“For if life … possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us.”
It must have been exhausting, being Schopenhauer, but as usual he is on to something. Why is boredom such an unpleasant thing? If being alive, existing in and of itself, were wonderful, wouldn’t just being there be good enough? It isn’t, though, for most of us most of the time. Maybe a settled moment or two – a Buddhist catnap as Kurt Vonnegut put it – is fine on the rare occasion, but much of our lives is spent fleeing the awful quiet of our own company. We have stamp collecting and movies and texting and newspapers and cards and background music and a million shiny things to distract us. I wandered the length of a train a while ago, just taking in the many things people do instead of doing nothing – nearly all faces were illuminated by laptops and phones, some brows were furrowed over crosswords, small talk, flirtation, and more wine than I expected.
Maybe boredom is our default setting, the neutral gear of the human condition, for a very good reason. Cats and God might be happy just existing, but for the rest of us, boredom is a kind of fuel. When we run away from it, at least we stand a chance of going somewhere, doing something. What sorts of creatures we would be if Schopenhauer were wrong. Suppose mere existence satisfied us. Imagine sitting there, content, not a thought, not a care. Would that be better or worse?
It’s not your problem, because this issue will keep boredom at bay for many hours. There’s reflection on definitions and same sex marriage, an argument for the claim that pain is not essentially unpleasant, thoughts about truth and scientific theorizing, reflection on defensive killing, news, reviews, columns, and an atheist explaining why he has spent two decades writing a commentary on the Bible. And if anything is the opposite of boredom, maybe it’s being in love, which not coincidentally is the subject of this issue’s forum. Is it better to have loved and lost? Can love be irrational? Should we learn how to fall out of love? Does unconditional love make sense? It may not be the final word on love, but it’s a good collection of first words.
That chewed up five minutes anyway.