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The greatness of some people, visionaries and thinkers, is in the ability to understand the changes that are going to happen in a given context or in a specific time in advance. Another characteristic confirming the exceptional nature of such thoughts is to be looked for in the present, in those authors who succeed in understanding and defining current events from an original point of view and with great acuity, who catches unexpected perspectives with astonishing clarity.

Visionary forecasters and visionaries of the present

Among the forecasters, the mind who was able to understand the fate of the contemporary Europe – describing the unavoidable and occurred lost of dominant values – was Nietzsche. Nevertheless, he was aware of the fact that the world at that time was not ready to face the scale of the event, and in the famous aphorism No 125 of The Gay Science he conveys his awareness by stating “I come too early […] I am not yet at the right time. This prodigious event is still on its way, and is travelling, – it has not yet reached men’s ears”.

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Friedrich Nietzsche (Via Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-70)

Other outstanding forecasters were Huxley, whose dispotic “Brave New World” describes a planned, controlled, hyperactive, hedonistic humanity (in short, not so different from today’s one), and Sloterdijk, who at the end of the ’80s announced: an “impulse towards mediocrity […] which symbolizes the apocalyptic tiredness of a society which have had to witness too many revolutions”.

The author who has better dissected the anatomy of today’s tiredness is the philosopher Byung-Chul Han.

Tiredness in Han’s view

In his short and sharp pamphlet called “The burnout society”, Han gives a disarming representation of our contemporary world, reformulating the meaning of many concepts that the average person feels as positive. In fact, these are read as pathological symptoms, as a sick manifestation of a time that lives the weight of its own tiredness disharmoniously.

He agrees with Sloterdijk on giving prominence to the Zeitgeist’s (which is the dominant cultural tendency) implicit desire of the last few decades to make a clean break with the extreme situations of the XXth century. Han notices that from an “immunological way of feeling the world”, according to which the foreign, the alien represents the threat coming from the outside and against which we need to immunise ourselves, we have moved on to an “excess of positivity” which tames the enemy through the concept of the “exotic”.

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The pathologies of a tired society

This representation refers to the sense of fullness that culminates in opulence, as well as to the sense of rejection of that excessive fullness that pervade every aspect of life. Obviously, we are not talking of a fullness regarding only material aspects, and nowadays it is clearly evident in the bulimia of information based on the Hyper-Extended-Network. In this way, this generalised malaise engenders new forms of the illness: the illnesses of the new millennium, among which ADHD, the burnout syndrome and the behavioral disorder, originate from a stressogenic factor. In this psychosomatic analysis of the society, Han draw a parallel between the emergence of new pathologies and their being a reflection of the collective way of feeling.

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The excessive positivity

The tiredness paradigm allows to read some of the concepts generally accepted as positive by the “collective conscience” from a totally different point of view.

Over millennia, the human being has fought to adapt the environment to his desires, and now that unconditional comfort is fully reachable in some areas of the planet, there are other effects that appear, such as the prevailing health consciousness, the widespread ergonomics, the forced removal of death from life. This positivity is painted in dark colours, makes the human’s soul heavier and relegate him to imprisonment in a state of fatigue.

Another problem is seen in the performance model, as the excess of positivity requires an enhancement of the need of performance. Efficacy, efficiency, more and more domain expertise, know-how, multitasking, endless training are just some of the imperatives that give to the Western lifestyle continuous push to action. In actual fact, mechanisms that bring about “a tiredness of doing and of doing-empowerment” hide behind positivity.

The phenomenology of the active spirit

Now let’s focus on the consequences for the spirit of a culture based on performance assumptions.

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When the collective conscience is increasingly stimulated by the aim of action, of never-ending connection and transmission of information, the decline of the ability of bearing the void occurs. It becomes increasingly less acceptable to defer impulses or to stay in contact with silence and stillness. Information fragmentation, multiplication and acceleration entail a steady cessation of the narrative thinking, so giving birth to a humanity devoid of complex narratives (devoid of examples and skills able to get in touch with the deepest aspects of human spirit).

The global consequence coming from these processes is the death of contemplative life, which, unlike the widespread hysteria, needs otium (idleness) and stillness. The death of contemplative life entails also the predominance of boredom and an incessant escape from the horror vacui (the fear of the empty).

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The individual is heading towards the egocentricity of an active life and the author smartly notices that all this happens within the paradox of a “free obligation”. Lately, in an interview revealing in advance the contents of his new work, Han has talked about “smoothness” as the characteristic which makes the emergence of such a reality attractive and desirable. In Huxley’s opinion before, and in Han’s opinion now, imprisonment turns into a holiday or a never-ending party, but this freedom is artificial and inauthentic: “Paradoxically, hyperactivity represents an extremely passive form of doing, which bars the possibility of free action”.

What tiredness will save the world?

We must now ask ourselves if it is possible to built inside resistances in order to protect ourselves from the whirl of insane acceleration. Han answers to this question using the principle of tiredness.

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The philosopher recognizes two types of tiredness: “performance without performance” tiredness and “fundamental tiredness” (a concept that Han borrows from another author, Handke). Fundamental tiredness regains negativity, silence, the void, the deferment of actions, and allows to cultivate the contemplative dimension in which to grow new possibilities. Therefore, fundamental tiredness is anything but inactive: it moves with a different slow silent internalized generative activeness, which allows to rest in the garden of the human spirit.

PIE & Daisy

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