In Defense of Sloth

Since I haven’t posted for a while, here’s another article from New York Moves’s Christmas/Seven deadly sins issue (the one to which I contributed “In Defense of Vanity” and “Blinded by the Light,” linked below. Thank you, Odious, for the inspiration for my thesis; you know what I’m talking about.

No other city in the world is quite as unforgiving towards sloth as New York. The expense alone overwhelms anyone who doesn’t exert a near superhuman effort to break into and succeed in our job market, the most overcrowded and competitive in America. The glut of cultural offerings shames people who might otherwise content themselves with Monday night football and the occasional Cineplex outing into becoming reluctant but regular patrons of the arts: it’s simply too embarrassing to admit that one hasn’t seen the Bodies exhibit, or that one missed The History Boys or that one still hasn’t visited the new MOMA. Thousands of restaurants featuring the cuisine of hundreds of different cultures encourage the frequent dining-out customary to New Yorkers, many of whom return home after sixteen-hour days to snatch too few hours of sleep before waking at dawn to start the frenzied day all over again.

Yet within each New Yorker is a “Secret Sloth” as my driven friend Aggie named hers, who would rather call in sick and spend the day sitting on the couch watching sitcom reruns and slurping Cup O’Noodles. The fact is, work is stressful and takes up a lot of time, and most people who are making enough money to live in the city are doing it in high-pressure jobs that don’t necessarily offer any creative satisfaction but leave one too exhausted to pursue other interests with any gusto. The city’s recreational offerings also have a cultural and historical gravitas that discourages regarding them as recreational at all. In any other city one can simply take a walk in the park. In New York, however, Central Park carries with its very name the countless remembered scenes from film and literature, which crowd in upon one’s consciousness while one’s merely strolling along its perimeter. One almost feels an obligation to match one’s scarf to the autumn leaves. And under-accomplished if one fails to meet the love of one’s life while sitting on the bank of the duck pond pensively tossing breadcrumbs into the water. A day at the beach requires an hour-long train ride and once you get there, you have to search the shore for empty patches where you can bury your wallet, and then hope your feet miss the shards of bottle glass strewn in the sand as you wind your way through the screaming children towards the water. In New York, even leisure is never lazy.

Why bother with any of it when you could just sit around? I for one grow weary by the mere process of deciding how to best take advantage of this magnificent city. The opportunities for enrichment terrify me. I am exhausted by the possibilities. The very idea of how meaningful a Saturday afternoon can be makes me want to crawl back into bed and only move to change the channel from Nickelodeon to TV land. Are other New Yorkers leading productive, culturally rich and satisfying lives? Should I feel ashamed that this is what I really want? Does Gray’s Papaya deliver?

I have a friend who describes sloth as the only vice which is its own reward. The other vices drag other people, other things into the picture. They require effort. Greed links the wish for an immoderate amount of something to the pursuit and acquisition of the same. Gluttony requires the material of indulgence. Lust culminates (the luster hopes) in the physical act driven by, but not itself, lust. Wrath involves a world of associated passions, and its extremity can be quite taxing. Sloth just is. One is slothful to be slothful, that’s it. Nothing but sloth is needed, and nothing but sloth results. Sloth owes its existence only to the will to be slothful, the wish to do nothing rather than something. It’s a powerful temptation, and a self-perpetuating one once tasted. It is a particularly dangerous temptation in a city like New York, and the only one of the “seven deadly sins,” as they are so dramatically named, that New York by nature does not encourage. It is hard to walk down the street any day here without contending with lust, gluttony, envy,…. temptations towards each of these are plastered on every billboard, walking their dogs in the park, safe behind shiny glass at Bergdorf’s, wafting through the morning air outside Balthazar’s bakery…wrath emerges swiftly enough when hailing a cab at Columbus Circle on a Friday night. New York was made for sins like these. The city, however, has very little patience for anything less than a super-heightened level of activity from its inhabitants, and thus sloth is the only one of the deadly sins which is out of place here. When one gives in to sloth, one “drops out” of New York and its ethos in a very real way. Practically, one can’t survive here without the energy to succeed and the willingness to exercise it. Culturally, the city is wasted on one who’d rather lie in bed than partake of the thousands of world-class offerings.

And yet, that “Secret Sloth” within each of us—dare I assert that every New Yorker has one? Am I the only who finds the constant pressure to “do stuff” oppressive and pushy? My bed is soft and warm, and my TV has so many channels, and Cup O’Noodles is really quite good; it recently introduced an excellent white cheddar flavor. Even as someone brought up to work hard and drawn to New York by that superior and prolific cultural life for which it is famous, the task of getting out of bed and living life to the fullest is a hard sell.

Sloth, by nature, is a very anti-New York sin.

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3 Responses to In Defense of Sloth

  1. Odious says:

    I like that everyone has taken you at your word and slothfully refused to comment.

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