Friday, July 9, 2010

Apathy and Extremism

On my flight from one side of the world to the next (Sweden to Los Angeles), I had time to do some reading. Along with various newspapers, I read Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. If you haven’t read any of his work, I can highly suggest it as a sterling representation of mass minded thinking and action in today’s world. The daily news complimented this read rather well, or badly, depending on how you look at it. For those of us who read the news, it’s no surprise to know that the world is in a state of disarray: wars, famine, poverty, broken diplomacy sprinkled with the push and pull of extremism vs. apathy.
In truth, there is no such thing as apathy. It is something I like to refer to as “no, no, leave me alone.” It’s what you get when you go down south and realize that some people still think blacks should walk on the street when a white man comes down the sidewalk. It is a resistance to change that can be as strong and intolerable as extremism, so in effect, it is. It can also be a complete disregard for what is going on in the world, either because you have a weak heart and don’t think your HMO will cover more anxiety pills or it is due to again, the unwillingness to see things change b/c so far, they’re looking pretty good for you. The disregard is not apathy, because apathy implies that the person knows what’s going on and doesn’t care. If people knew what was going on, they would care. To quote a bumper sticker (yes, I’m that classy), “If you’re not pissed off, you’re not paying attention.” In the US, with our large variation of cultures and people, we have the push and pull of both sides. I can recall being 16, too young to vote, sitting by a table trying to sign people up to vote. I got more “Nah, I don’t vote” answers than any other. Ummm....what?! That’s like telling a doctor you don’t need to know what’s wrong b/c you’re sure he’ll figure it out. However, then you somehow reserve the right to complain about it later. No, doesn’t work that way. If you get cancer and refuse to acknowledge it till the 11th hour, tough shit.
And then, on the extremist front, they seemingly care so much that they overshoot the goal and blow up the village to save the people. Take the Tea Party, for example, since they don’t get enough press. They care so much about the welfare of their beloved US of A, they’ll threaten the lives of constitutionally protected officials b/c they democratically disagree with them...right.
I’ve begun doing some research for an essay of sorts on the mindset of extremists, hence my interest in Eric Hoffer. I’m looking at the reasons why people become extremist, who they are and how we can avoid feeding more people to the brainwashing of extremist ideologies. Hoffer says that people become extremist either to produce a serious change in their surroundings or because one has already occurred and they are responding to it.
Interestingly enough, these two push and pull opposites share a common red thread: the belief that they alone possess very little power to suggest change. When one feels powerless, they usually do one of two things: find someone who has power to lead or shrink up in their shell and ignore whatever it is they feel powerless against. So, since we can’t beat cancer, we choose to ignore it, or we jump off a bridge in the hopes of killing the damn bastard. Either way, kind of a shitty deal. So, in short, we the people, have to accept, have to come to the realization that within us is an incredible amount of power, to faclitate change and to move our country closer to what it needs to be, thereby affecting all the countries we hold sway over (unfortunately, a lot). For the people, of the people, by the people. If the people don’t step up, then we’re a country of sheep, for sheep and by sheep...baaaahhhhd.

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