After reading Mein Komf, George Orwell wrote a response, including the following:
Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades.
He goes on to say
All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.
George Orwell fought against Hitler and fascism. He knew their evils, but he also knew that Fascism had an emotional appeal that Capitalism and Socialism both lack: Struggle, challenge and difficulty.
Think of how many inventions are marketed to you every day that promise to make your life easier. The iphone watch makes it so that you don’ have to take the phone out of your pocket to respond to texts. Most of the items in the grocery store exists to make your life easier. Cars, roads and most things on amazon exists to make you safe and comfortable. Humans want these things, but as Orwell said, we want, at least intermittently, struggle, hardship and purpose. You don’t sell many watches promising difficulty.
The trend towards safety effects most of the areas of our lives. Some of us remember playing in playgrounds as children that included sharp pieces of metal, spinning death traps and jumping between objects that could prove fatal if you did not calculate your trajectory right. We don’t want children to be in real danger, but maybe we need more reminders of our mortality.
Safety training at work can be oppressive. We feel like we are not allowed to use scissors without filling out the correct paperwork beforehand.
It is truly wonderful that humans are not dying due to starvation and accidents nearly as much as they used to. Never the less, we cannot forget that humans needs struggle, challenge and meaning in addition to ease and comfort. More of us should push our bodies physically, more of us should make things with our hands, we should choose to do difficult things more often, activities that remind us of our mortality. Or maybe we could at least take the stairs more often.