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Indifference

by on September 18, 2022

Indifference

by Marco M. Pardi

The know-nothings are less of a problem than the feel-nothings.” Anonymous

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them,but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernard Shaw. The Devil’s Disciple.

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Do you know anyone who claims to be indifferent to current events and developments? Or, should I ask, How many people do you know who claim to be indifferent? Are you such a person? If so, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you won’t know what hit you; the bad news is you won’t know what hit you.

I know some people who, for various reasons, adopt an indifferent attitude toward most things going on around them. Some are data experts on sports, but struggle to name their U.S. Senators. Others claim to be too busy with “staying ahead of the game”, though I’ve not heard what that game is. But the ones that do irritate me are those that claim to be spiritually above the mundane concerns of temporal life. Seems to me they’ve conflated aloof with aloft. I’m tempted to say what I’ve heard said to people who criticize the U.S.: If you don’t like it here, leave.

Of course, the indifference phenomenon is nothing new. We will never know its incidence among prehistoric cultures simply because they didn’t record history. But we can safely surmise that certain principles have always held. We have found through experience that it is a rare individual who, no matter how well equipped, can simply march into the wilderness, never looking back, and survive long before dissolving into crippling mental illness. Among early religious hermits this was known as Divine Madness. But more common examples are found among people who simply do not bother to vote, even when there is nothing stopping them. Lately, a faction of the population claims, with zero evidence, that the system is rigged. Have they, people who apparently jumped for the out of reach grapes too many times, never read the fable?

The often myopic narrative presented in the U.S. as History of Western Civilization invests idolatrous value in the democracy of Classical Greece. It can only be supposed the craftsmen behind this Potemkin Village of Athenian democracy we call History are relying on students never being exposed to Greek literature of the time. The readers of this post probably bring Heraclitus to mind. An Ionian of a peculiar orientation of mysticism, Heraclitus was no friend of the common man. Saying, “The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every grown man of them…” he espoused that only force would cause someone to act for their own good; “Every beast is driven to the pasture with blows…Asses would rather have straw than gold.” Well, I don’t know what use asses would have for gold but his point does speak to the pandemic of inertia we see on voting days. The United States has one of the lowest, if not the lowest voting participation recorded among democratic nations.

But is simply raising the vote count the answer? There is currently a movement to enact automatic voter registration, applicable when a person reaches their 18th birthday. Do you think every 18 year old is competent to vote? I don’t. In fact, like Heraclitus I can think of many people I consider incompetent to vote, especially since the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections “smoked them out”. Resistance to open voting is nothing new in this country. Alexander Hamilton, a “Founding Father”, adamantly wanted to restrict the vote to male landowners and some male owners of major businesses. In modern parlance, he wanted people who had “skin in the game”. That is, they were not indifferent to the outcome.

If you accept the premise that simply turning 18 is not a sufficient qualifier to empower one to vote, what qualifier, or qualifiers, would you stipulate? There are several potential problems with automatic voter registration, or any such registration for 18 year olds. Just out of high school (if they graduated, which many don’t), most are inclined to vote in conformance with their family’s voting history. Where do they get the news and pertinent analyses, if they get them? Facebook? Tic Toc?

Thanks to Fascist-née-Republican policies going back to the Joseph McCarthy era and before, K-12 education has been gutted and denatured to little beyond babysitting and care taking. Making this worse, since the Reagan administration the F/R party has been successfully infiltrating school and library boards nationwide, narrowing textbook and teacher selection/retention and lately enacting sweeping library book bans in schools and communities. Long before Reagan, I remember attending college classes in which instructors would not, and by their admission could not discuss certain topics. This has recently accelerated measurably. And, of course, most 18 year olds have had little experience in a rapidly changing world.

When the voting age was 21 I became eligible as I was nearing the end of the 4th year of my 6 year tenure in a Strategic Air Command Combat Squadron. I had been to and lived in three continents and several countries, as a civilian and as an airman. I had accumulated 2 years worth of college credit and various awards. Did I feel competent to opine on American domestic issues, environmental issues, financial issues? No.

