|All that is
necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the
worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.
-- Helen Keller
1. Why are so many so apathetic?
The first file of this year was Nederlog
2013: Updates for the new
year, the second me+ME:
& The Pushers
The barbarian Dutch, about being ill for the 35th year, not
getting any help, and a new architectural atrocity in Amsterdam, while
the present Nederlog addresses the question why so many people in the
US and Europe are so apathetic while being faced with crisis, war and
the destruction of human, civil and individual rights that have been in
force for many decades, and are supposed to be what a free and open
society is about.
1. Why are so many so apathetic?
There is an
interesting American site called Health Care
because it is by medical doctors for medical doctors; because their
ideas and values make sense; and especially because they try to
rationally argue their ideas and values, and generally succeed.
One of its regular contributors, Roy M. Poses MD, asked a quite
sensible and interesting question on the last day of the previous year:
For the New Year, it is time
to ponder- why is there still no organized
outrage over the ongoing incompetent,
and often outright corrupt
leadership of health care organizations we have documented incessantly
on Health Care Renewal?
The links in the above
quotation are all to texts on Health Care Renewal, and
well worth reading, but before going on I repeat a reference I gave
For example, just in a few days ago, we have
cases in which large US and multinational health care organizations
settled cases alleging they deceptively marketed drugs so as to
exaggerate their benefits and conceal their harms, bribed doctors and
officials outside of the US, gave kickbacks to US doctors,
defrauded the US government, and monopolized markets for drugs, yet few
leaders, and no top leaders of the companies involved suffered any
negative consequences for authorizing, directing, or implementing these
I recommend you watch
some of her videos: She makes a lot of moral and intellectual sense,
and also has an interesting perspective, namely that of a former sales
representative for pharmaceutical companies.
To continue with the question doctor Poses posed. He is well aware the
same question may well be asked about many more things - and I have
added a link to "the first Gilded Age" because I had to look it up -
and you find more about it in the link provided for DeLong:
The problems in US
health care, however, seem to parallel problems in the larger society,
and the world at large. We have discussed parallels with bad
leadership of financial
firms, including the firms that drove us into the global financial
collapse/ great recession, and to continuing income stagnation,
recession, austerity, and decreasing opportunity for the poor and
middle class around the world.
Quite so. Here is the
last part of the linked DeLong text:
Yet parallel questions are just beginning to be asked about larger
related political economic problems. Recently, historian Brad
DeLong attempted to address the question, "why next to no reaction to
the second gilded age?" (See this.).
Unfortunately, while he could demonstrate two powerful political
movements that opposed
the first Gilded Age, he was completely at a loss to explain why
there has been no similar organized outrage about the second Gilded Age
in which we exist today. Despite incompetent, uncaring,
self-interested, conflicted, and often outright corrupt leadership of
many large corporations, non-profit organizations, and government
agencies only a few voices, often bloggers like us, have objected.
This also got pick up and quoted by the economist Mark
Thoma, as doctor Poses reports, who has two somewhat reasonable
answers. Here is the first:
That was the history of
America from 1880-1920 or so. After 1920 you do get a Republican Gilded
Age resurgence under Harding, Coolidge, Hoover--very corrupt,
especially under Harding. But by the late 1920s Progressivism is rising
again--even Hoover is running as a Progressive. Then when the Great
Depression comes Franklin Roosevelt comes in and he takes the entire
progressive agenda off the shelf and promptly begins to implement it.
We haven’t had anything
like that over the past thirty years.
And here I’m simply going
to throw up my hands and say that I don't know why.
It’s in a great mystery
to me. As an economic historian I like to look at political economic
patterns from the past and to say we should learn from these and
generalize them and take them as providing some insight into the
present and the future. In general, we economic historians are
extraordinarily successful. There are lots of lessons to be drawn from
the first age of globalization for the second. There are lots of
lessons to be drawn from the high school-ization of America for the
college-ization of America and for education elsewhere in the world.
