January 2, 2013

Crisis:  Why are so many so apathetic?

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
Science may 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?
About ME/CFS


The first file of this year was Nederlog 2013: Updates for the new year, the second
me+ME: Year 35 & 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 Renewal. It is interesting 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:

Question for the New Year: Why is There Next to No Reaction to the Gilded Age of Health Care?

For the New Year, it is time to ponder- why is there still no organized outrage over the ongoing incompetent, uncaring, self-interested, conflicted, and often outright corrupt leadership of health care organizations we have documented incessantly on Health Care Renewal?

For example, just in a few days ago, we have documented
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 activities.
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 yesterday:
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.

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.

Quite so. Here is the last part of the linked DeLong text:

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.

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:
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 Depression.
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 social delusions, propaganda, and ideology, 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 this:
If you weren't rich, or at least doing very well, it was because you hadn't tried hard enough.
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 minority position.

Back to doctor Poses' text, minus a link to "Naked Capitalism", because I only found a jumble of irrelevant links:
Yves Smith 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 and public 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.

There must be more reasons.  There ought to at least be some organized discussion of these reasons.

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.
  1. The indifference Burke referred to: "It ain't my problem".
  2. The apathy Keller mentioned: "Why should I care?".
  3. TV: The fact that most ordinary people take their opinions from the media, that are often dishonest, partial or designed to mislead.
  4. TV: The wide acceptance of many myths about getting rich, being leaders, being equals.
  5. Postmodernism: The decline in education and educational standards of all kinds over the past 40 years.
  6. Postmodernism: The demoralization and relativization of moral standards
  7. Postmodernism:The relativization of science, intellect, truth, fact and knowledge.
  8. Postmodernism:The poisoning of language by advertisement talk, public relation talk, media talk, and written journalism.
  9. The sell out of politicians of all kinds and stripes to the corporations.
  10. The widespread lack of knowledge of history, of politics, of science.
  11. 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 public relations, approves.
Let me comment.

1. The 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 [1]:
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 care?":

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 [2] - 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:
Postman's best 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.

Postmodernism: 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 "Úlitarian".

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 it".

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 multitude. [3]
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 groupthinking 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.

8. Po
stmodernism: 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: Lobbying -  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.

Bad education, stupefying media, and especially 50 years of TV, natural languages poisoned by figures of speech, fallacies and rhetoric as practised in public relations and 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 if 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.


[1] 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.

[2] Figures for the US, from the year 2011:

Television 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.

Of 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.

[3] 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.

Jan 3, 2013: Added some links and corrected some typos, and added a few lines to [2].

About ME/CFS (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:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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