Friday, June 24, 2011

Pain and Boredom as Endangered Emotions?

The shorter of the short people is a catcher and in a game last weekend he took two good foul tips off the glove arm, one on the bicep and one on the forearm. You could see the tears welling up behind the mask, but both times he shook off the coach who came out to check on him. I was very proud that he is learning to play with pain. They weren't injuries, they just hurt. He's learning that displeasure is tolerable, a lesson that will serve him well.

We follow the 19th century utilitarians in taking pain to be intrinsically bad. Pain is something that is disappearing from modern life. We have pads for kids in every sort of activity. We have medications and alcoholic beverages that alleviate pain.

I think this is a problem. I'm not making a sort of Fight Club macho, pubescent argument that pain brings life, or a Lao Tzu whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger type of argument, or even a martyr's through pain comes cleansing point. Rather, I'm simply pointing out that life hurts. Pain is a part of life and by living in irrational fear of it, it keeps us from doing what we could or should do. For example, I heard a young woman the other day who was so afraid of the pain of labor that she was saying to a friend she had no desire for children. Maybe that will change later in life, maybe she does not want kids for another reason, but the fact that this is even a thought that goes through someone's head seems culturally worrisome.

Similarly with other undesirable states like boredom. We can play on our iphones and computers 24 hours a day. We have tv channels in the hundreds that never go off the air. We gain entertainment, but we lose the stretches of time that encourage creativity and reflection.

We eat fewer and fewer natural foods, the tastes that are not our favorites or that have not been augmented with sugar, I'm sorry, I mean high fructose corn syrup and salt. Everything has to be super sweet. As a result, we as a culture eat lousy and make obesity and diabetes a normal part of life.

Marketers seek out any displeasure and try to remedy it, but, of course, it cannot all be eliminated. But we have the expectation to the opposite, the sense that we are entitled to be pleasured all the time.

Is this a naive view? Do we have places where displeasure is made part of life? Horror movies and right-wing talk radio seem to be two. Others or is this a real phenomenon?