Indifference is often applied to a variety of targets; Not My Problem is a commonly heard phrase. Yet history holds many examples of dreadful outcomes from that attitude. Athens in the 5th century BCE (Before the Common Era) reached its zenith of architectural and cultural development yet the aristocratic class ignored the growing disparity of wealth between itself and the hoi poloi, the common man. The result was the overthrow of the aristocracy and the abolishing of many schools. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Khmer Rouge revolution in Cambodia, and Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China shared a common basis: the violent uprising of the uneducated and poorly educated poor against the educated aristocracy. Aristocracies which had ignored them and simply viewed them as unpleasant but necessary laborers. The problems of these lower classes were beneath consideration.

In Cambodia among the aristocratic targets for summary execution were people who wore eyeglasses. The presumption was that they could read, and therefore were oppressors of the common people. In China universities were burned and professors forced to renounce their learning or be murdered. In short, all these societies decapitated themselves.

I trust the reader’s mind has conjured images of January 6th, the infamous day when a mob different in dress from those above but deeply sharing their values stormed and ransacked the U.S. Capitol. The erection of a scaffold on the Capitol steps was an eerie image of the guillotine which dropped non-stop during the French Revolution. The scaffold was not built from scrap wood lying about and rope conveniently found nearby; it had been designed to be portable, easily transported to the site, and readily assembled. Hang Mike Pence! Was the chant. Malice aforethought is the legal term.

Many ideas purporting to explain the events of January 6th have been, and still are floating about. Some of them have merit, but the various factors they identify are secondary; they are interesting and varied numerators while the denominator goes unexamined. Perhaps because it comes too close to home. There is little to no mention of the apparent indifference which allowed the rise and the power of each of the factors, such as the proliferation of hate radio, cancerous metastasis of heavily armed “militias” throughout the United States, the unregulated development of a “Wild West” internet replete with lunatic conspiracy theories, the election of an utterly deceitful demagogue, the infiltration of the court system from local to federal levels, States paying cash bounties to people who spy on neighbors, friends, and even close family and report those who may be contemplating abortion, States opening criminal prosecution of those who assist a woman in going to another State for abortion, States opening criminal investigation of miscarriages and prosecuting medical providers who assist when there are potentially life threatening complications, Republican led States passing laws and enacting regulations which make voting access much harder for Democratic districts, Republican State office holders who promise to overturn 2024 election results if they favor Democrats, and ignoring the blatant developments in a major political party which mirror closely the rise of Benito Mussolini’s Fascism and, later, Hitler’s interpretation of Fascism.

All this was done in plain sight, in front of people who could not be bothered to look.

At my age one might say I can now be indifferent. Perhaps I should take the advise of Robert Regan, a Republican candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives, who said he would advise his daughters that if they were about to be raped they should “lie back and enjoy it.” After all, I lived through Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship, I can live through another one. While that may be true, it is also true I still “have skin in the game”, my living descendants. But while each of them is in the top ranks of their fields with very highly portable skills, a surrender of the United States to dictatorship would leave no safe place on this planet. I’ve often heard it said the United States gets the government it deserves. I might be indifferent to that but for the consequences to all other life on this planet.

An interesting slogan arose during the Vietnam war: If you are not saying NO, you’re saying YES.

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10 Comments
  1. Julie permalink

    Hi Marco,
    I feel everyone has their own journey, some people are “shakers and movers” and create big change in the world whilst others “go with the flow”. I feel the description of indifference is multifaceted, I mean not participating in actions or voicing options to the status quo could be misunderstood as indifferent, however looking closer at that person could reveal subtle life habits continuing to create positive changes in the world. I believe we are continually evolving and everything is how it should be, even though it often doesn’t seem that way.
    I guess in some ways I could be considered indifferent as I refuse to let my mind go into the negative dark frustrations of politics etc, I guess in a way it’s a way of preserving my mental health, that’s also a reason why I adopt my attitude ❤

    Like

    • Thank you, Julie. I have always agreed that inaction is action so I feel I understand your reserve. But then there are times when inaction gives itself to interpretations which support agendas one did not intend to support. A prime example was Jerry Falwell’s “Silent Majority”, a phenomenon he touted to his financial and political gain.

