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NONTHEMATIC / Vol. 42, No. 3 (Fall 1975)

Arien Mack, Editor

For sociologists the world becomes intelligible when it is bifurcated into alternative arrangements: a Gemeinschaft and a Gesellschaft, a mechanical and an organic solidarity, a traditional and a rational society. The philosopher of history sees a three-step progression on a double helix: there are two Testaments but three stages, that of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The mode is dramaturgical, the adversaries are locked in combat, yet there is also a realiziation, a fulfillment: a realization of God's will; the realization of self, of philosophy, or of History. Like all good tales, there is a promised End when, presumably, we shall be One: the overcoming of all duality in the reunified Self, the classless society, the Absolute Knowledge, the Infinity of God.

ONE of the most vexing problems of social inquiry is the failure to achieve a unified theory of behavior. Numerous theories explain, or at least shed light on, human behavior in the aggregate, mainly theories of economics, sociology, political science, and that stepchild of social science, social psychology. There exist as well theories that try to unravel the attributes of behavior at the level of the individual, in 'particular theories of depth and gestalt psychology, behaviorism and other stimulus-response models. But nothing like a unified conception of behavior has thus far been attained—that is, a theoretical conception including within its explanatory framework both the behavior of the individual and that of the mass of individuals called "society.”

No international sociological congress I have attended has neglected the question: is there a crisis in sociology? We may doubt our methods of social observation, despair of our interpretative ideas, deplore the use (or nonuse) society makes of our work. No matter, we may console ourselves with obsessive self-concern. The difficulties within our field partake of a general crisis in the human sciences. Profound historical change and its (distorted) reflection in thought seem inextricable. We would do well to begin by thinking of it historically, and asking if it has a beginning and a middle: the end may be different from any we can envisage ahistorically. To anticipate a bit, many of us had hitherto supposed that the trouble was that sociology had the wrong ideas. Consider, however, the possibility that the idea of sociology as a separate discipline is in itself wrong.

It may be useful to state at the outset that this writer has no quarrel with one of Kamin's underlying points: the untenability of the modern hereditarian position on race and class differences in intelligence. But agreement on this point should not obscure the need for close scrutiny of his argument. In pursuing this argument, it is impossible to present here a complete history of intelligence testing and its relation to the sociopolitical context of the period, or even to review in detail all of Kamin's material. Instead, the more crucial points of his argument will be selected, dealing with (1) the impact of the psychologists' actions on legislation and the opinions surrounding this legislation, and (2) the explanation for the involvement of psychologists in these issues.

This essay proposes to consider the idea of boredom in a manner as close to the tenor of Febvre's suggestions as the author can manage. At best, it may suggest something of the unique character of much of the source materials for the history of psychology from earliest Europe to the nineteenth century and offer an incomplete inventory of the conceptual labels that writers used to describe emotional states and the nature of the personality. These aims are intended to point to language in its historical setting, and rhetoric, as major indicators of the history of ideas about the emotions, and such ideas are a necessary preliminary to the further investigation of the content and character of the emotions and the nature of the personality.

How does boredom grow and spread in an exciting world? Amid unprecedented affluence, personal freedom to match, and a technology that crowds our time with exciting, sometimes frightening, advances and innovations, boredom has become a serious obstruction to the search for happiness in many lives. It can no longer be dismissed as a trivial and unworthy feeling, reflecting some idiosyncratic flaw of shallowness and superficiality in the bored person. Nor can it be adequately explained by a theory that man has become the passive victim of a mechanized and dehumanizing society. The explanation lies deeper, in the complexities of man's mind, and involves the evolution of a particular attitude toward the early training of children for social success. Some, at least, have long recognized boredom as a formidable force. But for most of us the problem of boredom is only now coming to recognition, distorted by old prejudice and clouded by our inadequate understanding of the role of feelings in our lives.

Psychoanalysis has demonstrated that much of the functioning of the mind takes place outside conscious awareness. Hence, I shall try in this essay to elucidate the contribution of unconscious elements to that state of mind which we call boredom. Seen under a psychoanalytic lens, boredom results from a stalemate between opposing forces in the mind. Their ideational contents are largely kept out of awareness, while their accompanying emotional tensions and feelings of discomfort remain in awareness. My exposition will begin with some relevant etymological data. It will pass from these to easily obtainable observations on oneself and others. I shall discuss the unpleasant feeling of concern with the passage of time in boredom and after that the intrapsychic conflicts held in abeyance by boredom and give some clinical illustrations for this.

In matters of philosophy we have become creatures of fashion. But this thirst for novelty need not be altogether frivolous. And even what is frivolous in it may come out of some deeper impulse in us: the feeling, for example, that the ultimate truth of things, whatever it may be, is more rich and complex than any passing language will succeed in expressing. As metaphysical beings, we appear to crave belief in a universe that is open and varied rather than closed and uniform.

Time has never been essential to economic analysis: an entire theoretical method consists of comparative statics, which compares the structure of an existing situation with the (changed) structure of another situation at a different time. Consequently, fairly sophisticated methods of distinguishing between trend, cyclical, seasonal, and erratic timing as well as between endogenous and exogenous influences on time-series data have been developed within the framework of economic thinking. Economics is also a social science, and time as it affects the human beings who make up society, and therefore the economy, enters into economic analysis with respect to the major productive factors of labor and capital.

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