There are lots and lots of lessons to be drawn from the Great
Depression for today.
But the political economy
of Gilded Ages? Why the first Gilded age produces a Populist and a
Progressive reaction and the second, so far, does not? There I throw up
my hands and say that my economic historian training betrays me. I have
no clue as to what is going on here.
I would certainly
start by noting the different levels of initial national wealth -- we
started from a much higher base this time -- and the presence of social
insurance. If we didn't have food stamps, unemployment compensation,
and other private and public social backstops to help people through
tough times, and a relatively high level of initial wealth to rely
upon, the effects would have been much more severe and the response to
the Great Recession might have been more like the response to the Great
This surely is one of
the relevant factors - for indeed this enormous social apathy in the
face of major economical and political and legal setbacks does not have
a simple mono-causal explanation.
And having looked a little into the Great Depression lately I can
affirm that there was far greater visible poverty then than there seems
to be now, that is: so far.
Here is Mark Thoma's second answer:
I think it matters
a lot whether we think of inequality as arising from a problem in the
system as a whole, or as the result of individual failures. When people
think it's the system as a whole -- the rich and powerful are scheming
to hold everyone else down (e.g. robber barons) -- mass movements are
more likely than when it is viewed as simply the failings of
individuals. I think many people viewed the last few decades as a time
of great opportunity. If you weren't rich, or at least doing very well,
it was because you hadn't tried hard enough. Anyone who wanted a decent
job could get one if they were willing to put out the requisite effort.
This also seems to me
one of the factors - but here we definitely have entered the field of
and while the first part of Thoma's answer is factually correct, the
second part is plain bullshit (which
he may not believe: he may be just reporting, and if so, he is
correctly reporting a widely accepted delusion), especially as regards
If you weren't
rich, or at least doing very well, it was because you hadn't tried hard
That amounts to blaming
the victim, and just is not true: Being rich, like being tall, being
bright, and being beautiful is one of those things that can only hold
for a small percentage: If everybody is (approximately) as rich, as
tall, as bright and as beautiful as everybody else, then no one is
rich, tall, bright or beautiful.
Some people are rich because many are either poor or not rich - and
while it may be true that the rich are rich because they took their
riches from the middle and lower classes, that is not my logical point,
which concerns the semantics of terms like "rich", which involve the
property that one cannot be rightly called "rich" if one is not in a
Back to doctor Poses' text, minus a link to "Naked Capitalism", because
I only found a jumble of irrelevant links:
of Naked Capitalism finally offered some insight (see this [removed
link - MM]) by noting the importance of "propaganda," corresponding, I
think, to the widespread deceptive marketing
relations, and the use of covertly paid key
opinion leaders to further both that we frequently discuss.
Finally she suggested that people feel powerless because they see
themselves as "atomized individuals," even though they many are
currently being treated as interchangeable parts by the leaders of
large organizations who can control the actions of large number of
employees to further their self-interest.
Here are some more
reasons - and the sense of "postmodernism" in the points that follow is
mainly temporal: The climate of opinion, the modes of talk, the notions
of value that arose since 1970, that are defined here.
There must be more reasons. There ought to at least be some
organized discussion of these reasons.
Let me comment.
- The indifference Burke
referred to: "It ain't my problem".
- The apathy Keller
mentioned: "Why should I care?".
- TV: The fact that most
ordinary people take their opinions from the media, that are often
dishonest, partial or designed to mislead.
- TV: The wide acceptance
of many myths about getting rich, being leaders, being equals.
- Postmodernism: The
decline in education and educational standards of all kinds over the
past 40 years.
- Postmodernism: The demoralization and relativization of
relativization of science, intellect, truth, fact and knowledge.
poisoning of language by advertisement talk, public relation talk,
media talk, and written journalism.
- The sell out of
politicians of all kinds and stripes to the corporations.
- The widespread lack of
knowledge of history, of politics, of science.
