Down and Out
Why apathy? Whose apathy? It’s a dispatch, so I am bearing witness to it. I am there, the messenger in the field sent away to speak of the apathy at the front. What front? Of course, it is the principal one; the front in the class war. The war is waging day and night, year upon year. It is ceaseless, with every truce a disintegration of what I consider my side, the side of the workers, and precious time for the opposing side, the capitalists and technocrats, to regroup. Hence, a decision is made to choose the word apathy as representative of our collective and peculiar ailment. Apathy, because we forgot we are at war. We forgot, and so we do not know or understand whether or not we should care. We do not act as if it is in our interest to organize and retaliate. Calling it war itself is already odd, seeing as no declaration to begin the war was technically made, and no treaty ever signed to end it.
But, it is war nonetheless, with casualties strewn across the landscape; bodies of hungry children piled up from cut food stamps; depressed and demoralized humans distraught from months of looking for recognition in the form of employment; wages stagnating and declining with ever tightening budgets and decisions to be made, each more horrendous than the next; union membership declining as “right to work” becomes a euphemism for perpetually more degrading wage slavery; schools crumbling as the farce education instills in us a masochistic urge for the bureaucratization of our lives; a more regressive tax structure as countless evaders horde offshore, while claiming the mantle of patriot and standard bearer of the capitalist dogma. The list can go on demonstrating our retreat and continual concessions.
Here we are then, apathetic to the core and not recognizing we are on the front lines. It is apathy because we have been sapped of our ability to see the rudimentary outlines of our oppression. I myself am guilty of this. For whose apathy it is, it is our apathy. I am not here to cast aspersions, to play the role of the self-righteous and judgmental bearer of the truth. I do not have it. At least, I do not possess a unified version of the truth. I instead have fear; fear of the unknown, of breaking free. And it is not just me, but millions of others; some who want revolution, others who beg for reaction.
We have grown accustomed to the soft embrace of the here and now, to the system provided to us. Each one of us is its promoter, pushing it as if it will offer us sanctuary for our piety. For there is a constant misrecognition of who has designed the world we collectively live in. The world that capital built; yes, that’s where we are. In the world capital built and embodying the world capital constructed; for us, the majority, we did not conceive of this place and it comes not from our free use of thought. We were born into it, without a choice. We begin without freedom, marked as un-free by the very reality of our birth as not capitalists. For we cannot move levers releasing flows that power the system and jolt it into action. Realization of desires is reserved for those with the money and rent collection apparatus to support it.
So, in the fantasy of the capitalist we exist. Their desire acts as our desire, to the point where our identification with their desire is hidden by our belief in our freedom to decide. For only a capitalist could dream of the ever-expanding suburb. Each one called a “master planned” community. Already within the word, master, we should denote our non-choice in the matter of how are communities will be. But the word is merely the linguistic expression of material processes expressing themselves in the planning and architecture of the community. It is the unfolding of rational decisions made by bureaucrats, financiers, and developers in order to accumulate more capital. And of course, the community becomes a representation of the image they have of what a community should be.
Architectural styles that express difference are banished. The area is colonized and individuality ripped slowly at the seam, as row upon row of exactly the same is proclaimed to be the representation par excellence of freedom. For it is, it is capitalist freedom, freedom bought and paid for, each dime a tally mark for the degree to which you are free. And our apathy is bought and paid for, because our belief in capitalist freedom leads to our apathetic form of defense against the un-freedom it produces. We bask in capitalist desire, lost in the oblivion after the destruction of the sacred for the profane commodity.
It is not just acceptance of capitalist desire, but a far worse clamoring for its luscious promises and luxurious grandeur. We go along like Don Quixote, living a fiction within reality, while reality is showing us it doesn’t match the tall tale. We disdain reality; force it to be what it is not; we fight it, hate it, and trample it. Give us the lie; make the shadows dance on the walls of the cave. Repeat it sweetly, softly, “This is the best of all worlds.” Apathy in a world of competing interests becomes a deep eros style love for the status quo. Each proposed escape, each line of flight, smacked, beaten, and oppressed, as too much tomfoolery needing to be snuffed out.
And what is it that we omit. We omit the socio-economic relationships making one person a capitalist and another proletarian. Not in opposition with one negating the other, but different positions in an economic hierarchy, a relation of dominator-dominated. The inescapable world-economy globalized and integrated devouring any part that was and is disconnected from this system of hierarchy. A wave breaking against the limit refolding upon itself as it erodes the limit and continues expansion. We do not see ourselves as the saviors of us. We cannot, because we are blind to the objective economic reality beyond our subjective experience. We elevate work and become our own self-flagellating jury, each failure considered to be completely our own. This evil, rotting belief, despite the flexibilization of labor making each person disposable, a commodity that does not see itself as such.
Apathetic fools, deeming ourselves ends, when we are daily treated as mere means for the purposes of others. We live for others. And our apathy is the ear plugs blocking out all the noise that is yelling at us, “It is more than just you!”We bask in the false glow of our own ability, disregarding the necessity of society for anything to have meaning; at least, a shared meaning beyond the idiosyncratic. The apathy becomes the continuous display of disenchantment with each other; an unwitting, misunderstood constant criticism of the failure of others to properly rise up. Much easier, after all, to say it can’t be, before it is tried.
Apathy though is an odd ailment. This is only an ailment; only a dis-ease, a discomfort for now, because it is not a law of nature. Yes, most definitely, absolutely, for surely, it is the consequence of a set of historical contingencies. Some of these contingencies are the result of lacking collective critical reflection and criticism, and recognizing our own ethical failures and guilt. Here, at least, in the United States, where we have some power and a voice; free to speak, free to fight back, at least to a point. This makes us more responsible, and we should admit our collective failure at fulfilling those responsibilities. Although, apathy may not be the most horrendous place to be. Apathy is the precipice. It is a point from which we can still go back, reroute, and move forward once more. It is not yet off the cliff.
Apathy recognizes, but does not do. It sees, but does not bear witness. It hears, but it ignores the pain and suffering; even its own. Apathy is a way to block out what is known, to disassociate. This is fundamental. But, as an ailment, apathy can be treated. It can be banished from our being. We may be down in the darkness of apathy, but we can come out through the light of struggle.
Andrew Smolski is an anarchist sociologist based in Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org