Screwtape in Vegas: Addiction & Acedia

“Slots, video poker, and other gambling machines are often described as games, but Schüll’s description [in Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas] makes it clear how completely play is lacking from these terminals. Some machines allow gamblers to “autoplay”: they simply insert their money, press a single button, and let the machine spin on by itself until their credits have run out. And when that option isn’t built into the machine, some of the gamblers manage to jury-rig it for themselves “by loading credits onto the machine and jamming the SPIN button with a toothpick so that it plays continuously.” One player explains to Schüll that she didn’t even look at the cards she was dealt in video poker, simply hitting “DEAL, DRAW, BET MAX” in sequence until her money was gone and she was finished.

That’s more than a waste of time and money—in the view of R. J. Snell, author of Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire, it’s a sinful rejection of the goodness of the world. Acedia, more often referred to as sloth, is one of the seven deadly sins, and it’s more than mere laziness. Snell describes acedia not as merely doing nothing but as failing to do a particular something: rejoice in the world, and express that joy through participation in creation.


So, what can give us the strength to say “Get thee behind me, Satan”? The answer, Snell argues, isn’t simply practicing ascetic self-denial, especially not if we’re doing it to cultivate a stoic indifference to the world. Acedia can’t be resisted simply by strengthening our will—we also need to train our will to draw us toward the right things. The opposite of acedia isn’t dutiful work, it’s extravagant joy.”

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