The Culture of Ennui

One of the many amazing things about our culture is the reduction in immediate survival pressures.  Food production has reached such an amazing rate that our government in the U.S. sometimes pays farmers to not produce food so that the market is not super-saturated.  Crime rates are far lower than they were in the past.   Technological advances have allowed us to massively accelerate the completion of tasks in the areas of computation, logistics, and communication.  The opportunities for entertainment have ballooned to such an extent and so colorfully that one might be forgiven for thinking that we have an economy largely based on providing ourselves with entertainment to fill the time that is no longer taken up with working for our survival.

We have gradually removed the mundane challenges from our lives so that we can take it easy.  And we do have it easy, which is precisely why so many of us feel an intense sense of ennui.  We now have a large percentage of children who are given so many conveniences at such a young age that they often don’t know how to handle inconvenience, let alone a genuine challenge.  The battery running out on their iPod is a tragedy for them.  The Playstation 3 breaking down is a catastrophe of epic proportions.  Not having a social event to attend on a weekend is a major character flaw.  “I’m bored,” is the new mantra of a new generation. 

But let’s not leave out adults.  Adults allow young people to exist without challenges and hep foster the culture of ennui, letting schools and electronics take over the tasks of parenting.  So many adults are largely content with their way of living that they do not seek to better themselves, and instead spend their time wallowing in snack foods and mediocre television programming, which sets a horrific example.  Many of us in the West have become so unaccustomed to immediate danger that our fear of it is disproportionate to the severity of the threat and our willingness to face that fear has decreased to nearly zero.  We are moving into an age of pervasive boredom, a dangerous listlessness that leads to uselessness.

We are slowly removing one of the most important needs of a human being’s existence: challenges. As a natural result of this removal of our need for challenges, young people are thrust deep into the bland annoyance of boredom and are seeking new challenges.  Some are building and/or deploying viruses to destroy the computers of others.  Some are spending all their time reading and assimilating information so that they can be the person who knows it all.  Some are striving to be the most logical and empirical person with all the right kinds of beliefs about the world.  Some just want a plethora of achievements on their Xbox 360.  Some want to experience the challenge of parenting by having children at a young age.  Some want to be the person everyone likes to hang out with.  Some want to be the most fashionable or have the most athletic body.  Some want to be toughest gangster or the richest drug dealer.  Young people are finding ways to embrace the challenges that have been removed from their lives, and in many cases are not making the best choices as to which challenge they accept or are accepting those challenges for the wrong reasons.

Thankfully, there are some ways of dealing with our lack of challenges that are healthy.  Many people have found new challenges that truly improve their character and health, such as martial arts and dance, building furniture and writing poetry, improving nutrition and creating tasty dishes, fostering healthy relationships and doing volunteer work, as well as teaching and learning a wide variety of skills so that others may share in the joy of a life well-lived.  Of course, some take even the healthy challenges to an unhealthy extreme by keeping their schedule so full that they have no time to sit back and enjoy some healthy reflection upon the many gifts they have in their lives. 

My hope is that we can find an appropriate balance between enjoying our challenges and resting from our labors so that we can end the culture of ennui without driving ourselves into the abyss of constant and unrelenting pressure.

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11 Responses to The Culture of Ennui

  1. dsullivan says:

    LOL  I suppose some ancient Greek said basically the same thing a thousand years ago.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.Thanks for the rec.  

  2. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @dsullivan – Excellent point.  It’s certainly been said before, and more than once.  Though it was the Romans, actually.  Their civilization is more comparable to ours.  I just hope that we don’t manage to go out in an even more horrific fashion than they did.And you’re quite welcome.  I always like to recommend good writing. šŸ™‚

  3. QuantumStorm says:

    The best way to do it is to make everybody a scientist. Then they’ll be spending their free time exploring the secrets of the universe. IT WILL BE FOOLPROOF

  4. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @QuantumStorm – I dig it.  Maybe then they’ll be too busy to whine so much.

