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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/17/17

Are we too apathetic to survive?

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In a recent article a leading progressive journalist describes how U.S. capitalism kills the soul of its citizenry. Truthdig-- https://www.truthdig.com/articles/diseases-of-despair/

Our very culture seems to have degraded to the point of, as he put it, morbidity. Other respected journalists have made similar observations. As a sociology professor active in the community I applaud this focus, but suggest that a significant source of apparent cultural apathy still remains substantially un-addressed.

As Americans accurately perceive economic, racial and ethnic inequality to harden and grow, most also assume that their powers-that-be wield more physical power than any opposition imaginable can stand up to. This assumption is based on what they learned from parents, in public school, often in college, and through steady indoctrination by media, television and film. Most people also gather that Western Empire in general, led by the United States, privileges people defined as White.

Among many scholars and scientists, however, the invulnerability of Imperial Haves to effective blowback from global Have-Nots has become a tentative hypothesis. Equally tentative is the hypothesis that white citizens who don't (seriously) interfere with imperial goals can avoid devastation. So long as the public shares this view of reality, citizens are not likely to embrace the kind of activism capable of effective response when these goals place all at great risk. Campaigning on behalf of "others" treated unfairly will always fall short of pushing back in a fashion that may place oneself and one's family physically at risk.

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From this perspective, Noam Chomsky's insistence that activists must learn history is powerfully insightful. Only when it becomes clear that white privilege constitutes an illusion supported by lies, that there is no real choice-of-sides available, that one's own and one's children's physical well-being are fully at stake, can a truly strong activism emerge. When citizens perceive that current trends lead not to a world of awful stability for the chosen, but to a world in chaos for all in the near, not the distant future, much of the psychological malaise Chris Hedges and others describe will surely wane. This regularly occurs among students in my classes. When playing it safe appears to be illusory much of their apathy evaporates.

I propose, therefore, that the question of public apathy itself be treated as hypothetical. If people come to understand that current trends of foreign and domestic policy constitute a global threat no less ominous than any they perceive or can imagine, will the public be incapable of responding adaptively? Or are citizens simply not yet sufficiently aware of trends and consequences that might alarm them into action? And if so, given the acute awareness of many scholars and scientists, what explains this vacuum of information?

 

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David Weiner received his doctorate in sociology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1964 and subsequently taught at SUNY/Buffalo and The University of Houston, where he received a Teaching Award. He currently teaches community college (more...)
 

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