Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless


Talking to a coworker today, I was expressing frustration about the world. It is so messed up, and so few try to fix it. Her response:

foggy trees apathy is just the way it is. i don’t know why or how it got that way. just like how kids can be so mean to each other. it grows there, i guess.

i don’t remember if i told you this, but maybe back in august or september, i spilled something all over my desk. it took me a while to wipe everything off, and i had to go get paper towels. during this time, several people passed by. not one person offered to help get towels. is it because i’m invisible or because people are selfish? i’m not helpless, of course, but it would have been nice if someone at least offered. but if someone can’t bother to offer a paper towel, i find it hard to believe that someone would try to help make the world a better place, too.

And she is so right. If someone won’t offer to get you paper towels, why would they make the effort of avoiding animal products? Why would they protest a war as long as it doesn’t directly impact them? Why would they do anything at all?

People in the animal rights movement often talk about caring. And caring, on its own, simply isn’t enough. Everyone cares about animals. If you aren’t willing to examine the ethics of animal exploitation and then take action to live up to your ethical beliefs, what good is caring?

Apathy, as described by my coworker, is like a social poison. It, not a lack of caring, is dismantling our communities, distancing our actions from our ethical stances. I wish I knew what the antidote was.


3 responses to “apathy

  1. Gary January 4, 2007 at 11:31 am

    This is a deep and expansive subject. Some thoughts:

    People’s caring about animals is stifled and suppressed by their deep emotional attachment to the food they eat, and by their fear of self-incrimination. To care too much would be painful; it would reveal daily and long-term complicity in atrocities. So people engage in denial: they tell themselves they must eat meat to survive, or that cows are well-treated. They engage in a myraid of defense mechanisms to blunt and hide the effects of what they’re doing.

    In many cases, people remain willfully ignorant about the animals they eat. They have no concept of a chicken. They never consider that a chicken may sing to her mate, that roosters may become good friends, that chicks enjoy learning and discovering. The animals become an aggregate, not individuals with the spark and mystery and beauty of life, and with interests and fears like us. People eat “chicken,” as though all chickens were one conglomerate. It’s a mechanism for turning off caring. But, as you’ve discussed in other posts, sometimes meeting the individual animals provides a jarring wake-up call to the meat-eater. The visitor to the animal sanctuary may think: “These animals are real. Some are super-friendly, others are shy. They’re all unique. They’re smart. They’re all doing things and living their lives, and their lives obviously have meaning to them.” We’ve seen the transformations that can occur by meeting the animals, seeing them in a natural but intimate setting, being forced – subtly – to view them as glorious individuals.

    Similarly, but less dramatically, if we take it upon ourselves to grab some paper towels and offer to help someone who has just spilled something on their desk, we subtly jolt others out of their complacency, self-absorbtion, reluctance to getting involved, and disconnectness. Often, if one person lends a hand, others will follow; it takes a catalyst. In some instances, people may feel a bit of shame and embarrassment as they see others but not themselves coming to the aid of someone in need.

    Our society, much of its underpinning philosophy, and its economic system, are alarmingly un-holistic. They tend to treat individuals strictly as distinct units, or as competing interests. There is relatively little emphasis on relationships, communion, and caring; there is much more emphasis on personal achievement, ammassing wealth, and competition – and voracious consumerism. Most “communities” built in the last 50 years are more like “commute-ities,” laid out for traveling in automobiles. Not for walking. Most neighbors in these places barely know each other. With all our “time-saving” devices, we seem to have less time than ever. We are bombarded with so much information that it becomes a blur and loses meaning. A two-minute report on Darfur followed by a commercial for pantyhose and a promotion for a new comedy series. Our lives are mostly disconnected not only from other humans, but from the rest of creation. How many minutes in a year does the average person hear the songs of birds? We spend most of our time in buildings or in vehicles with the windows rolled up. When we’re outside, we can barely see the stars anymore. Not that we gaze up there much. So it’s no surprise that people mindlessly order a chicken sandwich at a fast-food restaurant, turning off all thinking and consideration of the animal who was tortured and killed to produce the sandwich, or the cancer-causing substances in the meat, or their contribution to environmental destruction, or their participation in the mass-processing/homogenization/McJobbing of the world. They’re overwhelmed, they’re disconnected, they’re following the path of least resistance – denial, superfically, is easier than honest self-evaluation and deep concern for others that translates into considerate action. And society, with its endless marketing for self-gratification and utter ignoring of the ramifications of stuffing one’s mouth with pepperoni and bacon cheeseburgers, promotes and profits from this disconnected mindlessness.

    So it is many things. But just as habits, and pathologies, and social mores, and institutions – at the personal, familial, and societal levels – can be developed, so can they be dismantled, changed, and replaced. It is largely through our actions – fueled by deep, honest caring, sustaining principles, and steadfast determination – that we can educate, enlighten, set examples for, and help to heal others. Ultitmately, our bodies and minds and emotions seek homeostasis – peace. I find it useful to keep that in mind at all times; no matter how bleak the situation, no matter how selfish and abrasive someone may be on the outside, I know that deep down they want the same basic things as me: true happiness, peace of mind, freedom from pain and suffering, a feeling of connection, a life of fulfillment, opportunities to discover and explore, love. We always have something to work with. By putting our caring into action, by living compassionately, by practicing the things we preach, including humility, self-sacrifice, and kindness, we help and inspire others to do the same, we help them actualize the caring that is too often buried.

  2. girl least likely to January 4, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    deb–great post! very interesting take on apathy vs. lack of caring.

    gary–great response! i want to be you when i grow up.

  3. Deb January 4, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    gary: wow, what a thoughtful reply! you inspired tonight’s post because what you wrote reminded me of what Andy wrote.

    girl least likely to: thanks!

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