The nature of apathy

Posted Oct 19, 2002
Last Updated Oct 30, 2011

There is a habit of older generations to accuse mine of apathy, to point out that young people seem to lack any care about the world around them. People accuse us of ignoring the evils that sometimes wrap themselves around us in our culture. Violence, drugs, crime, they are all things we are supposedly unwilling to lift a finger to address. More subtly, we are labeled as uncultured, disrespectful of the traditions that commonly appear to have kept society more tightly knit. Marriage, sex, religion, patriotism we have lost in our hearts, say the older generations.

In many ways the older generations are right in their complaints about us. We have grown up in a world not familiar to anyone born fifty years ago, and our perspective is very different. What older people have seen as a gradual but poignant change, we can only see as the world as given. There is a gap of language, of symbolism that needs to be closed, though, before any real understanding on the issue can be debated between the generations.

In our world societies naturally change. They evolve over time. But in the course of history, a nation can either improve in some aspect or decline—stasis is not a natural state for us. We must understand that it is easier to degress than progress. As an analogy, we can turn to the scientific principle of entropy: things tend to become disorganized unless there is energy directed towards organization. The idea is behind the difficulty in cleaning a room and the ease with which a room gets messy. There are many more ways for a room to be messy than there are ways for it to be clean, and statistically, it is likely to become a mess without effort into cleaning it.

Effort requires a will in life. If you want a room to be clean, you must will yourself to do it. If you don’t care about the room, you will ignore it. Herein lies the crutch of our world: To be apathetic invites entropy. The man who does not care about the world around him will do nothing to maintain and improve it.

But apathy has many levels, not all of which are bad. The sentimentalist would have us believe that we should be concerning ourselves with all the world’s evils. But the problem with that is that human’s naturally care about things around them and are hard pressed to genuinely care about things out of view. It is hard enough to get a person to always maintain effort in his own little world—to ask him to care about every other problem in the world is asking him to divide his attention between an infinite number of circumstances that he could never possibly address effectively. While we might want people do develop an intellectual concern for the world at large, very few people ever will be emotionally concerned about the whole world, and that is a fact that will never change.

But here is a bridge between the old and new generation, a piece of understanding. The old generation asks the new generation to care about things that are distant and gone—about ideals in their minds that do not equate to young minds. The ideals of older people are ideal because in some parts they were real entities to them in the past. So we have nostalgic views of old ways of life that were comfortable to those who lived them. What the older generation fails to see is that the youth of today are comfortable in their world, and they have no tangible concern for the world of Norman Rockwell and the so-called picture perfect past.

If our culture is as bad as the older generation believes, then we may crash culturally—because most of us growing up now feel no need to go back to an older way of life. More so, we don’t desire it. We will not go back because there is no will to do so. Our only hope, really, is to find out what we want to do with our world and go there—because if one thing is true, it is that many people in this generation don’t care where we are going. That leaves us to the mercy of fate, which is the dark bedfellow of entropy.

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