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The Bound Will: A Reflection on the Contemporary Crisis of Values

There is no doubt that the contemporary “clash of values” is becoming, day by day, more evident.

In the recent past, certain behavioral changes in social and interpersonal relations revealed warning signs of impending instability. The symptoms, which are still present today, can be found in a deep disaffection with personal responsibility and civic engagement, exemplified by a growing disconnection between individuals’ values and their course of action. Moreover the digitalization of every public and private sphere, leading to an impressive flow of information, confuses the individual, who—extremely disorientated—does not favor any kind of reference point in a sort of absolute relativistic metamorphosis.

Throughout human history, ages of instability and transition have anticipated paradigm shifts or changes of perception in cultural and geopolitical relations. These times are coupled with a physiological sense of helplessness or decadence: an aboulia of will. Nowadays we witness the radical novelty of an epidemic structural crisis on a global scale condemning one’s sense of belonging to an indefinite and uncertain fate with devastating spiritual, cognitive, and intellectual consequences. As the Spanish philosopher  Ángel Ganivet states:

The fear of losing ideas is a deadly sign; it is not that the ideas go to be wasted: it is that the intelligence goes to escape from our domain that we cannot have ideas when we want (to) because the intelligence does not want to look at the objects. (…) It is also a symptom of apathy or debility of will because in this suffering the life retrogrades, not being able to overcome the laziness which prevents to continue assimilating new elements in order to renew the life at the passage of the time.

In his temporal and gradual passage, man cannot avoid projecting, building, or engaging himself, because to do otherwise would be a condemnation to a deliberate darkening of his reason. In such a constructive moment there is not only compliance and correspondence with reality but a rejection of every alethophobic proposition in a logical process that is open to common sense and rationality. If we lose the temporal conception of our journey through history in the name of a positivistic utopia of a new technocratic, materialistic, and self-sufficient world, we make the same mistake made by the all-embracing and anti-human ideologies of the last century.

In an empty emancipation only the superficial becomes the prologue and the epilogue of daily life in a self-delegitimization of reason, which becomes lazy and barbarous, dissolving itself with an alienating sense of mortification. The only answer seems to be a silent immobility or a meaningless hyperactivity between the desertification of the will and the abandonment to a lascivious laziness. This sense of futility, of incessant activity without a purpose, has resulted in a striking predisposition to agglutinating inertia that prevents any movement. In the history of theological and philosophical thought, as many recent essays demonstrate, laziness, sleepiness, sluggishness, indifference, and absence of effort are associated, albeit with differences and gradual variations, with acedia: the cardinal sin of sloth. Acedia etymologically derives from ancient Greek, and the privative alpha (a-kedeia) emphasizes a “lack of care.” Saint John Cassian the Ascetic offers a detailed explanation of the symptoms, adding that:

Once [acedia] has seized possession of a wretched mind, it makes a person horrified at where he is. […] Likewise it renders him slothful and immobile in the face of all the work to be done within the walls of his dwelling.

This psychological condition and existential angst degrades personal will and invalidates the sources of identity, any sense of meaning and fulfillment. Saint Thomas Aquinas correlates sloth with the three theological virtues, concluding that it can be defined as a radical opposition to charity, considered the “root and mother” of the perfect virtues. According to the Angelic Doctor, since charity has love for fundamental action and peace, harmony, and respect as effects, the deplorable outcome of such an opposition is a sad decadence, an aversion to common sense; and, paradoxically, as an extreme result, the slothful person, as Rebecca Konyndyk de Young shows in her significant work, “either stays busy with desperate measures to escape (either in reality or fantasy) or slumps into despair and inactivity.”

Such a delirious hyperactivity is nothing else than another extreme consequence of a voluntary process of a “narcotic distraction“ (or self-annihilation) in the nihilist rejection of any other option that requires discipline and sacrifice, within the framework of a contemplative and metaphysical approach, extremely useful to personal knowledge, healthy discernment, respectful relations, and psychological maturity.


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  • lyle

    Nice article, but sloth or acidia isn’t about oneself,but our call to others, to love, carefor and love our neighbor. The sin of sloth is to hate, not talk to our neighbor and ignore them. People have an huge ignorance of the seven deadly sins, and sloth is the denial of those around US, and all. We can borrow the Islamic religion and their definition, by my life, in Gods power, nobody will enter paradise if he does not protect his neighbor who is in distress..
    and the Catholic/Christian has the same obligation.

    • You’ve got it straight on Lyle, let’s just start with our neighbor! And with our family!.. I do like the appreciation the author has of technological alienations. These are stupefying and disorienting people yes, but on the other hand if people are inadvertently driven back to repose and reflection, these are blessed and essential.

      The greater evil is that we are being removed from life and leisure by self-perpetuating technological and material systems, not that we are being slack. There is not a single place in the New Testament, where Jesus decries laziness. But there are many places where He decries the ambitious, the vain, and the craven, who extract labors from the lambs of God. Today the world is being decimated, and if the cause of work is misguided and inefficient rapaciousness, and there is much of that, then laziness (refusal) is an improvement.

  • Jason Truett Glen

    Good stuff. I just touched on a similar stream of thought a couple of days ago. My post is much less academic, but I feel like it supports your assessment well. Check it out when you have time.