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.
Nevertheless, many people felt generally secure. Workers in Europe and Japan, which continued to emphasize employment for life even as the practice began to die in America, whistled even more loudly past the graveyard. Such security also had a political impact: Communist parties withered. Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s argued logically that turning renters into homeowners would increase the Conservative vote.
So what has happened in our brave new century? In 2001 a day of horror led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the name itself generated by insecurity. Lifetime corporate employment is gone. Newspapers are dinosaurs. New colleges don't have tenure. Social Security is insecure. And now, amid recession, many jobs are gone and others going.
Not that there isn't plenty of anger on the right, and not that wives are always secure, but consider: Most married women voters in recent presidential elections have favored Republican candidates, most never-married or divorced women voters have gone Democratic. Not that home-owning is always secure (just look at the recent forfeitures), but homeowners recently have been more likely to vote Republican, and apartment-dwellers have shaded Democratic. The correlation of material insecurity and leftward leanings makes sense, because the left wants the government to make us feel secure.
Both security and insecurity, by themselves, create problems. Moscow waiters often were, and tenured professors often are, contemptuous toward those who pay the bills or make sure they're paid-customers, parents, executives. Those without long-term contracts are often jumpy, suspicious of administrators, fearing plots where there are none. Experience in Japan, Europe, and some large U.S. corporations suggests that security often engenders complacency.
If neither material security nor insecurity work, what's the solution? The same as to virtually every problem in the world: faith in Christ. Since we're sinners, we're all prone to insecurity, unless we realize that our security is not subjective but objective, not dependent on what we do but on what Christ has done. We feel secure when we know deep down that all things work together for the good of those who believe in Him. Some might scoff: superficial answer? No. There's nothing deeper.
If you have a question or comment for Marvin Olasky, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.