I am in no way endorsing apathy with this cartoon. In fact, I think apathy, dismissiveness, and cynicism are the refuge of the intellectually lazy who nonetheless wish to appear thoughtful. The person who mindlessly calls “bullshit” on every issue is just as naive as the person who believes everything he is told. In both instances the facts aren’t being examined. However, if your default response is set to “bullshit,” you can at least give off the appearance of being discriminating and thoughtful; the person who believes everything they’re told just appears gullible.
No, this cartoon doesn’t embrace apathy or cynicism; it comes from a very different place. This really all began with a simple thought experiment I tried on myself. I asked: if over the past ten years the media had been completely removed from my life (no editorialized news segments, no political debates, no internet armchair scholarship, no friendly barbs over drinks with friends – nothing), how would my perception of the past ten years be different?
I ultimately concluded that 2009 would’ve seemed like a tough year to get a job, the price of gasoline would’ve seemed oddly high once or twice, and I would’ve been pretty pissed when my private healthcare plan got cancelled and the rate doubled. Beyond that, there’s virtually nothing I’ve read or watched in the media over the past ten years that’s had a truly concrete impact on my day-to-day life.
Does this mean I should just close my eyes and ears to the world? Of course not. But I can’t deny that so many stories over the past decade have been sold to me in such a personal way – and have affected me as such. Nearly every story is painted as life and death; every other week there’s another catastrophe creeping around the corner, for which I must remain on guard. Taken from a purely ‘cost/benefit’ perspective, when I contrast the amount of time I’ve spent worrying, wracking my brain, and debating about stories in the news with the percentage of those stories that have had a genuine impact on my life, I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed. Aren’t I just flushing all of this emotional energy down the toilet? Wouldn’t such an effort be better spent on my career or my family and friends… or better yet… on solving the problems that actually did pop up in my day-to-day life: landing a new job (which I ultimately did in 2010), resolving to spend less on gasoline (which I eventually did by moving to a major city), or securing an alternative to my old healthcare plan (which I have since taking a job with a new full-time employer)? Taken individually, each of the news stories that had some manifestation in my day-to-day life aren’t particularly catastrophic – it’s only once I turn on the television that I realize I’m supposed to be shouting about these things.
Again, while I count apathy and cynicism among the worst of all personality traits, looking at the colossal amount of emotional expenditure I’ve made in the past ten years worrying, studying, and conversing about potential catastrophes that never came to fruition forces a part of me to ask myself: “Wouldn’t your time have been better spent conserving all of that energy, plugging your ears and tuning out all of that noise?”
While I have no immediate plans of withdrawing from learning about and discussing current events, I think I (and, perhaps, many others) would be well served by keeping a healthy emotional distance from these issues. A discourse that’s a bit dryer, sober, and – yes – even a bit more bland might be just what the climate of political debate in America could use nowadays.