Cultural Adoption and Existential Anxiety

According to the paper by Thiele I mentioned before, Heidegger saw existential anxiety as a state with the possible positive effect of making us think about fundamental ontological questions such as: why is there anything? What is my reason for being? What should I do with this existence?

When anxiety loses its potency, it gives way to boredom. We are no longer shocked and worried by our existential conundrum, but bored by it. Furthermore, this makes worldly activity seem pointless, too. For Thiele, this state of boredom is hidden in postmodern society, by technological innovation and the resulting culture of novelty. The main purpose of technology then becomes to alleviate boredom.

The problem with this is that it takes us further away from existential anxiety and philosophical questioning. We don’t even realise that we are responding to boredom, or that there remain deep issues to think about.

In terms of the the cultural adoption phenomenon I am working on, this analysis can be applied in two ways. The first is to see interest in other cultures as an extension of the technological alleviation of boredom. After all, it is mainly the technologies of transport and (new) media that facilitate cultural exploration. The second is to see engagement with another culture, particularly if this is participatory and at a profound level, as a rejection of boredom-driven consumerism. A culture with a sense of tradition, enchantment and corporality can provide a way out of a cycle of ennui and vacuous novelty. Whether it also opens the way to a constructive confrontation with our very existence and its dilemmas, probably depends on the mental attitude, indeed the mood, we bring to it.