- In brief: Bad education,
stupefying media and especially 50 years of TV,
natural languages poisoned by public relations and advertisement
figures of speech, and the relativization of all values, all knowledge,
all aspirations to what the democratic masses, manipulated by propaganda and
indifference Burke referred to: "It ain't my problem":
There is a widely accepted myth, that has been spread on purpose by
media like Fox News, that people who fail to be social successes owe
that failure to themselves, and that those who are no success are "losers"
who owe their misery to their own lack of willingness to work. In fact,
social success can be to a large extent predicted from social
background: Few rise above the social background of their parents.
Here is a bit of Burke that is relevant :
Society is indeed
a contract. ... It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in
all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection.
2. The apathy Keller mentioned: "Why should I
Human beings anyway care
much more for their own family, friends and the members of social groups
they are part of, often to the extent of considering good that serves
their own interests and the interests of their groups, also if they
consider it bad if serves the interests of people not in their groups,
but over the last forty years egoism and greed have been widely
depicted as good, and any social concern has been modulated through
NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard: "I am in favor that others get help
- but not at my costs")
3. TV: The fact that most
ordinary people take their opinions from the media, that are often
dishonest, partial or designed to mislead:
Most ordinary people
since the 1960ies, in the US and Europe, have spent most of their
leisure hours watching TV  - rather than reading
books, conversing, or interacting with others. And nearly all TV they
watched consisted of delusions, dreams, fairytales, fantasy, amusement,
propaganda or nonsense, generally carefully crafted to appeal to the
average and sub-average in intellect and education, and is intended for
passive consumption. I quote from the Wikipedia article on Neil Postman:
known book is Amusing Ourselves to Death
confounds serious issues by demeaning and undermining political
discourse and by turning real, complex issues into superficial images,
less about ideas and thoughts and more about entertainment. He also
argues that television is not an effective way of providing education,
as it provides only top-down information transfer, rather than the
interaction that he believes is necessary to maximize learning.
4. TV: The wide acceptance of many myths
about getting rich, being leaders, being equals:
Since most got their education from TV rather from books or others they
lived with or around, most have accepted many myths as facts, and many
delusions as values: As if everyone can get rich; as if acquiring
commodities and riches are the ends of life; as if everyone is a
leader; as if everyone is everyone's equal; as if becoming a Ken+Barbie
living in a ticky-tacky
house is what life is about; as if politicians, media celebs and
sports' heroes are the highest human types.
The decline in education and educational standards of all kinds over
the past 40 years:
Because everyone was supposed to be everybody's equal, and because of
demographic pressures, all standards of education, in almost all
schools, colleges and education, were systematically lowered: Any
attempt or ideal to stand out on intellectual grounds was decried as
Most ordinary people do not know history, do not know any science,
cannot do mathematics anymore, not even elementary maths ("the computer
will do it for you" - as if that also can supply the questions, the
context, the meaning and the interpretation), and do not read or speak
foreign languages: The only perspectives and "knowledge" they have is
what the media tell them - which they embrace, "because everybody does
Here is a bit of Burke
that is relevant:
Learning will be
cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish
6. Postmodernism: The demoralization and relativization of
individual moral standards:
Because everybody is supposed to be everybody's equal and everybody is
supposed to be a leader all individual morality has been relativized
and evaporated to totalitarian
characteristics one is supposed to loyal to:
Thinking and judging for oneself are strongly disapproved; "belonging"
to "Our Community" is strongly approved, whatever the community,
whatever its leaders, ideals, or practices.
Here is a bit of Burke
that is relevant:
Men are qualified
for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral
chains upon their own appetites.
7. Postmodernism: The relativization of
science, truth, fact and knowledge:
Because in fact people are not equals in ability, knowledge, strength,
courage, beauty, and in order to repress and falsify these facts, all
"appropriate" discussion has been "relativized":
science is as good as myth, truth and fact do not exist, as "everyone knows truth is
relative" and are what one imagines or chooses them to be, and
knowledge at best is a belief among competing beliefs, as "everyone
knows " while intelligence "is a choice".
