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Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

What do you think is the relationship between apathy and discrimination?

Asked by Simone_De_Beauvoir (38828 points ) March 3rd, 2010

Sometimes people ask ‘why is there so much apathy?’ and it’s been previously asked on fluther as to the cure for apathy so, at the very least, it’s something we think about once in a while. The first thing that always comes to my mind is ‘have them be discriminated against, that’ll snap ‘em out of apathy’ which then gets me to think ‘what of the groups that are discriminated against and are all the more likely to live with apathy because they feel it’s all for nothing?’.

So, do you think there is more apathy where there is privilege or more apathy where there are less rights, less political voice, less representation?

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21 Answers

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

I would bet it’s something of an inverted bell curve… Equal apathy by those with greatest and least privilege, although I would guess the more privileged are able to afford the time to not be apathetic… It’d really be easier to draw this little graph… So an inverted bell with a greater dip on the more privileged side. Yeah.

Just_Justine's avatar

I know wealthy “adult kids” who had it all, and strive for more and to do better. I also know adults who got it all and have a “could care less” approach to llife and strive for nothing. I see people in poverty fighting for a better life, and I see people in poverty turn to crime. Apathy can be a result of a pathology. So I am unsure if discrimination would cure it. Discrimination is a bit like discernment in that it is a product of a group ideology. Particular to an idea as being correct. I might be apathetic about “working out” so I am discriminated by my gym bunny friends. I think it does work well in the work place though.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Just_Justine Well turning to crime is not apathetic – it’s seeing ways you can succeed even if illegally. And what kind of a pathology can lead to apathy, can you elaborate? And I am not really implying more people should be discriminated against (we have enough of that going on)...just that feeling slighted because of something that shouldn’t matter would wake ‘em up, make ‘em want change.

Just_Justine's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I would say depression for one. I am bipolar for example and I suffer apathy. During my depressed stages. I think organized crime is not apathetic but random pilfering is just surviving. Or walking up to people and saying “give me your wallet”. It’s based on need and it works because of fear (over here). That point though was purely subjective. I find the word discrimination hard to correlate with apathy. It’s a great mind bender though. Because demographics could influence apathy too. I think this question is too big for my mind anyway. Peer pressure jumps to mind, so perhaps it is found there.

Just_Justine's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir ironically, we have an “x” generation here, of blacks who became as we see it apathetic due to discrimination and have therefore turned to crime. (Petty crime).

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Just_Justine Oh, I see – well I don’t consider depression or bipolar disorder to be ‘pathologies’ but I definitely see your point. And as far as crime…well in certain communities I don’t think people turn to crime because of apathy – they just don’t see another way. They might not fight for other ways to succeed because of apathy, though.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

Discrimination doesn’t always result in lack of apathy. Think about African Americans; even after the Emancipation Proclamation, when they were supposedly free, discrimination, poverty and segregation continued. And yet, it wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement and MLK that African Americans had an organized, large-scale protest against this unfair system that actually did something. That’s almost a whole century of just “dealing with it.”

Apathy is caused when people either a) have mostly what they need, and thus don’t feel like their suffering is bad enough to do something about it, and b) when discrimination is so severe that the people as a whole feel that there is no point to acting against it.

I’m taking a class in Japanese History which kind of relates to this. For hundreds of years, peasant farmers had a terrible standard of life – they were the most heavily taxed of any group in Japan, they were not allowed to have family names or educate themselves, and at times they were so poor that they would kill their newborn children because they could not afford to feed them. And yet, the number of peasant revolts was extremely minimal until the end of the Tokugawa Era (late 1700’s – mid 1800’s) and the Meiji Restoration (1868–1912, when Japan finally opened up to the world). It was then, when famine, illness, and later, new laws such as compulsory education interrupted the traditional lifestyle the peasants had been accustomed to. It was then and only then that they actually rebelled against the government.

These days in the United States, we are in a similar state as those peasants. Things simply aren’t difficult enough for us. There may be terrible things happening around the world, but we have our iPods and NetFlix and digital TV to placate us. It would take some cataclysmic event that deprived us of those material comforts to make the public as a whole rise up to make a difference.

Just_Justine's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir if it is organic or due to structural abnormalities as has been suggested with abnormalities in the amygdala, basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex. pathophysiology can be a causation.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Just_Justine Yeah, when it gets to medical semantics, sure – but in life, in real life, I don’t view these common disorders as pathological – using a different meaning of that word.

nicobanks's avatar

The way you phrase it, it sounds like a math problem (indirect or direct variation?), but I don’t think the relationship between apathy and discrimination is that straightforward. You said it yourself: on one hand, we have privileged people who are apathetic to social justice concerns; and on the other hand, we have disenfranchised/discriminated-against people who are just as apathetic. Therefore, it seems to me like what causes apathy is something other than privilege or the lack-there-of.

What I’ve always thought about apathy is this:

No one can care about everything that ought to be cared about in this world, which automatically means that everyone doesn’t care about something(s) they should care about.

Let me try again: the world is so big, too big for any one person, so we have to specialize in our engagement with it.

To provide a vastly-simplified example: if you care about rape victims, I care about needy rabbits, Joe cares about new immigrants, and Jane cares about clear-cutting, then we have 4 issues covered; but, if all four of us try to care about all four issues, likely nothing will actually get done because we’re stretched too thin, we can’t focus.

This isn’t just about time, physical effort, money – it’s about mental/emotional capacity, too. It may be obvious that none of us can save the world, but it’s just as true, and for the exact same reason, that we can’t even care about the whole world.