  5. QuantumStorm says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – …except on days when the SEM is out of order. Damn magnetic lenses…

  6. galadrial says:

    First, some seriously good writing here…a rare pleasure. I enjoy reading other people’s views, and ideas…but rarely do most do more than the surface “I Like”, or “I hate”. As to your theme, I could not agree more.  Not to bash the Pharmaceutical Industry, but they have got people turned out like pimps at a bus station. I have a lot of friends with early to mid 20 kids…and most of them are on anti-anxiety meds, or anti-depressants. Not just one or two…MOST. They started them after a break up, a stressful semester…a lot of things that are uncomfortable…but normal. The result is the retardation of personal development, and potential. I believe that intellectually and emotionally, most humans must go through levels, in order to be able to progress. It’s not hip, or trendy thought…but it might explain why everyone needs things to be broken down for them lately. But they did not force us to numb ourselves…that was a choice.It’s not a recent development—not really. When I was in grade school, in the early 70’s, they found out that 4-5 kids in each class were reading at a third grade level…in 8th grade. These kids went onto to high school, despite the fact that their reading level virtually guaranteed future academic failure. There were 8 classes that graduated that year.  That meant that they sent 32-40 children into classes, pretty much knowing they would fail. Their High School Diplomas were worthless…and that was in 1978. What is the chance that those people, now adults, who have raised another generation, were able to assist their children in any way…with even basic school work? I’d say low.  And now their children are having kids. That was just one school in my district. I believe there were 20 or so at the time. But it’s easier to blame the educational system, than look at the fact that literate parents are more likely to have literate kids.Worse…in the 80’s, when the Yuppies ruled, we decided that even very young kids didn’t need as much of our time. They “did beautifully” in day care, allowing both parents to work, and parent on the weekends. That was the beginning of the ADD Generation.  I have no credentials or research to support such a connection..but  suddenly there were “attention deficit” kids all over the place. I’m not saying it was the only cause…or the primary one…but I’ve often wondered if the children were not helped by the adult insistence that they “grow up” fast.As I suggested earlier…we need to go through things to learn. Only we don’t. We keep trying to short cut, cheat sheet, or otherwise beat the system that our intellects and emotions are based on…and then are shocked when we have incomplete adults, or broken children who struggle to mature…without the building blocks they needed. I was bored to death at times in school…but I was not allowed to use that as an excuse to not learn. I was taught that if I wanted to do something I enjoyed, (say writing) I had to “earn” it, by first meeting my responsibilities. So school first, chores second…and if there was time, whatever I might wish. I hated it…but it made me understand and accept the discipline I needed in college, and later work life. I wonder when people will finally catch on to the notion again…that “You Can’t Get There From Here”. Hope I didn’t ramble too much…and nice to meet you!

  7. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @QuantumStorm – Haha!@galadrial – It’s nice to meet you as well.  I quite enjoyed your ramble. šŸ™‚  You bring up a lot of great points about generational trends that I would love to see some research completed on.

  8. galadrial says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – I would as well…but these days, they want it in 25 words or less. When I worked in a library locally, I discovered just how abysmal the rates of adult literacy were. The idea that people in their 30’s, or 40’s can barely make it through a simple application bothers me. But we’ve also gotten to the “immediate return” stage, where every cent of funding must produce a definable outcome. Since we have so many people opposed to public education of the young, what so you think they will feel about bettering or enriching the lives of the older?

  9. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @galadrial – It’s interesting that you mentioned adult learning, because my job consists mostly of educating adults.  I deal with people in their 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s, and 20s all the time.  And it’s incredibly true that many folks over 30 have a surprising amount of trouble with simple applications.  I do it for a private corporation, so obviously having an immediate return is a pressing issue that defines a great deal of my job.

  10. galadrial says:

    No doubt…but on a societal scale, they keep applying “business principals”.That can work in some instances…but not all.A more literate society would be a huge benefit…but more people are concerned with “computer literacy”, without understanding that to the illiterate, or even the functionally illiterate, a computer is a useless device. I often hear people say how more candidates should go into plumbing, or electrical contracting, “where the money is”.  While those disciplines don’t require college, they usually require training, experience, and certification…and if you’re struggling with basic reading or computation, I don’t see that happening.On the more optimistic side, had we done a good job educating people, your job would be less interesting…no?

  11. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @galadrial – Business principles are at best effective in achieving consistent mediocrity even in businesses.  So it’s no surprise that the best we can get out of them in other areas of life is that same consistent mediocrity, and sometimes not even that.You’re totally correct that  plumbing or electrical work still require a foundation of basic skills and plenty of training, certification, experience, etc.My job would be interesting in a different way, and a whole lot less stressful. šŸ™‚

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