Kingdom of boredom

Why does a crime get fixed by a sentence behind the bar? I’m not talking of human rights or from any ethical point of view. I’m trying to understand the sentiment that makes imprisonment a reasonable retribution. A prison cell is hell; though it offers the three basic necessities of life, namely food, shelter and clothes. It’s deemed as a dark dungeon devoid of interactions to the rest of the world. It’s an infernal climate of living to anyone across ‘net worth’ bands. The efficacy of this mode of punishment stands on the fear of boredom. A mental condition of being alive while having nothing to do at all, or harping on the same monotone day in and day out with little passion or variation amounts to heavy lashing by boredom. Boredom is dreadful and a dread can correct a miscreant mind. As a theory, boredom then can kill the traits of a character that once (or a few times maybe) propelled a man to felony. However vague the definition of boredom remains, the impact of this state of mind is undoubtedly mighty.

Appetite for destruction

Man welcomes any ‘occupation’ to escape from ennui. If not fed on time, he goes restless to vent out the anguish. Sitting all alone, with not even a mobile screen at fingertips, is a curse to a modern life. Void or drudgery kills. There is a fear of spending time with myself. Or is it to evade me for not being caught stealing or facing my innate weaknesses at a point blank range? I love myself the most, that’s why I’m constantly living; but I can’t bear solitary me. Do I hate my inner voice or look? Does my truth haunt me? Is the still form of existence good for vacations but too empty to live with otherwise? I better run away from me. Give me busyness, I’ll give you productivity. Physical stimuli, in the form of drugs, gadgets or other hedonic thrills add momentary (or reasonably short-lasting) pleasures. It calls for stronger doses soon to even maintain the same level of excitement. Else they fall from the grace and turn boring.

“A wish to escape from boredom is natural; indeed, all races of mankind have displayed it as opportunity occurred… Wars, pogroms, and persecutions have all been part of the flight from boredom; even quarrels with neighbors have been found better than nothing. Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.”1

“What applies to drugs applies also, within limits, to every kind of excitement. A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure. … too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty… A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.”1

“It seems doubtful that a remedy against boredom can give rise to boredom, but it can give rise to boredom only insofar as it is used incorrectly. A mistaken, generally eccentric diversion has boredom within itself, and thus it works its way up and manifests itself as immediacy.”2

“Our mental make-up is suited to a life of very severe physical labor. I used, when I was younger, to take my holidays walking. I would cover twenty-five miles a day, and when the evening came I had no need of anything to keep me from boredom, since the delight of sitting amply sufficed. But modern life cannot be conducted on these physically strenuous principles. A great deal of work is sedentary, and most manual work exercises only a few specialized muscles… if the human race is to survive — a thing which is, perhaps, undesirable — other means must be found for securing an innocent outlet for the unused physical energy that produces love of excitement… I have never heard of a war that proceeded from dance halls.”1

“Fruitful monotony”1

Dive deep, contemplate, reflect; talk to the self. See how you react to this uneasy stillness; how this knee-jerk shivers settle down in quietude. Boredom is a gift to someone who can appreciate the mindful presence and end up learning one’s own self apart from things around. Brush up the past, untie a knot, imagine. Keen but narrowed observation is a boost to science, whereas Innovative daydreaming is key to creativity that in turn fuels arts. Boredom can offer both aplenty. “Stultifying boredom”1 is another variety where the mind drains out, as boredom dries up the spirit of actions further.

“If sleep is the apogee of physical relaxation, boredom is the apogee of mental relaxation. Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places — the activities that are intimately associated with boredom — are already extinct in the cities and are declining in the country as well.”3

“The method I propose does not consist in changing the soil but, like proper crop rotation, consists in changing the method of cultivation and the kinds of crops. Here at once is the principle of limitation, the sole saving principle in the world. The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes. A solitary prisoner for life is extremely resourceful; to him a spider can be a source of great amusement… What a meticulous observer one becomes, detecting every little sound or movement. Here is the extreme boundary of that principle that seeks relief not through extensity but through intensity.”2

“The special kind of boredom from which modern urban populations suffer is intimately bound up with their separation from the life of Earth. It makes life hot and dusty and thirsty, like a pilgrimage in the desert. Among those who are rich enough to choose their way of life, the particular brand of unendurable boredom from which they suffer is due, paradoxical as this may seem, to their fear of boredom. In flying from the fructifying kind of boredom, they fall a prey to the other far worse kind. A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live.”1

A modern syndrome?

Many philosophers correlate that our excesses in fleeting from boredom align themselves to the modern chaos caused by the enormous technological progress. This relentless need for an external stimulus to produce excitement was not seen even a century back. That does not acquit boredom of the malaise it inflicts on the merit of its juvenility. When there weren’t much to do, in general, people probably used to resort to primitive engagements. Hunting, for example, might have been the earliest escape route from dullness.1 Current scientific research has shown positive outcomes on a few brain faculties by bored over non-bored set of humans. Nevertheless boredom retains its place as an inexcusable offense, often quoted as the reason for surrender to addictions, promiscuity or depression.

