Søren Kierkegaard wrote sardonically that the history of the world is the history of boredom, which he called "the root of all evil. . . . The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings." Adam's boredom led to Eve, Eve's boredom led to snake-listening, Cain's boredom led to murder, more boredom led to Babel, and so on.
Far be it from me to contradict the Danish philosopher, but an amusing-ourselves-to-death America these days may be characterized less by boredom than by anger. Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, a self-described "left-leaning reporter," asked late last month, "Why is the left still so angry?" He reviewed 1,800 comments posted about his columns and concluded that "even under Obama, the anger on the left is, if anything, more personal and vitriolic than on the right."
Why? Milbank quoted one analyst: "People get used to being angry and when things change, they don't. So they find stuff to be mad about." True, and not just about the present. For millennia, many people have been used to being angry: Look at all the wars. Maybe we have so much fighting because of boredom, but I see it as the result of sin multiplied by social insecurity, one result of the Fall of Man. Adam and Eve were at first secure in every way in the garden, but many of their descendants for millennia were spiritually and materially impoverished—and angry.
The second half of the 20th century became for many Americans an unprecedented era of material security. My father-in-law spent his whole working life at Ford. Millions of others had similar careers. Professors could gain tenure. Journalists could have steady jobs. Blue-collar workers had unions. Farmers had price supports. The elderly gained Social Security and Medicare. Antibiotics and medical improvements ended epidemics that once left parents burying most of their children.
Since change in the right amount is invigorating, employment security had an economic and social downside, and life itself was not fully secure. Some children still died. Cancer threatened. Accidents happened. Cold War possibilities were nightmarish. No matter what precautions we took, the ultimate insecurity of death would soon leave all staring into nothingness, apart from the hope that faith in God allows.