The Addict as Prophet: Part 5, Modernity and Boredom

After discussing in Addiction and Virtue how addiction addresses our feelings of arbitrariness in modernity--making something matter in a world where nothing matters--Dunnington goes on to discuss a second symptom of modernity's malaise.


Because modernity lacks a telos, we don't have a Story that gives life purpose, direction and meaning. Any story we do have is the story we pick for ourselves, a story that can be dropped in an instant, making that story seem hollow and arbitrary.

You'd think that this would create a feeling of existential crisis for us. But as Dunnington points out, most moderns don't feel existential angst. What we tend to feel is bored.

Why is boredom a uniquely modern problem?

Dunnington points to two things.

First, due to our material affluence modernity has increased our leisure time. That's no small accomplishment.

And yet, to Dunnington's second point, modernity has accomplished this feat by eliminating our Story.

And these two things--time without a telos--create an existential vacuum. Space in our lives has been created--leisure time--but we lack a Story to fill that space with meaningful activity. Consequently, we fill our leisure time with entertainments and distractions. Again, this situation is perfectly suited to capitalism, large amounts of free time needing to be filled with products and activities for sale.

The trouble, we all know, is that after we cycle through all these entertainments we become increasingly bored. There's a million shows on TV and we can't find anything to watch.

Addiction, according to Dunnington, cracks through the boredom by giving use something compelling to do. Addiction, if it's anything, is a motivated state, somthing that consumerism struggles to give us consistently.

Further, rather than facing a vast, undifferentiated sea of choices, addiction focuses life upon a single, unifying activity.

When we're bored we have a million things we could do, but nothing we want to do. And if that's the experience of modernity, the experience of addiction is the exact opposite. Addiction gives you a single, compelling thing to do. Once again, addiction fills the void of modernity, functioning as a form of social critique.

Here's Dunnington (p. 118):
Addiction provides a response to the underwhelming life of boredom that plagues the bourgeois in its leisure time by making one thing matter. And addiction provides a response to the overwhelming life of boredom that plagues the working class with the fragmented and compartmentalized striving by making one thing matter. For those who are bored with nothing to do, addiction stimulates by entangling and consuming; for those who are bored with too much to do, addiction disburdens by simplifying and clarifying.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply