Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Schopenhauer 1: Boredom is the true threat to happiness?

In On the Suffering of the World , Schopenhauer argues that suffering is intrinsic and, even more than this, crucial to human existence. Without what he terms "Work, worry, toil and trouble", human life would have no purpose since we are designed to constantly struggle. Without this, we would either collapse through boredom or else create new and ever more harmful distractions.
In a particularly memorable passage concerning the nature of Utopia, he writes:

'Imagine this race transported to Utopia where everything grows of its own accord and turkeys fly around ready-roasted, where lovers find one another without delay and keep one another without any difficulty; in such a place some men would die of boredom or hang themselves, some would fight and kill one another, and thus they would create for themselves more suffering than nature inflicts on them as it is. Thus for a race such as this no stage, no form of existence is suitable other than the one it already possesses'.

At first glance, this may appear counter-intuitive, but does Schopenhaur have a point here? Does work, which for him is at the opposite pole of human existence from boredom, save us from self-destruction? Have we evolved to the point where the lives that we lead ideally suit our disposition to suffering, despite the fact that we believe this not to be the case?
Something to think about as we continue to seek distractions from what many have argued to be the disease of our age: boredom...


  1. Well some of us know quite well that 'the' work mentality of industrial society is sourced by old testament, for Nietzsche accussed jewish priests as the bringer of slave morality.

    I think boredom is for people who are incapable of transforming the living moment, who live rather in their memories, insecurities and desires. Thus boredom is a symptom of industrial society. Travel to northwestern Himalayas and found a guru, who spends his entire life meditating. Figuratively speaking, he does nothing, but in fact, he makes effort to remain conscious to elevate his consciousness. So even he works, but in a very different way, for a much more noble purpose.

    I think people, instead of disposing their boredom with temporary entertainment, should face their boredom right in the eye to realize that the way of industrial society is wrong to the blood and bones. Otherwise, they'll remain enslaved to the vicious circle. The truth is, I don't know if many of you ever realized, there's no happiness or sorrow for people whose minds are colonized by industrial society. There's an exhilarating feeling that arrives at them sometimes, but then disappears immediately and leaves them with mediocracy, which we call suffering or boredom.

    True happiness and sorrow is known to a Buddha-like human being. Gautama Buddha, I remember, had quoted that each of his days after his enlightenment was a celebration.

    There's no cure for boredom in industrial society. Just as a sickness has its symptoms, this is the symptom of industrial life. So Schopenhaur was right. But nobody is gonna do sth about this, isn't it? -_-

  2. I like this posting very much. It's about time that we had something on 'pessimism'! B

    ut the question that we have of Ruth here is 'do we now have to accept suffering as in some sense a 'good'?' Might we have to accept 'toil' as our 'salvation'?

    I would worry if this were the case. What does it say above the gates of Auschwitz? 'Arbeit macht Frei' I believe..

    Of course Schopenhauer would argue that suffering is problem only for the willed individual; if we escape from the will, in his case via art, then we esacpe suffering. Perhaps blogging is the art of the 21st century in this regard?

    Neil Turnbull

    ps. I am not being distracted here. Just found a fwe notes on lecture on Schopenhauer that i thought I would share with you...