The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best. – Victor Frankl
Victor Frankl was a twentieth century Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, a Holocaust survivor, and founder of the logotherapy—healing through meaning—school of psychotherapy. Dr. Frankl wrote 39 books. His most influential, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a memoir/manifesto of his time in a German concentration camp.
Why am I pondering this Jewish intellectual during the final push of our Presidential election? Because I need to take a breath from the daily rancor and consider the bigger picture of the society we have created.
Back in 2015-2016, traversing America on my bicycle, two observations about Donald Trump were abundantly clear:
First. The media made the man. Sure, Trump loves to cry ‘fake news’ and protest against the media. But each time he does, Donald Trump ensures his position as top news story. The master of consuming all the oxygen in the room—and in our country—is genius at maintaining his spot as headline of the day. The media is not President Trump’s enemy: it’s his accomplice. Actually, it’s his benefactor.
Second. The country ate up the Donald because he provided a rush of adrenalin excitement missing from most of our lives. President Trump claims credit for many things, but I’m convinced his most important leading role is: Drama-in-Chief. The man literally provides the populace a reason to get in the morning just to see what craziness he’s tweeted overnight.
The United States might be excused, in 2016, for electing continual soap-opera drama. Things were pumping along pretty well and government didn’t seem all that important to a citizenry increasingly smitten with the diversions that Amazon, Google, Walmart, and Facebook delivered. A buffoonish President would provide droll amusement. But the aftermath of our complacency is all around us: over 200,000 coronavirus deaths; shattered international stature; expanding economic inequality; and state-sponsored brutality against pesky citizens who refuse to remain silent to injustice.
I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, ‘homeostasis,’ i.e. a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. – Victor Frankl
Since the end of World War II, the mantra of American corporations and government has been “Take it easy.” Their purpose, to woo us into a tensionless state. Relaxed folks make for docile, pliable, complacent citizens. The elemental idea of a consumer society is to turn human beings into passive resource receptables, while in truth, the healthiest humans are the most active. Not just with physical movement, but with purpose.
As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have means but no meaning… The truth is, man does not live by welfare alone. – Victor Frankl
It is particularly difficult to feel engaged and purposeful when almost all of our interactions are filtered by a screen, when autumn’s chill beckons us to hygge, when it’s always easier in the moment to watch something rather than create something. In hunter/gatherer days and agrarian days, we did not have to search for meaning: the imperative to survive thrust meaning upon us. But today, when our capacity to provide the essential components of life are more easily met, the most fortunate of us are in the awkward position to have to seek out meaning in life. We have to choose the hard stuff, both in physical exertion and social interaction. We have to actively extend ourselves in a society that constantly preaches us to remain cocooned.
Please, struggle against this entropy. Shake up your mind. Shake up your body. Get out do something meaningful. Engage with somebody new. A good way to start: walk to the polls and cast a well-considered ballot.