Fyodor Dostoevsky's grave in the cemetery of the Holy Trinity Alexander Nevsky Lavra, St. Petersburg Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Boredom In A Time Of Plenty

in Latest/Philosophy

From the furore of the brown egg that beat Kylie Jenner’s Instagram record of most-liked photo, to the growing popularity of “mukbang” – (pronounced “mook-bong”), which translates to “eating broadcast” in South Korea – a live online broadcast in which a host eats large amounts of foods while interacting with their viewers, to the teenager with her hat over her eyes, who drove into oncoming traffic in the city of Layton, and the blindfolded Utah teen who crashed her car while taking part in the so-called “Bird Box Challenge”  – we seem to have arrived at a satiated point in human history, where the need for the mercurial, or the unaccustomed lures us into often detrimental territories.

In an age of unprecedented technological advancement the psychological and emotional state of boredom becomes a paradoxical and rather puzzling phenomena. British Philosopher, Bertrand Russell turns a meditative eye on the dilemma of “Boredom and Excitement” in his 30’s classic, the Conquest of Happiness, he writes: “We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement.”

Russell is right on our intentional avoidance of boredom, but its roots are far more fundamental than social or cultural contemplations may permit. The story of Adam and Eve is an archaic model of the instinctual human desire to poke the borders of the unknown. Cuddled in a prelapsarian utopia with no archetypal or collectively accumulated path to be distracted by, our biblical ancestors still longed for something beyond the familiar; but more intriguing is the presence of that Other, and their freedom to choose.

The idea of choice, echoes the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s reflection on Aristotle’s primal question, “How should we live?” in his pensive compilation Either/Or, he outlines the idea that there are two sets of motivations and delineates the distinction between an essentially hedonistic, aesthetic mode of life and the ethical life. His argues that boredom is our basic constitution an ever-present condition with the capacity to initiate motion.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, in his existential ponderings in Notes from Underground, reflects on mankind’s capacity towards boredom, he writes: “Shower him with all earthly blessings, drown him in happiness completely, over his head, so that only bubbles pop up on the surface of happiness, as on water; give him such economic satisfaction that he no longer has anything left to do at all except sleep, eat gingerbread, and worry about the non-cessation of world history — and it is here, just here, that he, this man, out of sheer ingratitude, out of sheer lampoonery, will do something nasty. He will even risk his gingerbread, and wish on purpose for the most pernicious nonsense, the most non-economical meaninglessness, solely in order to mix into all this positive good sense his own pernicious fantastical element.”

A relativist argument might question Dostoevsky’s  categorization of choices, as ‘pernicious nonsense’, or, ‘non-economical meaninglessness’, as merely subjective — and rightly so, but the desire to be continuously stimulated into stranger worlds, sits alongside the neurophysiological realisation of the frames that we bring to bear on the world. It is the idea that we inhabit worlds, or sub-worlds, and when those worlds fail, or are fully traversed, we quiescence and are propelled into an exploratory state of mind.


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