Monday, November 5, 2012

Falling Through The Cracks Of Indifference

Modern Society

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. 
Elie Wiesel

It's not that humans in general are meaner and more selfish than before—that might be true, but there have always been mean and narcissistic individuals in power. What might separate our age from the rest is that there are not enough good and decent people to help ameliorate society's brutal and harsh ways; they exist, but they are dying off, both literally and figuratively. I have written previously about our age ("The Mean Age"), and not surprisingly it elicited little comment. I could have also called the article, "The Age of Indifference."

People, individuals, don't naturally and by their own volition "slip through the cracks" of human-made laws and institutions that are in the end supposed to provide a security net. Where previous generations of poorly paid social workers would go out of their way—visit the less fortunate and see what they can do to alleviate their suffering— to ensure that the vulnerable in society were taken care of, today's cadre of well-paid social workers tend to sit in their comfortable offices, insulated from the harsh reality, and are happy to direct individuals and families to programs to which they could submit their applications. Toward that end, they spend much of their day in meetings and not doing what's really important, but what's easier: making sure all the documents are in order. Their slogan, like all weak or cold-hearted bureaucrats is "Documents Above People" or "Policy Above People," or some similar construct.

So, why does this matter? Why should we care? For the simple reason that a society has always been measured on how well it treats and respects the "weak and vulnerable." An shining example of an individual who understood that idea intimately is Jane Addams, an American social and political activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. A society that is indifferent to the poor, the elderly, the disadvantaged and the frail is a society that will ultimately fail to thrive—no matter how things appear on the surface. If you think that I am making this up, examine and read history.

It seems that our society, focused greatly on the differences between us—including between the wealthy and the poor; the educated and the not; the Leftists and the Rightists; and the over-reliance on scientific indicators to measure human performance—have created a mess of inhumane proportions. Who really benefits from highlighting differences among Men?

Such a focus benefits only few nasty and narcissistic individuals, it in itself is really a distraction from more-important issues centred on bettering the lives of all people. But then again, for such selfish persons, who talk about self-reliance, about individuality, and about "teaching others how to fish" and all such catchwords and slogans, they never have enough resources—and more is always better. And to give is to have less. Such is a pervasive sickness that has infected much of our social intercourse, resulting in fear, hostility and lack of trust.

We might be materially wealthier; we might have great advances in science and medicine; we might build great cathedrals of art, religion, and music. We might even have great fund-raising causes, and some are noteworthy. But it matters little if we have also created a society that allows, willingly and with intentional indifference, good and decent individuals and their families  including children, to fall through the cracks of indifference.

Until a modern society truly recognizes that fact, it will result only in cosmetic changes. There is no valid excuse for the way things are today, but there is a time-tested explanation, one that dates to biblical times. Indifference.