“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.”1

“Adam was bored because he was alone; therefore Eve was created. Since that moment, boredom entered the world and grew in quantity in exact proportion to the growth of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored together; then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored en famille. After that, the population of the world increased and the nations were bored en masse.”2

“Civilized life has grown altogether too tame, and, if it is to be stable, it must provide harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied in hunting… I think every big town should contain artificial waterfalls that people could descend in very fragile canoes, and they should contain bathing pools full of mechanical sharks.”1

“Human beings show their superiority to the brutes by their capacity for boredom, though I have sometimes thought, in examining the apes at the zoo, that they, perhaps, have the rudiments of this tiresome emotion. However that may be, experience shows that escape from boredom is one of the really powerful desires of almost all human beings.”1

Is immunity to boredom circumstantial?

A celebrity or rich public figure goes to jail. It’s a rare scenario, but not an absolute absurdity. Left with no alternative, that person serves the sentence, at least in partially before being granted a bail. How does this mutation happen? I don’t remember hearing such a flamboyant criminal committing suicide due to boredom of a prison cell. Few minutes of meditation in the morning may be voluntarily included in a daily routine packed with actions. It has an answer in my book as exercise provides a different kind of dividends, even to a wealthy man. What astonishes me is an unexpected detainment that lasts days or months or even years, to someone blessed so far with all the magic potions to live oblivious to tedium. Is there an inherent adaptation deep inside? Desperation prompts major changes which ease often fails to. Forced in a confinement surrounded by none but self, one takes to appreciate a lizard moving slowly over a wall – a beam of the sun entering through a window can endow with a sense of gratitude to nature. The brightest brains of this world, who tried to deal with this subject of boredom, exhorted parents to expose kids to boredom as a compulsory ritual. A child learns to be at peace by self help and eventually masters the art of “fructifying boredom”1.

“The capacity to endure a more or less monotonous life is one which should be acquired in childhood. Modern parents are greatly to blame in this respect; they provide their children with far too many passive amusements… and they do not realize the importance to a child of having one day like another, except, of course, for somewhat rare occasions” 1

“The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness. Pleasures which are exciting and at the same time involve no physical exertion, such, for example, as the theatre, should occur very rarely. The excitement is in the nature of a drug, of which more and more will come to be required, and the physical passivity during the excitement is contrary to instinct. A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.”1

“Parents are burning these kids out on structure. I think every day all children should have 3 hours of daydreaming. Just daydreaming. You could use a little of it yourself, by the way. Just sit at the window, stare at the clouds. It’s good for ya. If you want to know how you can help your children: leave them the f—k alone!”4

1: Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

2: Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

3. Walter Benjamin (1892 – 1940)

4. George Carlin (1937 – 2008)


[##P.S.: Isn’t it ‘amazing’ (in the true sense of the word and not how a reality show judge uses it) that some of the quotes I mentioned above were scripted a century (or more) back? How did they even dare to envision today’s busy society where a child rests on a smartphone to kill boredom? Without enough technological tools to collect or process ‘big data’ analytics, these minds could read our dwindling span of attention and forewarned all the future parents about it. It’s prescience, in reality.]

As we rise in the social scale the pursuit of excitement becomes more and more intense. Those who can afford it are perpetually moving from place to place, carrying with them as they go gaiety, dancing and drinking, but for some reason always expecting to enjoy these more in a new place. Those who have to earn a living get their share of boredom, of necessity, in working hours, but those who have enough money to be freed from the need of work have as their ideal a life completely freed from boredom. It is a noble ideal, and far be it from me to decry it, but I am afraid that like other ideals it is more difficult to achievement than the idealists suppose. After all, the mornings are boring in proportion as the previous evenings were amusing. There will be middle age, possibly even old age. At twenty men think that life will be over at thirty… Perhaps it is as unwise to spend one’s vital capital as one’s financial capital. Perhaps some element of boredom is a necessary ingredient in life.” – Bertrand Russell

Ducks and drakes

Scarlett Johansson has touched upon an interesting note in a recent press meet. She feels monogamy isn’t an intrinsic part of human nature. It takes a lot of effort to honor it by controlling the urge to “look beyond”. [I relished the retort by Tim Lott and recommend a mass reading ceremony of it] It hardly occurs to the working/middle class folks that monogamy vs polygamy could be a subject to ponder upon. As Mr. Lott says, lack of choice kills a lot of flavors from hogging the brain and vanilla rules by default. Continue reading “Ducks and drakes”

Doting father

Dads are dying to share their pearls of wisdom. It’s partly natural affection, partly an overdose of ego – a rush of at least a couple of hormones. Subject to the depth of pockets, fathers go obsessed about their children’s growing up. This zeal, a result of the peer pressure in modern society and the promotions of “my daddy strongest” all over media, leads to stretching the role of a father unduly. Continue reading “Doting father”