The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s boredom.
The opposite of a thing is rarely some mutation, perversion, or inversion of a thing, it is almost always the extreme absence of the thing. I reflect on this often, especially when I read the news, catch up on social media, and often when I am writing this blog. I see boredom as a major motivator in our lives, in western culture.
Boredom motivates us more than we realize. I think a lot of people feel we are motivated by desire, but I’ve found that people often don’t pursue what they desire. They pursue some simulacrum of it, something that can take the place of it, but rarely ‘it’. I think this explains a LOT of typical male psychology. Toxic masculinity has convinced many men that affection, tenderness, and contact (physical and personal) is bad, and so they replace pursing those needs with pursuing sex (and often a gruff, unsatisfying, porn version of sex). That sex is unfulfilling, so they demean it and yet are left with no appreciable option but to keep pursuing it (but that’s another discussion).
If people don’t pursue some variant of what they think they desire, they pursue some sublimation of what they desire. They pursue purging themselves of their desire. This comes in two forms. The first is in spiritual ascetism. Monks, puritanical observances of religious austerity, or just good, old-fashioned noble savage myths are the common form of this. The notion that by desiring less, we are better people. I am of the opinion that removing desire so as to avoid the pain it causes is akin to avoiding the pain of losing by not competing in a race. I wouldn’t call it spiritual cowardice, but I wouldn’t fault another person for saying it.
The second, and far more common, form of this purging of desire is done through numbing of the mind. The obvious example is with chemicals, like alcohol or drugs. The less obvious examples come in the form of other forms of consumption.
Loathe as I am to attack television because it is an artistic medium almost without parallel, I can’t deny that many sit down not to watch but to drown out the world. I know quite a few people personally and professionally who turn on the TV, indifferent to what is on. They don’t sit down to watch something, they sit down to watch and find something to watch. They are looking for a numbing agent to turn off their mind.
And oh sweet mercy, do I get it.
I can only make it a few minutes on Twitter, or Facebook. Watching the news is like an act of masochism. And that was even before the world took a sharp, insane right turn. A long day at work, even doing work you love, and you want to sit down and turn things down a step. TV is a great way to do that. And there’s nothing wrong with it, so long as you are honest and aware of what you are doing.
People seek out numbness in the form of comfort. They seek out a dull stimulation that can take the place of meaningful, real stimulation. There is an element of rest and self-care at play here, make no mistake, but there is also an active avoidance going on as well. What dictates this is personal, and even situational. What is active avoidance for one person is an element of self-care for another. Even on different weeks can the difference be made.
What matters is not the magnitude or the volume of numbing, but the role and purpose of it, and the context in which it is undertaken.
We seek to avoid being bored. The human mind is a powerful thing and, when faced with boredom, we will do things. We will fidget, we will draw or doodle or sing or any number of things. Certainly, get into trouble is amongst them. Somewhere along the way, we begin to prefer numbness to the threat of boredom. We prefer numbness to the threat of pain. I feel like that’s the motivator at play today. Not pain, not fear, not anger, not hate. Numbness. A great swath of the world is numb and is fighting to stay numb. Perhaps the more they are prodded and pushed, the more they are goaded and cajoled, the more they resist.
I don’t know how to combat an addiction to numbness. I don’t know how to confront a person who simply refuses to be unstimulated, rather than risk being under-stimulated. It’s a bizarre paradox. It’s an insane impossibility. And yet, there seems to be some real truth to it.
I create as a form of stimulation. I want my stories to be loved and to be read and to be successful, make no mistake, but their success is only made a consideration after they are written. The actual creation and writing of them is for my own. I suspect many artists are this way, or at least start that way.
Perhaps this is the role of the arts, to provide a stimulation that is motivating, that is empowering. Perhaps it is the instinct to create and to grow that is missing from so many people today. Creative energy that his been buried down inside, for fear of ridicule, for fear of defeat, for fear of inadequacy.
We have to care. We have to risk pain to feel pleasure. We have to risk misery to feel happiness. We have to risk hate to feel love. But above all, we have to risk. Risk is stimulating, and stimulus – even unpleasant stimulus – is often better than numbness. Better for us, and better for the world. We have to care, and we have to help others care.
The path to the future – at least the future worth living in – isn’t found through austerity and avoidance. It is found through commitment and pursuit. It is found through risk, and the subsequent rewards.