Apathy of The Masses

Have you ever wondered why so little improvement can be found even though the vast majority of people—almost all—are in favor of improvement?  Have you ever wondered why almost everyone would like the future to be better but yet very few actually do anything—like learning anew—to affect it?  Why do these contradictions emerge?

Continuing, imagine if we surveyed people asking whether they favor a healthy life supporting environment: An over whelming majority would likely say yes.  Yet there is proportionately only a few giving critical thought and attention to the un-sustainability of the intent and business practices of our capitalistic system.  Don’t most care that corporations that follow this system are diminishing the likelihood of life on this planet?  I must ask, why are so many seemingly apathetic?

I suspect the answer is that the unconcerned are afraid.  What they fear is letting go of their egoic ways and their associated attachments to the material trappings that the system advances as essential.  Even if they themselves haven’t acquired the means for getting-and-spending, they have accepted without critical thought—or perhaps hoodwinked—and are even consumed by the alluring promise that someday they too can have it all.  That is of course as long as they continue striving as (independent entities) to maximize their material self-interest.  Though everyone can’t possibly realize the promise, it does keep people striving nonetheless—after all this is the purpose of the promise.

But why haven’t an overwhelming majority grasped the severity of the problem we’ve created?  Could it be they are apathetic automatons dead to their very own humanness?  Could it be they have unknowingly been led to structure an existence of attachment that alienates them from life itself?

Fearing What

You would guess that fearful people above all else would fear not having a livable viable environment; but you’d guess wrong!  In an egoistic materialist society what people fear most, is not the un-sustainability of the future we are enacting, but the loss of their attachments and the death of their ego in the present.

Moreover having to actually face the irreconcilable demands of maximizing material gain and sustaining the viability of the life-supporting environment, most likely would rather deny that there is a double bind. Being apathetic and numbing one’s self to it is much easier. Why else would we continue as we have rejecting the mounting credible scientific evidence against the sustainability of our way of being!

We mustn’t place blame on the apathetic for they’ve had considerable help in becoming as they are.  Materialistic cultural norms and an absence of unbiased (credible) information keep people unaware and misinformed making it easier to control them.  Without a free press people can’t make sound decisions for themselves, and consequently they can’t possibly be free to be and become—it is all decided for them.  As Edward Bernays, the father of public relations and popular use of propaganda, claimed that “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”  In short, Bernays advanced for those in positions of authority the idea that “you have to control what people think.”

For example, while the Warsaw UN Climate Conference  (COP19) recently took place there was very little if any network (cable or otherwise) news coverage.  It is one of the most important issues humankind faces and yet our news media—themselves captured and thus not free—did not inform and educate people.  As a result people continue unaware and uninformed with their alienated mechanical-like way of life.  Feeding the ego and not feeding people credible information is means to control.

In a society where the ego is feed, the egoic impulse becomes far stronger than the desire to reclaim one’s humanness—there is little support for the latter.  This is a systemic problem that requires considerable courage and will to dissolve.  It requires a re-awakening of our innate curiosity.

Inhibiting Our Inherent Need To Learn

We are born curious.  Why?  The very nature of being human provides us with the need for learning and the supporting capacity of curiosity and openness to new experiences.  We also have a need to fit in, to adapt to the culture within which we live.  Hence depending upon the cultural norms we are either held back from or facilitated forward in our development as human beings.

Shutting one’s self off from the ability to develop one’s self requires a deadening of one’s human sensibilities.  Feeding the ego while advancing a materialistic mechanistic worldview makes this desensitizing to our humanness not only possible but probable.

Being attached to the materiality of reality people find it extremely difficult—if not impossible—to learn anew, to change their way of being and thus to improve their reality.  Fear causes them not to challenge their egoic attachment to things in their life.  Moreover because these things they hold in mind so tightly are essentially viewed as sacred those who challenge them had better be prepared for a fight.  Just try speaking against capitalism and you’ll find yourself in the midst of an onslaught.   Accordingly, capitalism has become more important than life itself.  Why else would it be okay to exploit life (both people and the environment) in service to the intent of ever increasing material gain?

What many are unable to grasp is that while they (mistakenly) believe themselves to be free individuals, they are in fact trapped, trapped by that to which they are attached.  But this is the very nature of an egoistic system as it advances no obligation (moral or otherwise) to people and society—it requires us serving it for the sake of material gain. Quoting Milton Friedman “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” Adding insult to injury, as we’ve seen the rules of the game are forever changed to favor those who have gained the most, so they can gain even more in the future.

As Kohlberg advanced, acting out of one’s humanness means having a universal sense of caring and concern for life.  This speaks to our very development as human beings. This development largely rests upon being open to new ideas and experiences (i.e. courage), open to changing one’s mind (i.e. non-attachment), open to learning anew (i.e. willingness).  Egoistic capitalism could not survive under such human conditions.

So the question is, is there more effort put forth toward sustaining capitalism or sustaining the viability of life on earth?

3 thoughts on “Apathy of The Masses

  1. Loved your essay, Gregory. The individual components of the masses each see the world outside their minds, if you will, as an external thing, not as the vector sum of a multitude of individual human wills, mostly experiencing disappointment as they strive for the same things, thwarting one another all the while. When they don’t get what they want, they either blame themselves for their lack of diligence, discipline, or vision. or else they blame someone else–not an institution or a social formation, but some other person or persons. Whatever they “learn” from this repetitive sequence, they won’t figure out the truth, because of the myopic, individualistic way they formulate the problem. Moreover, as you have indicated, the reasoning models available to them come from a cultural arsenal that is manufactured and sustained by the mass media, and the elements of that arsenal are carefully screened. The producers of ideology and the atomized individuals sitting at home watching TV seem to have found an equilibrium point that is manifest in the popularity of vapid reality shows. Who doesn’t want to keep up with the parasitic Kardashians?

    Now, having said that, I am not altogether pessimistic. History shows that, though this process may take centuries to unfold, when a system of production and distribution continues to disconfirm the requirements of a system of morality, ultimate values, and cosmology, united under the rubric of an ideology, the ideology eventually loses its effectiveness, as people reach out for definitions of reality that explain their lives, provide them with new objectives, or transform their current objectives, which may be unworthy under the ideology in place, into more worthy ones. The Reformation did this for the capitalists when Europe was run by the feudal aristocracy, lending money for “excessive” interest (whatever that really meant) was considered a sin, and making a profit that seemed to be worth more than one’s labor was considered a form of theft. Milton Freedman wouldn’t have lasted long in that world.

    But now that the truth of capitalism seems to be more starkly revealed with each passing day, I believe that the discourse about whether capitalism is the final solution to mankind’s optimization problem will become more prominent. Your efforts, as I see them, are a part of that process. Keep the faith.

    Rick Johnson

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