The Slow Manifesto
This satirical piece poses as the recordings of celebrated ‘slowologist’ Professor Aldred Leatherworth—once lost, now found, and immortalized for posterity by "The Daily Show" writer Jo Miller. On the surface, it advocates the benefits of slowness and being thoughtful, while implying that those who take too much time are left behind and their ideas never come to fruition.
Twenty-first-century man bolts headlong into the future with gathering speed. Scarcely pausing to draw breath, he crams his waking moments with ever more frantic activity and congratulates himself on his improved efficiency and rapidly dwindling attention span.1 Yet this breakneck acceleration will surely be our downfall. We must grasp the emergency brake of history and yank it before it is too late!
Have we forgotten that most of human achievement is the product of idleness and ennui? Consider the most brilliant mind of Antiquity. Would Archimedes have made half so many scientific discoveries had he not been stuck in a bath, bored stiff, with nothing to do but ponder geometry? Had he opted instead for a quick shower at the gymnasion,2 there would have been no ‘Eureka!’ moment, and mankind would still be at a loss to accurately measure the volume of an irregularly shaped watermelon.3
Craft, too, is sacrificed on the altar of speed. Consider the proud Maori warrior who patiently labours his entire life to fashion a war-club out of hardest jade. True, he might be overrun and killed by enemies before completing his sole instrument of self-defense,4 but should he survive, he will dispatch his foes with the satisfyingly meaty crunch of ornately carved jade on bone – a pleasure the hasty purchaser of a semi-automatic AK-47 will never taste.
We scorn the lessons of our more dilatory forebears at our peril. Today the miracle of high-speed rail flings us from New York to Boston5 in scarcely more time than it takes to drive. Faced with such seductive convenience, who among us would think to make that journey, as the Iroquois Chief, Lost Elk, did, on foot, and via Maine?6 The Acela Express barely affords us the leisure to complete a Sudoku. Yet during his wanderings à pied around New England, Lost Elk discovered an antidote to snake bites and authored a reputedly fine volume of limericks – now regrettably out of print – in his native tongue.
The feckless rush of our age starves the mind, and therefore I exhort you, dear reader, to forswear the jet and the bullet-train and embrace walking!7 Once you have accustomed yourself to the sweet delights of Slowness, you may wish to proceed to the next level: Walking behind tourists. Only the seasoned adept, however, should attempt the most glacial transport ever concocted by man: The cross-town bus. Such a concentrated elixir of Slowness is not for the novice. But O! What dilation of the mind one feels on a three-hour journey from Second Avenue to Seventh! What visions come to one while leaning out of a frozen shelter to scan a busless horizon…
Here the manifesto abruptly ends. The foregoing was transcribed from a Moleskine notebook retrieved from beneath the seat of a Manhattan M14 bus. Professor Leatherworth, who eschews email, has not been heard from in the eight months since the editors assigned him this article, and was last spotted making his way on foot to Washington, DC, to speak at the Rally to Save the US Postal Service. (He reportedly missed it by two weeks owing to a blister.)
(1) Indeed, a colleague of mine, while in his cups, once glumly averred that our species will soon lose the patience even to read footnotes, at which point we shall surely be no better than the apes.
(2) The Greeks invented gym showers in the fourth century BCE, leading (as Professor Kantor-Holling has persuasively argued) to their defeat at the hands of the Romans two centuries later. That Archimedes (Greek for ‘prune-toes’) rejected this specious timesaver is perhaps the greatest testament to his genius.
(3) He who doubts the Hellenic devotion to Slowness should try making spanakopita from scratch. It is rumoured, though unproven, that Aristotle conceived his Poetics while rolling out phyllo dough.
(4) Most were.
(5) Boston, one need hardly point out, contains the greatest concentration of superior minds in the country. That it is also home to the ‘Big Dig,’ an ingenious feat of municipal paralysis that for decades has slowed the city’s auto-traffic to the pace of an asthmatic mule, is surely no coincidence.
(6) Travels from New Amsterdam to Boston By Way of Maine and New-Found-Land, 1649-53, by Chief Lost Elk.
(7) For every journey not requiring a sea component.
"Once you have accustomed yourself to the sweet delights of Slowness, you may wish to proceed to the next level: Walking behind tourists."
- Published January 2012