The world is awash in apathy. You see it every day, from listless toll takers to lazy coffee shop employees who neglect to ask if you want a second cup. Some Detroit police have a response time of an hour or more; while fire departments, even in wealthy cities, often can’t find the time to show up.
The trains and planes across the nation are running late. Service at restaurants is so bad that violence is becoming a serious issue. Yes, it seems that everyone in society is moving along in a stupor, lost in a Soma coma, and hoping the hours pass quickly so they can go home and further anesthetize themselves with alcohol or other delights. “Que Sera Sera,” sang Doris Day. “Whatever will be/will be.” Naturally, the song was a big hit.
Call it an absence of feeling or emotion. Some call it indifference, lethargy, perniciousness. Whatever it’s called, apathy is widespread and apparently growing, and potentially catastrophic for the human race if left unchecked in certain areas.
There’s a Who’s Who of medical causes for apathy, most relating to diseases that affect over 10 million people in the US. That leaves a mere 290 million of us with no excuses.
The amazing thing about apathy (if you care), is that it appears to come in far more forms than any other emotion. There’s political apathy, social apathy, customer service apathy, sexual apathy, gym apathy, climate change apathy, food apathy. Yes, name a condition, and there’s an apathy for that.
No Sex, Please
Apathy is more than an annoyance. The Japanese and Italians, to cite two examples, are so apathetic about sustaining their populations that they are in danger of going extinct in their own countries. A Japanese survey said that 45% of Japanese women ages 16–24 are not interested in, or despised sexual contact. Thus, they aren’t making enough kids to sustain their economy and social networks. Given their historical antipathy to outsiders, the country may be unsustainable without a massive injection of — well, an injection between men and women, at least.
Italy is in similar straits. Nominally a country dominated by the Catholic Church, which is known for knocking birth control, Italy now has a total fertility rate of about 1.41 children born per woman, a birth rate ranked 203rd out of 224 world nations.
Of course, political apathy has been a long-running theme in the US. Almost 13 million fewer people voted in 2012 than in the 2008 presidential elections. In Los Angeles, it’s even worse — just 16% of registered voters turned out to elect Eric Garcetti mayor. (There are countries that defy the trend; North Korea, for example, where an amazing 100% of the population backs Kim Jong-un — or else).
In Roman times, they battled apathy by giving people bread and circuses. But that ship has apparently sailed in modern times. Circuses like Ringling Brothers have to deeply discount tickets in order to boost attendance, with one executive likening its show to Walmart, no doubt after looking at what kind of customer price-cutting attracts. Bread sales are also down. Sales fell 0.78% in 2013, following a decline of 1.7% in 2012 and 4.2% in 2011.
What can we do to awaken ourselves from our collective lethargy? Are we doomed to march slowly toward the abyss, shuffling aimlessly as we contemplate an end to our pain?
If we had our own personal cheerleaders, perhaps that would help. Of course, cheerleading is the most dangerous sport for female athletes. Perhaps it’s best that we don’t bother.