      Yet, I feel I also understand the sanctuary offered by silence. It’s just that it seems to me there are times, especially in defense of the defenseless, when silence is unethical.

      Like

  2. Tilly permalink

    An important article with many good points Marco. As I often say, if one does not show up to vote I do not ever want to hear from you a complaint about the current government. In my mind a person may not be an apathetic citizen and yet complain mightily after the fact. I hope I never reach a point where I take my right to vote for granted. It is not that many years ago that as a woman I would have not had the right to show up to a poll and cast my vote. In fact, every single time I vote I still experience such strong emotions of both a sense of pride and a sense of gratefulness. I truly hope I never loose that feeling!

    Like

    • Thank you, Tilly. Your points remind me of how puzzled I am when encountering women who feel their exclusion in certain roles and functions is evidence of some sort of special status. They are like prisoners who refuse to leave their cells when the doors are opened.

      I do admit there are times when, after casting my vote, an inner voice says, “Well, that was futile”. But I always return when the chance again arises.

      Like

  3. Dana permalink

    Marco, I thought I would include a link containing research and statistics related to Gen Z (born after 1996). They are much more progressive, vocal, educated, and involved than we might think

    There have been many moments I have wondered if lowering the voting age makes sense. Gven what Gen Z has inherited and personally experienced, I feel it might be at least worthy of consideration.

    https://www.pewresearch.org/topic/generations-age/generations/generation-z/

    Like

    • Thank you, Dana. The articles do offer hope in some areas, particularly in environmental awareness. My understanding of why the voting age was changed from 21 to 18 was that the Vietnam war had a lot to do with it. Kids were being sent to slaughter without ever having a say in whether it was right.

      I have always advocated at least a year of national service, military or civilian, following high school graduation. This would broaden experience and provide some depth to decision making.

      Like

  4. Ray Rivers permalink

    Great topic – it comes down to our cultural inheritances – what have we been taught imperfectly in the school halls, at home and on the web? Totally agree that civics ought to be mandatory in our education curricula.

    Like

    • Thank you, Ray. I must say I fear it is too late. But, that will not stop me and others like me from trying to turn this thing around.

      Like

  5. That it has taken me this long to respond to this post could easily read as indifference, but I am far from indifferent to the future of this country and indeed the world. I was well educated in the political workings of this nation, and it was my intention to become a voter as soon as possible.

    I was already eighteen when the voting age was lowered, but while I wanted to register and vote, it just “not something we do”. It is among my great regrets. It would be another two decades before voting became a regular part of my life. Even knowing that my vote only cancels out that of my husband somehow makes it even more important to do so. We agree to disagree, but that doesn’t stop me from slipping in a bit of the truth now and again. I wish I could say there was hope to change his mind, but others have greater influence on him.

    The one upon whom I have the greatest influence is my granddaughter. I hope to teach her, not just what to think, but how. I’d like to think that there will remain a little hope in and for this world so long as we are able to keep the lines of communication open with the ones who will inherit this mess from us when out time is done.

    I am discouraged by the loss of our reproductive rights, but encouraged by the number of people who seem to be fighting back. We may soon have a bigger battle ahead; today I read that some political figure or another made the statement that women should have their right to vote taken away. RBG is rolling in her grave.

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Rose. Your comment about canceling another’s vote hits home with me, as I’m sure it does with many others. Still, at least the disagreements are out in the open. I’m sorry for those who cannot experience at least that level of openness.

      I also try, carefully, to encourage critical thinking among my descendants. Fortunately, they are all doing well in the area by themselves. Yet, I, probably like you, cautiously explore ways of encouraging planning for a very dystopian future in which they will possibly have to survive. I thoroughly reject the “It can’t happen here” thinking. It can, and it seems increasingly likely by the day.

      Yes, I have also read direct quotes from political figures that regret suffrage and espouse a Hand Maid’s Tale world for our society. How do we prepare our children without developing in them a sense of despair?

      Like

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