This essay is not a defense of the slow-moving tropical mammals with long claws that help them clamber up, and hang upside down from, tree branches. These animals need no defense. They are frickin’ adorable. Just delightful. It just so happens that they are named for one of the seven deadly sins—and sloth isn’t even that deadly a sin.
Sloth, the vice, is loosely defined as a sort of willful laziness. A reluctance to work or to put forth any effort. This would be a true offense in, say, a hunter-gatherer society that requires every member either hunt or gather. But for some reason, our modern times—filled with technological marvels and conveniences—are just as demanding. I had been under the impression the future would be filled with leisure and robot butlers. But that is not so.
Ours is a society that prizes toil. A nation founded by hustlers and builders. I was raised to be, above all, productive. Disciplined. Because of this I have not always known where my nose ends and the grindstone begins.
But it’s a little unfair that sloths are associated so closely with sloth. These furry critters are not lazy. They are deliberate. Sloths do not hurry. They take their time. Sloths lounge and munch on leaves and look down from above.
And, so, I will defend sloth. I will defend sloth because sloth is good. Sloth is right. Sloth works. Sloth demands that we slow down. Sloth is life. A nap. A snack. A quiet moment with a loved one. Sloth is easy like Sunday morning. Sloth is more “hardly working” than “working hard.”
Sloth may have been a moral wrong in the past. But I think it may be the best way to spend my meager allowance of time.
Actively practicing sloth is the only way to have a nice modern life. This is a conclusion I came up with all by myself.
I should not speak for other people, but I’m exhausted and frazzled. I go to work. I pay my bills. My retirement plan is trying to get on Wheel of Fortune.
I go through all five stages of grief during my grueling commute home. My social media apps scream every time I open them. Sometimes I go home and stare at the wall.
Then there’s this recurring nightmare I have where I’m running in a hamster wheel because my subconscious is too tired to invent a more subtle metaphor for my life.
The thing is I don’t think of myself as lazy. I have been a worker my entire adult life: a server, a mail carrier, an elevator operator, a salesperson, a temp, a receptionist, a hack writer pounding out words for pennies on the verb, and far too often, an unemployed hack writer. I have been the first person in the office and the last out. Once, when blowing off steam at a bar after work, I got into a boasting match with a coworker as to how many more hours I had worked than he had. In retrospect, that is the kind of contest that no one wins.
As a child, I was told that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. This is probably the most heavy-metal thing I was taught in Sunday school. I truly believed that working hard was virtuous, and I felt guilt whenever I would blow off chores to read comic books in a rickety old treehouse.
But these days, I can’t help but wonder if the devil’s workshop has dental and vision. I have sudden sympathies for that boy who read cosmic adventures about Silver Surfer when he should have been taking out the trash.
I am not complaining about my lot. I am the beneficiary of the most successful civilization in history. I have an app on my personal supercomputer that allows me to have vast quantities of food delivered directly to my door at any hour of the night. I have access to thousands of hours of entertainment, including shows where people who are sort of just like me buy giant houses with swimming pools. I can summon a chariot—usually a 6-year-old midsize sedan driven by someone who is also sort of like me—to ferry me from one end of the urban enclave I live in to the other.
What wonders! I live like a king! A king with a moderate amount of credit card debt!
So I don’t want you to think I’m thankless. On the contrary, I am very thankful. I work for what I have. I am sure you do too. Unless you won the lottery. Which is, as I understand it, a kind of existential journey. I am grateful. But I’m still exhausted. I’m still stressed. I’m always doing something even when I just want to do nothing. And that’s why I’ve been embracing sloth.
Sloth is cost effective. Loafing is free. It also doesn’t require a ton of thinking. I think entirely too much and where has that gotten me? That is a rhetorical question.
My life is full of pointless industry. Sloth gently encourages me to lead a life of pointless pointlessness.
I am mindful of the six deadly sins that aren’t sloth. These sins are not mortal. They aren’t tickets to damnation. But they add up. Greed is casual cruelty. Gluttony is bottomless want. Wrath is fear with brass knuckles. Lust is endlessly swiping left until you’re hunched over and old, alone, and afraid. Pride fuels every vicious and superficial argument ever had between total strangers. Vanity is a thousand selfies and none of them are worth posting.
But sloth is just closing your eyes and taking a break. A harmless decadence. Sloth is not working so hard that you don’t enjoy what you have and what you’ve been given. Sloth is doing nothing instead of doing something when you don’t have to do anything.
Sloth is good and sloths are adorable.