Monday, July 27, 2020

Good Advice from C.S. Lewis



This is an essay written by C.S. Lewis in 1948. He was discussing the "new normal" of living with the hovering threat of the atomic bomb. For those of my generation, we remember it well because "they" scared us to death with that threat every week of our school year with bomb warnings and drills. Under the desk, under the windows, to the halls, covered with coats, curled up in balls...

But enough of that. See if you think, as I do, that this could also relate to our current circumstances with Covid-19. 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. 'How are we to live in an atomic age?' I am tempted to reply: Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds...

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

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