Long Live The Mundane!
The host, Anouta de Groot of Radboud Reflects, welcomed us and asked the public whether they had any adventures as of late. According to her it was going to be an adventurous evening and she might well have been right because the room of the lux-theater was crowded and the air was full of expectation. The event was sold out. The host then introduced Simon Gusman, Phd Fundamental Philosophy at Radboud University and Arjan Kleinherenbrink, philosopher at Radboud University. Gusman and Kleinherenbrink recently published a book entitled: ‘Adventures do not exist.’ The topic of this book was the main interest of the evening.
The Adventure Cult
‘we have a highly problematic attachment to adventure and an equally problematic attitude towards the mundane, today in our culture.’ Kleinherenbrink explained that longing for an adventurous romance, a traveling adventure after one finishes high school and the craving to visit wild festivals are all symptoms of the same sick culture of extraordinary experience. Even job offerings speak of wanting adventurous employees! In politics politicians show themselves being adventurous. And this type of branding shows to be effective; President Putin on his horse and President Macron coming down from a helicopter. On social media we advertise ourselves as being adventurous and the expression FOMO, which means fear of missing out, is gaining in resonance. The idea that for everything in live there exists a better more adventurous version is expressed in commercials. The mundane grade of the product is obvious, but if you have the adventurous model of the normal product you have something extra, or so we are told. The following questions were to be addressed this evening:
- Where does our wish for adventure come from?
- Why do we think it is normal to think of adventure this way?
- What is it that we are promised in the adventurous?
The Circle of Storytelling
Gusman stated that in order for us to answer these questions we first have to look at what an adventure actually is. What does an adventure exactly consist of? In any adventure a normal person is living their normal live until he or she is being called to do something special. A mentor figure is providing assistance and this person is then leaving for a special world. In this new environment the hero is confronted by trial which he overcomes. The hero claims some sort of treasure and comes back to the normal world and the normal live, but the hero is special and not so normal anymore. All big pictures and great stories follow this pattern. Gusman explained that this is the structure of our favorite narratives because it is easy to follow and full of meaning. This is because everything in such a story leads to the one desired goal. Every step and misstep is there for the hero to reach the finish. It is all meant! The power of this way of telling stories was illustrated by a commercial of Davidoff adventure perfume.
The Temptation of Meaning
Gusman told us that this circle of the hero is also the reason why many people go to travel the world to learn more about themselves. In the stories they tell afterwards every little detail is meaningful. A very mundane event can become very special when you tell it in the bigger scheme of a lesson learned. Even negative things can become full of positive meaning. Someone’s wallet was stolen, but the person learned from this the meaning of possessions. People even talk about their relationships in this fashion. The love two people for each other failed but the person who is telling the story learned something and it all helped for the next relationship. Thus the way in which we sometimes tell about ourselves looks as if all our experiences, how adventurous, let to a single goal. This is how we give meaning to our lives. Kleinherenbrink stated that the big contrast with real life, however, is that we normally do a lot of things that lead to absolutely nothing. Our mundane lives our actually filled with a lot of meaningless activity. We get sick with no reason and no lessons to be learned from it and our love can fail with not bigger goal than to feel very miserable.
The Internal Contradictions of the Adventure Cult
Meaning is tempting because we want to tell ourselves that all we do matters. The craving for adventure is a longing for coherence and false guaranties. We are so used to adventure and meaning that two paradoxes are created.
- We get used to adventure which is a problem because adventure becomes mundane, but the mundane is still normal and meaningless. Our desire for meaning keeps unfulfilled and growing bigger.
- To us adventure is normal but the film producers and the makers of movies do more and more to meet our demand for meaning and excitement. In the documentary Planet Earth, we take a look at nature. But the making of reveals that in order for us to make what we see feel natural the camera needed to do a lot of adventurous movements. Meaninglessness is banned even in documentaries. The aesthetics of adventure is used more and more in all facets of life.
Truth loses in value and the feeling of adventure and meaning wins always! We cannot convince parents who think that children get autism from vaccinations. The truth is simply not as tempting as the feeling of being a small group of fighters for justice who are captured in the adventure to take on the evil government. Kleinherenbrink concluded that the adventure cult leads to stress, to anxiety and to a sick screen culture in which intensity is becoming the norm and adventure becomes routine.
Adventures Are Not Real
Gusman clarified that adventures normally are opposite to the mundane. The slogan of the evening; ‘Long live the Mundane’ in a sense does not help at all. To make the mundane something adventurous or worth striving for does not relieve us from our toil. We see a convulsive hype of self-help literature and meditation techniques to help keep people in the present, but this is also just used in the search of adventurous meaning and coherence. Adventure is not something you can control. It happens to you. It never does because it does not exist but if adventure did exist it would have had nothing to do with freedom or with choice. Kleinherenbrink added that we often think we want adventure because of it being exciting and unpredictable. But terrible things are also exciting and unpredictable. We want adventure because of the promise of meaning. Most of our lives however does not have a universal cosmic meaning. The upside of that is that we are free and that your choices and your life says something about you.
By: Timo van Veen