Empty Days

Saturday, July 17, 2004



The Bored.

From Eric Hoffer's The True Believer (Part II - The Potential Converts; ch.10):

II.10.41. There is perhaps no more reliable indicator of a society's ripeness for a mass movement than the prevalence of unrelieved boredom. In most all the descriptions of the periods preceding the rise of mass movements there is reference to vast ennui; and in their earliest stages mass movements are more likely to find sympathizers and support among the bored than among the exploited and oppressed. To a deliberate fomenter of mass upheavals, the report that people are bored stiff should be at least as encouraging as that they are suffering from intolerable economic or political abuses.

When people are bored, it is primarily with their own selves that they are bored. The consciousness of a barren, meaningless existence is the main fountainhead of boredom. People who are not conscious of their individual separatedness, as is the case with those who are members or a compact tribe, church, party, etcetera, are not accessible to boredom. The differentiated individual is free of boredom only when he is engaged either in creative work or some absorbing occupation or when he is wholly engrossed in the struggle fro existence. Pleasure-chasing and dissipation are ineffective palliatives. Where people live autonomous lives and are not badly off, yet are without abilities or opportunities for creative work or useful action, there is no telling to what desperate and fantastic shifts they might resort in order to give meaning and purpose to their lives.

Boredom accounts for the almost invariable presence of spinsters and middle-aged women at the birth of mass movements. Even in the case of Islam and the Nazi movement, which frowned upon feminine activity outside the home, we find women of a certain type playing an important role in the early stage of their development.

Marriage has for women many equivalents of joining a mass movement. It offers them a new purpose in life, a new future and a new identity (a new name). The boredom of spinsters and of women who can no longer find joy and fulfillment in marriage stems from an awareness of a barren, spoiled life. By embracing a holy cause and dedicating their energies and substance to its advancement, they find a new life full of purpose and meaning. Hitler made full use of "the society ladies thirsting for adventure, sick of their empty lives, no longer getting a "kick" out of love affairs." He was financed by the wives of some of the great industrialists long before their husbands had heard of him. Miriam Beard tells of a similar role played by bored wives of businessmen before the French Revolution: "they were devastated with boredom and given to fits of the vapors. Restlessly, they applauded innovators."
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And the whole book is like that - in a way it's hilarious, because it's simultaneously candid, naive and bold in its assumptions. The first paragraph of this excerpt would well describe Houellebecq's main thesis about the modern world (and Unabomber's musings on the fact that people can't sit still anymore but need entertainment all the time): hey, folks, we're bored stiff coz we have it too easy and it can't go on like that. We need a revolution! Heh.





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