Note that two important consequences of this are confusion and
indifference: Most people know there are real facts in their everyday
lives, and their reaction to large doses of relativism and of public
relations propaganda is that everybody must be lying, and one cannot
trust anyone outside one's own group.
The poisoning of language by advertisement talk, public relation talk,
media talk, and written journalism:
If there is no real
knowledge, if there are no standards, if everybody's opinion is just as
good as everyone else's, all that matters in human communication is to
get attention, and any way of getting attention - gross exaggeration,
falsification, irrelevancies, sexual innuendo, flagrant dishonesty - is
good if it gets attention: The standards of human communication have
become the practices of advertisement, of public
relations, and of
public posturing, while the standard of morality becomes a public
pretension of "respect" for all and for any point of view, that usually
masks indifference or dislike.
9. The sell out of
politicians of all kinds and stripes to the corporations:
See my hypotheses about corporate
fascism and the surveillance state - for which I have again a bit
of Burke that is relevant, if only because I like to be
mistaken about these hypotheses:
Better be despised
for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident security.
There can be little doubt this
sell out happened, and on a large scale, in the US and elsewhere - see:
- though more is involved than selling out: Some no doubt believe
the propaganda they get, and more importantly: most are of a careerist
type that should not be in politics at all but that finds it
easy to rise to the top in nominal democracies.
10. The widespread
lack of knowledge of history, of politics, of science:
The democratic majorities that elect the careerist politicians that
turned to politics because they are corrupt - if "power corrupts",
surely also it is especially the corrupt who seek power - are very
easily deceived because their education was bad, and indeed on average
their intelligence is mediocre at best. Hence, since the 20th Century
showed an abundance of terrorist police states surrected in the name of
moral ideals, and because of "the will of the people", one must expect
more of the same in the 21st Century: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" - Santayana.
education, stupefying media, and
especially 50 years of TV, natural languages poisoned by figures of speech, fallacies and rhetoric as
practised in public
advertisements , and the relativization of all values,
of all knowledge, and of all aspirations to what the democratic masses,
as manipulated by propaganda in the media, (are supposed to) approve.
That was the summary. Here is a final bit of Burke that is relevant:
Never despair; but
you do, work on in despair.
And no - I do not have
any cure for apathy or indifference, though I suspect that if the
crisis deepens or the economy crashes, this will rapidly change, though
not necessarily to good effect, for the same causes as summarize in 11
remain the same.
 There are more bits of Burke in the text that
follows, and I give them - with a bit of irony - because he is widely
considered a conservative,
which is at best a half truth. In any case:
He was an excellent writer, much admired by Hazlitt, who
did not like
his political views, and must also have been a great conversationalist,
if only because Dr. Johnson said so, who knew him well, and admired him.
 Figures for the US, from the
Bureau of Advertising's analysis: Traditionally, women in TV
households have spent the most time viewing the tube, averaging more
than 5 hours a day in recent years. Men are next, with more than 4.5
hours of daily viewing since 2005. Teens and children have been viewing
at about the same levels, nearing the 3.5 hour mark. In 2009, men
increased to 4:54. Women, still No. 1, increased to 5:31. Teens went
down to 3:26, and children were up to 3:31.
course, I do not know whether these figures are correct. In Holland -
with a similar qualification - they are said to be a bit lower, but
still adults watch television for 20 or more hours each week.
In any case: For the vast majority in Europe and the US, watching
television is the effective end of life, since that is what they spend
most of their leisure hours on.
 You may object to Burke's language, that is
presumably Biblical, but apart from the language: The democratic masses
are not fit to judge what science and education should be like - and in
fact, education has been stupefied in the name of democracy, but by
politicians, academics and student radicals.
3, 2013: Added some links and corrected some typos, and added a few
lines to .
(that I prefer
to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which
is a disease I have since 1.1.1979: