Fr. Maciej Zięba, O.P., has died, and while we mourn his loss, we also need to take a moment to appreciate his...
All the Cool Kids Hate Caring: Examining Modern Agency, Apathy, and Irony
“Independence and indifference are the wings which allow the heart to fly.” – Harvey Danger
I’m writing this post on Cinco de Mayo, and you know what that means. That’s right! Nothing different! Except that it’s finals’ period and so I have entered my obligatory wochenlang period of depression about modernity and its futile attempt to quantify the accomplishments of the infinitely complex human person. If my pretentious use of German in the last sentence didn’t make it clear enough, these fits of apathetic, quasi-philosophical reflection tend to make me fancy myself a Socrates or a Charlton Heston. In other words, I delude myself into thinking I’m either intelligent or good-looking. Anyway, my thinking has brought me to reflect on the importance of apathy to our society. I look around me and see people actually try to be apathetic; I mean quite literally do things, or not do things, because it is cool.
Allow me to give you an anecdote, which irrefutably proves that I am correct. Many a time, I have been told that the American political system is broken and that voting is a rigged waste of time (I didn’t realize we lived in the Soviet Union). The cool kids think that civic engagement is uncool and that passion is an absolute waste of time. We live in a society where one can be a hypocrite as long as one acknowledges one’s hypocrisy. Giving hypocrisy an ironic twist is a defense mechanism used to say “I don’t care if this is hypocritical. Who needs passion anyway?” How do I know this?
Well, I know it because I do it all the time on Facebook and in real life (not that Facebook isn’t real life, of course).
Now, I know I am a stodgy old man as it is (for God’s sake I love 90s Nickelodeon; I must be some kind of dinosaur). But even I think we take the “coolness” of apathy too far. I wish I heard more students engage in lively, learned debate about topics of interest instead of denying the validity of discussion out of hand because things can’t be changed. Nothing will ever change without human agency, something that most of us seem to deny exists. And I think that very well may be the crux of the problem. And without indicting anyone or anything (neuroscience), we do seem to have begun denying the agency that we are supposed to hold so dear.
And that’s the irony of the above epigraph. Independence is exactly what we’re denying ourselves by assuming that we can’t change anything. And so apathy is a big, lead block weighing us down as our hearts try to fly away with big, feathery, angelic wings. And if our hearts never fly away, well, we’re going to remain passionless, sad beings with no vested interest in anything. And even as someone who has been accused of being a hipster many times (those founts of apathetic, ironic, sort-of-social commentary), I can’t stand by and watch as we deny our own agency in a nation predicated upon the entire concept of agency (I mean that’s what democracy is, after all). So let’s go out and make a difference, or whatever (note that my qualifying this statement is an example of exactly what this article is intended to fight. Also note that I’m using humor to deflect a possible accusation of hypocrisy as was mentioned above).
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