Boredom – it’s dangerous
Published: September 16, 2012 at 8:00pm
This is part of my column in The Malta Independent on Sunday, today.
I may be right off the wall here, but I believe that a major factor in the swing towards Labour is boredom. This is not necessarily boredom with the government, you understand, but boredom in general.
When people have reached that point in tedium and ennui where they will do almost anything to alleviate the (lack of) sensation, bad things happen.
They’re prepared to take almost any risk to set off a spark and create some excitement, the sort that reminds them they are still alive. You see it with life, you see it with work, you see it in marriage, and you see it in decisions taken in the polling-booth.
Sometimes, the thrills sought are so high-risk that they end up in death, destruction or the crashing-down of every last pillar in our lives.
Right now, the air is heavy with boredom. Hear the way people speak:
“I’m sick of this government”; “we need something new”; “this has gone on long enough”; “something has to give”. If you listen carefully, they are not really talking about politics or the way the country is run.
They are not speaking about jobs or employment or education or the economy or whether we are in or out of recession (we’re out).
What they are saying, in effect, is that they are fed-up, bored, sick of it all and need of some excitement. They want to throw a firecracker into the mix, set off a few explosions, make things happen, even if they are bad things or risky things, as long as they are different things.
They’re not going to run out on their spouse or tell the boss where he can shove his job – too drastic – but they might have a fling with Jimmy/Mary in accounts and they might even vote Labour. You see, it makes them feel naughty, even outrageous. And that’s the spark they need right now when they’re so bored that they’re not even shopping anymore.
So we’ve reached that point where people need a thrill, and they are going to do anything to get it, short of wrecking their marriage (though plenty are doing that), turning to drink and drugs (ditto), or driving a fast car at 100mph round a hairpin bend.
The surveys all show that the greatest swing to Labour has taken place among middle-aged people. The usual interpretation is that these are the people who are most under pressure financially, the ones who are feeling the pinch but failing to thank God that they’re not in Spain.
Perhaps so, but it could also be because this is the age-group most afflicted by existential crises and utter boredom, even more than teenagers and for different reasons. They’re not just bored, at that age they’re also panicking because time is running out, indeed, has run out in very many respects.
Voting Labour, for those who have never done so, falls into the midlife-crisis category of excitement-inducing changes like dumping the spouse for a newer model, eat-pray-loving your way through India like a 20-year-old backpacker but with more money, and going to the same nightclubs as your children, but in jeans that are even tighter.
We are lucky that the worst we can expect from this sort of Zeitgeist is a change of government. In previous generations and much larger countries, it would have meant drastic measures being taken to give The People that much needed electric charge and sense of purpose, if only to stop them thinking of getting it by railing against their rulers and seeking to have them overthrown.
And so those rulers took them into war instead, or invaded Poland.
Elsewhere right now, there is plenty of excitement. Only yesterday, tens of thousands converged on Madrid to demonstrate against austerity measures – you know, the austerity measures that their government has implemented because Spain is in such a terrible financial mess.
Major roads were blocked, and around half a million demonstrators were expected to have gathered by the time this piece met its deadline. Spain is stuck in a double-dip recession and unemployment is at 25%. Among young people, it is much higher. When you have so much to worry about, boredom is just not an issue.
Lawrence Gonzi’s government has, in a sense, been damaged by its own successes. Because people in general have nothing more serious to worry about – no loss of homes or jobs, no sons and daughters returning home in their 30s because they are out of work and can no longer pay the rent, no homeless-shelters with queues of hundreds outside, waiting for a bowl of soup, no education or healthcare cuts – they are free to fuss and whine about how boring it all is and how sick they are of looking at the same politicians, and how they want some different ones to get excited about.
Human nature is fascinating, but in so many ways, entirely predictable.