Lessons from Living in an Atomic Age

In the midst of all the craziness, the passage below seems to be doing the rounds.

I’ve seen it popping up in a few places, from a New York Times podcasts to The Spectator Australia. It’s from an essay written by C.S. Lewis, called “On Living in an Atomic Age.”

Man could write, even when there’s no lions or witches or wardrobes.

In one way, we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. How are we to live in an atomic age? I’m tempted to reply: Why, as you 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, and 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

I know we have to forget about the ‘friends over a pint’ bit. And we can’t huddle together like frightened sheep (even if we wanted to). But it’s a timely reminder to use our time spent in strange circumstances in wise and human ways.

Not sure if watching old Pathé Newsreels, like this one from 1946 on The Atomic Age counts exactly. But it is pretty incredible.

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