Care Bear Stare!
I debated if I was going to start this off with a long discussions of the important ideals the Care Bears taught us. That would have likely turned into a discussion about My Little Pony and Rainbow Bright...and then, as I dated myself as an obvious child of the 80's, I would wait to see how long it would take for my audience to either stop reading or barf, and really, is that what Polyskeptic is about? Room exiting barf inspirations? I don't think that's in the mission statement.
Instead, let's just get to the point: I'm going to talk about apathy. See what I did there? There's no Apathy Bear, sillies. Could you imagine? Apathy Bear would be such a downer...even more of a downer than Grumpy Bear (or whatever he was called...the blue one with the rain cloud on his stomach...stylish and totes goth)...to the rest of the group. They'd all yell "CARE BEAR STARE!" and Apathy Bear would look at them, raise an eyebrow and say, "Whatevs" and the evil whatever (Old Man Jenkins? No...that's Scooby Doo) would win. Thanks a lot, Apathy Bear.
Oh lord, I'm writing about them anyway aren't I...DAMN IT! OK, I'll stop. Onto useful content!
Last night as Wes, Jessie and I were coming home from a lovely little bar in Old City, Wes and I were debating about various topics relevant to reason and religion and such and Jessie said that she thought she had gotten on the Express Train to not giving a crap. She was raised Catholic. Catholic turned to nondenominational Christian and then at some point she just gave the whole thing up and went right to, what she calls, Apathy-ism. Later she would explain that she doesn’t even want to label herself as an atheist because it is still having a definitive label about you in relationship to a god and that she simply has no interest in living life from a theistic point of view, even if it is one of non-belief. Basically, she has completely rejected religion and god in every way possible. (This is a lot of paraphrasing, so Jessie can feel free to correct me if I got anything wrong!)
When she first said it, I said that I didn’t want to be on that Express Train. But then I realized that I had already been there and come back from it. As I mentioned before, non-belief was a matter of course for most of my life. It was second nature. It was easy to continue a secular lifestyle because I was very lucky to have gone to school in the Philadelphia public school system…
Never thought you’d see anyone type that, did you?
I went to a really excellent school, but that’s beside the point. Religion did not make any kind of appearance EVER in my daily activities. Well, there was this one time when I was in elementary school and this very strange man came in to be a substitute teacher. He asked us all to draw a picture of what we thought God looked like. As a 7 year old, I felt that this was royally OUT. I remember having a general sense of “That is not supposed to be talked about here…and besides, God doesn’t look like anything because…I don’t think there really is one…” and then I drew a picture of the solar system. I don’t remember what other people drew, but I do remember a lot of people looking confused about the assignment. I recall being a little upset about it, but luckily that was a rather isolated event. Something like that would never infiltrate my elementary or highschool education again. In highschool I had a biology teacher who was all about evolution and genetics. We had to read The Double Helix for class. He didn’t mention Creationism…EVER…because it was a science class. Looking back, I wonder if there were any students whose parents were up in arms about that. There never seemed to be any issue. No one yearned for “the other side of the story” to be told.
My point here is that I was apathetic about religion and other people’s views because they didn’t touch my life particularly. I think I had developed the attitude “Whatever you want to believe is fine” because I didn’t particularly think that there was anything harmful about that…because I didn’t really think anyone believed it anyway. I was sheltered and felt safe in assuming that I was living in a secular society that only showed its religion around Christmas and Easter. So, I was apathetic because I didn’t think there was any particular debate.
Then, after I figured out that there was a pretty big fucking debate, I became apathetic because it was just too difficult for me to engage anyone about it. I have historically been a non-confrontational person, but not because I actually thought that everyone’s views were worthy of respect, but because I just hated having people upset with me and was scared of putting my neck out there. The few times I participated in a discussion about religion, I ended up just conceding because clearly it was way more important to the religious person to be right. That was generally my point of view in any argument about a hot button issue. I didn’t feel equipped to engage. I didn’t feel that I knew enough. When someone would confuse me with a bad argument, I didn’t assume it was a bad argument. I assumed that I was too stupid to be in the debate in the first place. I mistook passion for knowledge and logic. Conflict has often made me uncomfortable just being around it so I adopted the opinion that everyone should just shut up about it…not because it didn’t matter, but because listening to it drove me crazy. When someone of faith was questioned in front of me, it undeniably would result in personal attacks from the theist to the atheist and proclamations that these were their beliefs and no one gets to question them. Something something that’s what Hitler did something something else. I would want to scream “YOU ARE WRONG” but was too cowardly to do so. To enter the fray would be to become an enemy of sorts and I just wasn’t comfortable with that. So I decided not to care. “Well, I guess that’s fine…”
I struggled with apathy with a lot of things. I didn’t want to officially proclaim which side I was on with various issues because I didn’t want to alienate people from me. I mean, I have always been pro-choice, pro-civil rights for all, regardless of race, gender, creed (yes, creed…I might not value your creed, but I don’t think you should not be able to get married or get a job or vote or whatever else just because of it), or sexual orientation, pro-social programs to help the poor and otherwise disenfranchised, etc., but I never wanted to talk about it. I didn’t want to fight about it…because I thought that everyone I knew basically agreed with this stuff and I didn’t think any of it was being particularly threatened. An America where progress was moving toward attainment of all these things was the America I assumed I was in.
Then the World Trade Center was attacked and I hoped against all hope that we as a country would not be idiots about it, that we wouldn’t simply retaliate and wrap ourselves in American Flags and cry about our freedom…well, we all know how that turned out. When I turned 22, the war started and I found myself caring quite a bit. I didn’t want to…but I couldn’t help it. My apathy about that eroded and I started getting in people’s faces about theirs. I alienated some people from me, and that’s ok.
In the last couple of years I have found that my apathy about everything else has begun to erode too…pretty drastically. I don’t find it easy to stay quiet anymore. I don’t respond well to blatant spreading of misinformation, fear mongering, obvious displays of privilege (when the person displaying them is completely unaware of it), and simple unapologetic (often willful) ignorance. I fully admit that I am ignorant about a lot of things, that I don’t know very much about a vast array of topics…but I want to learn. I want to understand. And I will call people on things when I disagree.
This process of learning to care again has been amazing and also sometimes depressing. My eyes are open; I am receptive to seeing more…but sometimes when you start to really see things, disappointment is quick to follow. But in the end, I would rather care and be aware and sometimes completely and utterly irate than to spare myself that anger and be unaware of the truth in things. The apathy that used to keep me isolated and friendly, even with people who I really didn’t need to have around (fo’ realz), was making me feel dead to the world. Now I feel alive, if not sometimes completely crazed about the state of the world I am living in. I’ll take it for now.
Jessie is really only apathetic about the god stuff. She cares quite a bit about a lot of important things. I can understand not wanting to give a shit about god after having it beaten into your head for years and years. I certainly don’t begrudge her that. She knows considerably more about that existence than I do (hence my continuing ignorance throughout my teens and early twenties). My life would look very different if I ever had to monumentally reject something that definitive in my life. Her comments last night just got me thinking about how much I do want to care…about everything…about how I think I do want to make a difference.
And what the fuck was I doing in my twenties? Yeesh. Well, for me, the thirties seem to be the new twenties, so let’s get living!