Not only that, but some of us are simply in a better position to look and care outwardly. For some people, it is a struggle to get through the day. If someone is using all their internal resources just to get through the day, they won’t have any left over to “care.”

My final point is this: long ago, in my first-year undergrad world religions survey class, I learned that in Hinduism there are 3 acceptable ways of engaging with the religion (and, thus, with the world/universe): studying/learning (using the mind), working in and with the community (using the body and social spirit), or devoting oneself to the spiritual aspects of the religion (using the soul, introspective parts of the mind, the psyche, whatever you want to call it). I don’t know much about Hinduism, and I may have misunderstood this principle, for all I know, but the lesson here is that it takes all kinds of people to make the world, and just because someone isn’t doing the good you’re doing doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing in a way you don’t understand.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@nicobanks Well of course people can contribute and obviously we can’t all be activists for everything but there are people who only care about themselves or their family – they are apathetic to what happens politically or socially. My question isn’t a judgment of apathy though I do think people can give two shits more about others.

nicobanks's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Hmm… I find this topic tricksy, I can’t wrap my head around it. For instance, I think of a reclusive poet who doesn’t do anything for anyone in a direct or personal way, yet the work he is doing – the poetry – I consider a great (meaning large, immense, even if the poems themselves aren’t “great,” meaning excellent) contribution to the world, although I know other people would disagree with me. Then I think of your example (the people who care only about themselves/their family and are apathetic to politics/society), and on one hand I think “Well, that’s not just apathy, that’s self-centerdness, apathy to the extreme,” but then I also think, “Maybe I’m wrong to think they should act otherwise; maybe they are doing the right thing and somehow playing their part?” I really don’t know. These are just my thoughts on the issue: I’m not saying you are wrong or you should see things my way. I know on some days I am filled with a self-righteous rage that people don’t care about X or Y issue like I do… which is the opposite of how I’m acting now. But I also know I’ve been the recipient of that white hot rage in others, and I have to ask myself, why don’t I care about the terrible issue they just brought to my attention? And my answer to that question is basically what I wrote above. So, as you can see, I feel unsure. But I do feel this isn’t anywhere near cut and dry and I suspect something, some key element, is missing from this conversation that would make it make sense to everyone (or at least to me, ha!).

Edit: Also, the devotees I mentioned, for instance – imagine a person who spends his or her whole life in a room praying, basically, or engaging in various religious rituals. Is that apathy? Is it selfishness? Is it different from someone who cares only about themselves and their family? Etc.

liminal's avatar

Thank you for this thoughtful question. I am also thankful for the thoughtful answers.

My experience with apathy, in myself and others, is that it is a last line of defense.

For some, the exhaustion of sustaining vitality in the face of disappointment, cognitive dissonance, and chronic pain (both physical and emotional) becomes not worth it and apathy becomes an alluring freedom from struggle. As you have pointed out before, through a previous question about being a minority, discrimination can flow through all sorts of socioeconomic and cultural standings. It makes sense to me that those who experience discrimination might find laying down in apathy their best ally.

For some, sheltering the homogeny of self, protecting those they see as themselves, and an attitude of “it is us against them” fuels their apathy. It seems, at least on the surface, that their apathy comes from someone else’s problem not being their own. Apathy is the final door keeping them from unity from others. It is much easier to give into apathy than to see another’s suffering as actually our own.

Simply put, I think the responsibility of wakefulness belongs to the awake. Regardless of the catalyst that stirs us, we can act as alarm clocks for those who slumber. The beauty of how this happens is as unique as the various catalysts that invite each of us to thrive. Someone’s passion about world-hunger awakens another’s awareness of a starving child. Someone’s passion for painting awakens another’s awareness of beauty. etc, etc… I trust an awakened heart, I believe that it’s awareness will always expand.

I admire and I am drawn to the power of an awakened heart and desire for all to live with such passion. I also believe that inviting others out of apathy and into such wakeful passion is no small thing. I see wisdom in tempering invitations to wakefulness with gentleness and nurture. It is no easy thing to be responsive and awake. Sadly, many of us who have awakened from apathy, know to well, that while we slept we also become malnourished and fragile. Sometimes it takes time to find our vibrancy and the gentle nourishment of others goes a long way towards making it so.

davidbetterman's avatar

There is more apathy where there is the most hopelessness.
Hopelessness crosses all boundaries; fiscal, gender, discriminated groups.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Your concern about apathy’s connection to discrimination has nothing to do with me, I don’t have to answer such questions about things that don’t matter to me in the slightest, I hope this sort of question is repressed from now on. There must be somewhere to put questions that don’t meet my standards where I don’t have to deal with them…

@Simone De Beauvoir I think my above sentiments are pretty much how it goes…

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@nicobanks I’d say a person who does nothing but pray their entire locked up in a room are apathetic to this world’s issues, from my perspective – their perspective may be different. However, if all they care about is a relationship with god and not even on behalf of others, they’re selfish.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@liminal Sometimes I think that apathy because of constant discrimination is not apathy but self preservation – that if they felt safe, people would fight. Some people fight even if they’re not safe.

liminal's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I like how you put that… self preservation is what I mean by a “last line of defense.”

I agree with what you say about fighting, if I used face book I would ask to quote ;-)

Your comments also lead me to think about flight or fight responses. When threatened maybe some go apathetic and some start kicking ass.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@liminal oooh! that’s a good way of thinking about it.

Odysseus's avatar

Negative attitude & demeanour

JeffVader's avatar

I think the saying attributed to Edmund Burke sums it up well “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

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