Thursday, 6 December 2012


Rant Number 517       6 December 2012

Are you ever bored? If so, treasure the experience. It affords you a fine insight into the very nature of existence because: ‘the proof that life is meaningless is boredom’. So intimates the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Do your feet also ache? Another insight. Because life is also evil, filled with misery and pain, he contends. Thus for A.S. existence ‘swings endlessly like a pendulum to and fro between pain and boredom’. No wonder the old sod was a pessimist.
Arthur’s world view was not wholly a priori, unrelated to experience, unlike, say, Kant’s. The pervasive, universal spectacle of human and animal suffering deeply affected him. This partly explains his felt rejection of the idea of a creator God. In Theodicy Arthur’s eminent Kraut predecessor, Leibniz, had ably defended God from the charge of having made a world with much evil in it. A.S. passionately argues the opposite: if this world was created, only a devil, Satan himself would be its artificer. (In my opinion Leibniz’s arguments are far superior but...a priest would say that, wouldn’t he?)
A memorable passage in Die Welt as Wille und Vorstellung describes a ferocious scene on the island of Java. A beach is scattered with turtle bones. Because turtles come ashore in large number every year to lay their eggs, whereupon wild dogs rush out of the jungle, overturn the turtles unto their backs, exposing their soft bellies. They then tear them apart, devour them alive. And such a ghastly, bloody scene is repeated year after year. A carnage going on for millennia. This step-motherly nature, red in tooth and claw, revolted Arthur. Too much pain! Too much suffering! And examples could be multiplied. Slave-drivers. Vivisectionists. Religious fanaticism. Burning of heretics, etcetera.  Only a malevolent, fiendish being would create a world with such horrors.
And boredom? Here Schopenhauer’s analysis is rooted in his Weltanschuung. Man is constantly pursuing desires. His nature is like that. But the human will when satisfied strives anew after another desire, and so on and on. Man believes himself to be happy but his happiness is really a thirst after other, fresh desires. Look at Mark Gertler’s painting, Merry-Go-Round, exhibited in Tate Britain Gallery. It is, I think, a haunting representation of Schopenhauer’s meaning. The revolving machine and its riders are shown engaged in a quasi-perpetual motion, chasing like madmen after never-ending goals. The people look joyful, excited but in painterly ways Gertler conveys the illusory, unreal and psychotic nature of the human endeavour. Languor and ennui then ensue. They lurk inherently in the vain pursuit of endless desires. Consequently the metaphysically sensitive - such as Schopenhauer readers, presumably – experience the torture and misery of boredom.  And there is no escape or cure from this deadly, soul-destroying ennui except in halting the merry-go-round for good. The extinction of the will...
This abstract, metaphysical boredom is a philosopher’s idea. Actual, everyday tedium is more prosaic, if more intelligible. Take an ordinary church, parish council meeting. One day, as the meeting was about to start, the chairman realised a stranger had turned up. He cleared his throat: ‘Er...excuse me sir, there must be a mistake. This is a meeting of the church board.’ ‘I know’ the stranger replied, ‘That is why I am here. I heard the announcement last week. I have been attending your services a few times and, I assure you, no one is more bored than I am.’
Not just a joke, take it from the priest. What can be more boring than the average church service? When Bob Dylan went through a brief, phoney ‘conversion’ to Christianity and produced a charismatic song, ‘Saved’, it is said that a number of hippies went to church to check it out. They came out bored and very bemused: ‘Man, what can Dylan possibly see in this?’
Boredom also gets instantiated in bores. Tedium-engendering people or entities. Examples abound. There are immigration bores, those who go on and on about the evils of immigrants. (I declare an interest: I am myself an immigrant.) For the last 40 years in unhappy Ukania such people, politicians and papers have bored me to death. Point: whether immigration is good or bad, the unpopular but plain truth is that no one can do a sausage about it. Is it even conceivable that millions of immigrants could be deported? Why go on being boring then?
Slash-and-burn feminism also can also be exceedingly tedious. One-sided, monotonous and petulant females are like a wearing, dripping faucet. The BBC specialises in this type of torment. Guess I should follow my own counsel: nothing can be done about it so...just watch RT instead!
Orientalist bores exist, too. Like Pavlov’s dogs, they salivate at the word or thought. Some individual just hurled the dreaded accusation at me online. This disease goes back to Edward Said’s Orientalism. A virulent and partial tract responsible for much mischief. Any innocent comment about ‘the East’ exposes you to ominous charges of imperialism, racism, eurocentricity and blah-blah-blah. Quite unreasonable. And, frankly, very boring.
OK, it is a subjective list. Feel free to make up your own, up to you.
Back to Schopenhauer. I said his metaphysical illness has no cure. Correction: a treatment of sorts is possible. He himself suggests it. Desire can be palliated, even remedied. Realisation that suffering is inseparable from life as a whole prompts the soul who has grasped the mystery of existence to feel compassion for the sufferings of the world. In the exercise of compassion the ‘veil of Maya’ is removed from reality. The illusory mental barriers that separate you from others fall away, dissolve. You realise you must care for others because they all, like you, (for Arthur they actually are you) suffer from the same, mortal illness: life. You then can become like a Buddhist bodhisattva, a compassionate, kind being who chooses to devote his life to helping others to achieve salvation, to escape from suffering and pain. Boredom and tedium are no more then: compassion has saved you.
Yes, maybe crabby Arthur got it right. You should feel sorry for bores. Be kind, be compassionate to them. They too are like you. You, they, all deserve compassion.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli

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