Sympathy is Lethal
by J.C. Sturk

"Apathy is lethal." Or so says the United Nation and the World Health Organization regarding AIDS, though the sentiment can be applied-—and is implied-—when discussing the plight of those poor, poor souls affected by Hurricane Katrina. It becomes apparent that the phrase, "apathy is lethal," is not intended to be a statement with truth value, but a call to action-—because the statement creates a guilt complex. And such a passive-aggressive emotional ploy works, leading one to ponder, "Warum?" Why is it that one finds oneself so susceptible to such emotions for people whom one has never met? To answer this, one must also inquire: why does one care about others at all? And what results from action based on this emotional conduct? When one has properly built their inquiry and followed it to an answer, one finds that man's altruistic behavior toward those removed from oneself is the product of misplaced compassion, these emotions finding their consequence in unhealthy, destructive behavior, and the solution to such detrimental habits is a degree of that good ol' apathy.

The origin of conscientiousness is obvious to any with knowledge of evolution: altruism is itself an evolutionary strategy. We find this trait exhibited in those more social species in which members work together to survive-—herd animals, pack animals, and humans, who vary between both depending on the situation. But what happens to this altruism when the security of oneself and those in one's immediate surroundings has been satisfied? To fulfill his inherent tendency toward selflessness, man turns toward those who under normal conditions would not be of his concern. Man's immediate needs having been met, he searches for something to occupy his time: he adopts surrogate activities such as sitting in a chair, watching television (perhaps watching the news), and living out a semblance of life; and he indulges in surrogate emotions, experiencing sympathy for individuals outside of his realm (perhaps on the news), enjoying his semblance of feeling. Precisely because man has lost sight of his origins, he lives an illusory life: thus one observes an interesting phenomenon in which people turn on the news and passively feel sorry for those struck by the terrible, terrible disaster of Hurricane Katrina, perhaps even sorry enough to send money, and delude themselves into believing that through the entertainment (one shouldn't fool themselves; tragedy has always been an entertaining diversion) they enjoy, they are somehow experiencing a fulfilled existence.

Now the inquiry has shifted and one must ask: how significant a role does this desire for entertainment-—and the news media's providing of this entertainment-—play in the development of our misplaced altruism and the consequential guilt complex? It has become cliché to blame social problems on the media and "media bias," but that will hardly suffice to provide an answer in this instance. Instead, it must be understood that the media seeks ratings, and thus caters to man's desire to have his surrogate activities and emotions satiated. Toward this end, they are very careful to emphasize the suffering of individual humans (Look! This guy lost his house!), presenting assessments of the scale of damage wrought only to put the viewer in awe of the devastation (Thousands of others lost their homes, too!)-—but always immediately follow such assessments with a harrowing tale from a survivor (Now, quickly, look at this family's misery! They lost their pets!), so as to keep the catastrophe a "tragedy" and not a statistic. With the constant increase in population and globalizing media coverage, these tragedies would feel common-place and insignificant were it not for the incessant reminders: these people are human, and these individuals are experiencing human suffering. Oh, Katrina, why would you do this to people? God, why such wrath? Such a cruel turn of events! Poor people! Oh, lamentation! Oh, woe!

Herein, at last, does one find the final component of the "why": while we turn to surrogate altruism due to a psychological need to think ourselves productive and helpful, we justify our unreasonable beliefs with humanistic notions. If every human is viewed as an individual, all men seem important, and all human suffering appears awful. Unfair! How tragic! Why me? As a consequence of such attitudes, all people are valued on the same level-—as humans-—and suddenly there exists a great moral imperative to protect all human life. How could we turn our back on those struck by a Hurricane, no matter how far away? It is imperative that we send aid immediately! --This in turn results in an increase in population, which itself causes (along with the increase in "tragedies" mentioned above) dehumanization. Man sees himself as a spec amongst billions of other specs—-he becomes himself a statistic! And, to avoid coping with the reality of his insignificance, he searches for more surrogates to grant some meaning to his hollow existence; and with the adoption of these surrogates, he furthers his dehumanizing humanism to justify his errors. While crying for the victims of hurricanes, man spirals endlessly as he accelerates toward his oblivion.

Yet one can find a solution to this predicament, an escape from the eternal descent: apathy. Why should I care about those mean looters? What do they have to do with me? Why should I care about your lost home? Why care when instead we can stop the cycle of heightening insignificance right in its tracks if an attitude of indifference finds itself adopted toward those things that exist outside of one's immediate affairs. Man's sphere of influence--by which I mean that which man directly influences and that which directly influences man-—is all that he should concern himself with. Man must cease his global thinking and take action to help improve, rather than just protect, those in his vicinity if he desires to do away with the semblance of life and instead—live! It is only with the discarding of global-mentality that man may no longer look at himself as an insignificant part of a mass, but as an integral member of his community. Thus, in a world saturated with compassion, apathy is rendered a virtue.

September 14, 2005