Boredom: answers on a postcard please
A major cause of the First War, but one rarely mentioned by historians who have spilt so much ink on why the conflict happened, was without doubt boredom. The upper classes were bored because they had nothing to do, and the lower classes were bored because they spent their days doing mindlessly repetitive work in factories. The prospect of war was intoxicatingly exciting. The reality of course was horrifically different. Yet the extraordinary thing is that even when its horrors had become all too apparent there were plenty of people who didn’t want it to stop. By 1916 it must have been apparent to both sides that whoever was the victor the cost of victory would be almost as ruinous as defeat. Yet neither side would compromise. Driven on by the compulsions of aggression they could not stop. In her memoir Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain recounts how she lost each of her brothers one by one in the first three years of the war and her fiancé in the fourth. Yet at the end she says she would go through it all again. In his The Pity of War Niall Ferguson produces compelling evidence from letters and diaries that many people were profoundly disappointed when the armistice finally came. How can we account for this?
Humanity evolved in a world that was difficult, dangerous and, whatever else, must have been extremely exciting. The one thing evolution has not equipped us to deal with emotionally is boredom. But the forecasts are that in the next few decades half the present work force are going to be put out of a job by automation. Oh for those days when there was mindlessly repetitive work and Edwardian house parties on golden summer lawns! How are we going to deal with the psychological and emotional problems automation will cause? Answers on a postcard please.