The Existential Vacuum
The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the 20th century. This is understandable; it may be due to a twofold loss which man has had to undergo since he became a truly human being. At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in which an animal's behavior is embedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like paradise, is closed to man forever; man has to make choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people tell him to do (totalitarianism).
A statistical survey recently revealed that among my European students, 25 percent showed a more or less marked degree of existential vacuum. Among my American students, it was not 25 but 60 percent.
The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. Now we can understand Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom In actual fact, boredom is now causing, and certainly brining to psychiatrists, more problems to solve than distress. And these problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.
Let us consider, for instance, "Sunday Neurosis", that knod of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest. Not a few cases of suicide can be traced back to this existential vacuum. Such widespread phenomena as depression, aggression and addiction are not understandable unless we recognize the existential vacuum underlying them. This is also true of the crises of pensioners and aging people.
Moreover, there are various masks and guisesunder which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes the frustrated will do meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most pimitive form of will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates into sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum.