[Working on a book about persuasion. Here are some notes from a section on sloth — and if you ask what does sloth have to do with persuasion ….]
Persuasion controls the will, it determines direction. Here among the Lotus-Eaters and the Soma takers we have ultimate persuasion: we have control without the least desire to determine otherwise.
Persuasion, at its most powerful, simply discounts all alternatives. There is no outside to the world offered by the persuader – and if there were, one discounts it as meaningless and needless. There is a complete lethargy of will for anything new. It is the movie of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which once viewed so overcomes the viewer that she never desires anything else.
Laziness requires this sort of drug: You cannot possibly do nothing and avoid boredom: boredom will send you searching for something. An itchy boredom is an enemy of sloth, it sends outdoors looking.
Like Achean soldiers driven by nine-days’s wind to the land of the Lotus Eaters, the bored boy wanders about the Internet seeking to be devoured by distraction. Someone offers up some morsel which sufficient drags his affections, that he does nothing else.
This is the magic of consumerism. The advertiser dreams of a population strewn about like Lotus-Eaters, like soma guzzlers, happily taking what is offered — indeed seeking out the lethargy – of ease and pleasure. The advertiser (and we cannot merely beat on the person selling snacks and t-shirts, we must give pride of place to politicians and hustlers) offers up some solution to boredom or discontent which when ingested makes one immune to any other offer (or at least until the soma is gone).
Not surprisingly, the first move of soma-seller is anxiety, boredom, discontent. You might think that the solution to soma is discontentment, restlessness: but that would be wrong. The opposite of lethargy is not anxiety. Rather, unsettled heart is the disease which soma seeks to solve.
Ennui and anxiety are far away from the land of happiness. The racing heart, unsettled sleep, inability to rest at ease: the litany of unpleasant sensations and thoughts which make up discontent drives one to seek a solution. The human being becomes a consumer, driven by desire: and thus driven, becomes prey.
A bird hunter walks across a field seeking to flush out birds. The bird, camouflaged in the grass is quite safe until fear drives the bird into the air: there, seeking a solution to fear, the bird becomes prey. The politician drives up fear and envy: those people, rich or poor, native or foreign – someone other than you is causing you unhappiness; something beyond your control causes your fear, but I will resolve you problems: just relax and give up and I, I the soma seller will ease your friends and give you rest.