So there sat Lewis living comfortably near the home counties, an Ulsterman who had volunteered for the first world war under illusions he no longer held or admired, but he was a fan of Churchill and hated Attlee — mostly for food rationing the UK endured after the war — and the only reasons Lewis turned down a CBE from again PM Churchill in 1951 was because he was afraid it would confirm those who saw him as a reactionary who produced "anti-Leftist propaganda."

There was a lull in Lewis's creative output after the war, where he did a lot of editing and maybe the kind of rethinking and reassessment the era must have induced. He was also working on the "OHEL" where one of his more astonishing statements is that Spenser's imagination as a poet was twisted by his part in the colonization of Ireland.

So this all deepens my chafing at the sense of Lewis wanting to "get out of" something in this letter I don't think he should have in the first place — an outsized sense of guilt and responsibility that leads to the depressing dead end of "someone/they/we-should" thinking. That is not to say God if not King and Empire haven't placed any guilt, burdens, or responsibilities on anyone — I'm sure they have and did. Isn't it right to be open and to sit with some discomfort, not assuming anything, especially in a time like that? Guilt surely helps no one, but neither does foreclosing on awareness that might reveal opportunities not limited to "help" in the usual sense — at any scale. Awareness of others bonds us somehow to those who might otherwise suffer and be lost in anonymity. There is a vigorous Jewish tradition of ethical resistance to such blotting out of people by letting them die nameless. This is to be resisted if only by remembering names. (Corey Robin has a beautiful essay on this about Arendt, which I think you will love if you missed it: https://crookedtimber.org/2016/10/05/bowling-in-bratislava/)

That sense of obligation to the Other does not rest easy in my mind alongside the stereotypical evasion or management of mass suffering that belongs to establishment Christianity, including its secular political morality, Liberalism. Yes, awareness brings weariness, and I don't recommend seeking anything like full awareness of all the world's losses all at once, but there is a heavier task and capacity given to the poets, novelists, historians, storytellers and teachers.

Now I want to say there is something wrong with guilt and responsibility being paired, as Lewis seems to pair them. If some piece of news is not your burden, then why is there worry in your heart leading you to examine your ability to help? If you can pick it up, maybe it really is yours?

Freedom and responsibility go together; together they give us the ability to act, if only to withstand and absorb loss when we can't act. I think what wearies me most is the inability of others on the communal and cultural level to come together and decide what we must do, suffer, and give up as a free and responsible choice, for some greater good — especially in the time of a failing empire. Having a great Enemy and War in which to clarify them is not the answer. We're a bit stuck now because we learned that lesson but haven't figured out how to write epics of peace and domesticity.

I don't have any answers about how to do that, but the small research and rumination my comment here seemed to require has led me further down a good road, I think. Here is something for me to hang Remembrance Day on next year, which is such a weird thing in Canada, as an American. I'll think of Lewis the veteran of the Great War maybe feeling alienated and stuck over the symbol of a poppy, or asking near Christmas for whom are we obliged to care as the yoke of subjugation convulses? It's not a way forward, but neither is shutting ourselves up too far inward in our Middens with our alcoholic brother and dependent former lover! The letters that came and went were probably a lifeline for Lewis, and this is the small magic we still can work.

I saw a play recently where Freud and Lewis have a conversation as the Blitz begins and they periodically turn on the radio for news, awaiting a speech from the king. It occurs to me that it's a performance whose humanity and civility hinges on asynchronous communication that is troubled by synchronous news and events, but the pace and quantity is bearable; it gives depth to the significance of their exchange and shows the common precarity of their lives.

What if the acedia-triggering scale in the volume and intensity of mass telecommunications, which could include a popular writer's mailbox, is not a problem because the medium corrupts the message or the message is unactionable — it's that there's only so much of us as individuals to go around and too few hours in the day where we can really connect, and care enough to trust, risk, and generously error-correct by assuming good intentions? Maybe Lewis's real problem was the lack of a corresponding friend in Vietnam or a friend with a friend in Myanmar. To be a good receiver and a good sender paired together, there has to be an initiating call and then something that signals the heart's handshake has taken place — we are connected, available, listening, and able to receive now. Lewis extended himself, maybe even his own loneliness and longings that way, and it drew friends to him, and circles of circles of friends of friends in ways "social media" tends to resist, impair, or wear down. You do this with the care you take in your writing, reading, comments, and correspondence. We all can. It is important and appreciated.

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