What Not to Be Apathetic About

Outline of a crowd of angry people,
Outline of a crowd of angry people,

There are many things I'm apathetic about. Apathy can be a statement of independence, it can be a statement of protest against a system or group that wants something from you or wants you to think or act in a certain way. Trying to force yourself to feel emotions that you don't feel is a dead end street. There's a quote I like by Charles Bukowski where he says, "To feign real emotion, yours or the world's, is of course unforgivable." It's a bit harsh, but a good line; it speaks to the broader point that there is certainly something dispossessing about pretending to care about something when you don't.

I feel detached from a lot of public life and a lot of current events, and I think that might be a common feeling among large segments of the country. Around half of the people in the United States don't vote. The reasons are probably manifold, but my guesses on two of them are: 1) There is a feeling that the system is rigged and hopelessly corrupt, and 2) In the scheme of things, people feel one person is too small to make a difference and the system will go on operating with or without us. For the sake of argument, let's say that these two premises are true. If that's the case, why care about anything?

I would wager that there is some evolutionary predisposition in humans both to love the truth and to love seeing justice in the world. There is something about liars that offends us. When someone lies to us, tries to deceive us, manipulates us, actively hides or tries to suppress the truth, and we are made aware of it, it sparks some old instinctual revulsion within us. The world is made an uglier place. They have cheapened and soured the human pact, the ape pact - the ancient pact that was probably necessary for the survival of our species at some point, 200,000 years ago.

There is something about justice that speaks to human beings as well. When people defraud, steal, murder, prey on the weak, intimidate and bully the defenseless, act with impunity in the eyes of the law, and walk away unpunished and smiling, it feels as though the entire natural order of things has been profaned. It is an offense to our conception of how the world should operate.

We are not apathetic about the things that affect us intimately. It's easy to feel something when someone addresses you directly. It's easy to feel something when someone spits in your face. The cure for apathy is looking closer. You are being addressed directly. Look for the spit. You don't have to search far. We have cameras where we didn't before. We have more evidence now. It's harder for the guilty to hide, despite whether grand juries and prosecutors choose to charge them or not.

To see police officers choke a black man to death with no repercussions, to see black people's lives repeatedly held as cheap by law enforcement throughout the country, is in fact to be addressed directly. What they are saying is, "We will do this forever. You are not brave enough or smart enough to do anything but watch."

There are things not to be apathetic about. Words become clichés quickly. They lose their original meaning and whatever power they originally had and become oppressive and dull. The more concretely those terms are defined, the easier it is to place yourself in human relation to them. Racism means black people are held and treated as inferior members of the human race. Anti-gay means the puritan witch-burning spirit is alive and shrieking. Pro-life means the dark ages are resurgent. Corporate consolidation signifies the narrowing of human possibilities. The more power and control invested in the hands of the few, the less sum total of justice there is in the world and the more we are dispossessed.

To be apathetic about people taking from you, forcing a steady stream of manipulation and smiling at you, trying to convince you that they're cool, to not finally be enraged at that is to give up. And not just politically, it's to concede and accept a dreadful vision of reality.

Finally, it must be said at long last, that apathy is a privilege. A great many people do not have the luxury. If you feel your life is in danger, if you feel your family or your loved ones are in jeopardy, if you feel attacked and diminished, the odds are that you will not feel indifferent about it. If you do have the luxury I would caution you to use it wisely. Anger, indignation, the desire for justice, the hatred for those who seek to bury the truth, they are all parts of being human too. Do not be apathetic about the things that make you human. Apathy can be a form of independence. It's worth asking though, independence from what?

Zak Smith - Alt-Americana artist from new music video about standing up for change: "Have You Looked Outside".

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