Talking to the Apathetic and/or the “Too Busy”

My regular readers may have noticed that I have not posted a blog in a few days.  The summer is my busiest time of the year.  For the next nine weeks work is crazy for me.  I am going to try to blog daily.  However, the reality of life may lead it to be only a few times a week or shorter daily posts.  Once mid-August rolls around, I will be back to my normal and daily blogging schedule.

 Knowing your Audience

The last few days have been a political and religious whirlwind.  So much is happening around us.  Politically Scott Walker has fought off the recall, Republicans in the Senate have once again blocked the discussion and passage of an equal pay law for women, it appears as though the definition of marriage may go to the Supreme Court as lower court ruling in MA and CA are likely to be appealed to that level.  The political list of controversy is endless.  So too is the religious.  Planned Parenthood is still under attack, women’s rights are very much being trampled over, the Catholic Church is moving towards orthodoxy, evangelical Christians are gaining in power, money, and influence, again, the list is infinite.

We are living in a tumultuous time here in the U.S.  I am just shy of age 40.  I remember thinking that recent and older generations had “big battles” that needed fighting.  Some were literal battles, such as WWI, WWII, and Vietnam.  Some were political such as the women’s suffrage movement and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.  It would be foolish of me to predict what the future will hold for next decade of American life.  However, I cannot help but feel that we may be at a precipice of great social and political change.

Politically, I cannot help but wonder where the GOP is heading.  In truth, I am a center left political leaning person.  I identify as liberal.  When it comes to social issues I tend to move farther left.  When it comes to economic issues, I much more of a centrist.  I point that out only to highlight one fact.  Prior to the Bush years, I did not detest just about everything the GOP stood for.   I honestly believe that I have not moved farther Left, rather they have moved farther Right.  Where are they going?  Why are so many of our fellow citizens following, particularly when the GOP platform is not in line with their economic or social interests?  This troubles me greatly.  If the GOP truly implements much of what it is pushing for—non equality for homosexuals and women, cutting aid to the poor, cutting medical care to the poor, dismantling our national system of education, paving a rose colored road to success for the wealthy, where does that leave our nation?  How far to the Right can such large numbers of people move before the nature of our country is threatened?  (The same argument could be made to the Left as well, it is just not happening).  I feel that some of these questions may be decided in the next decade.

The same arguments can be made for religion.  Christianity reigns supreme in the United States.  A major tenet of most faiths is evangelization.  Christians cannot be content to leave their religion in their homes and houses of worship.  It is not possible.  These groups are becoming stronger, wealthier, and more powerful.  Perhaps more importantly, they are becoming emboldened.  As I write this, the Catholic Church is suing the government in an attempt to redefine the First Amendment.  That is bold.  Where does this end?  Christians preach all sorts of nice things like love and peace, but those are largely absent in practice.  History shows, when Christianity is dominant, it is also ruthless.  How dominant will Christianity become in our country?  Where will that leave homosexuals (behind an electrified fence?)  Where will that leave people of other faiths or no faith?  Where will that leave the rights of women?  Where will that lead our country politically?  Rather than Sharia law, will be living under some pseudo version of Christian law?—Clearly there is a movement for just that sort of thing.  Where does this leave science?  Regardless of what many scientists and Christians tell us, religion and science have never been, and are not now compatible.  The gains of science always come at the expense of religion.  One is looking forward, the other is looking back.  If Christianity gains dominance, where does that leave science and the future of human growth and potential?

I do not mean to sound like an alarmist or extremist in my fears of where we are going.  I do not know the answers to the questions I posed.  What I am concerned with, and am alarmed about is apathy and or people who are “too busy” to educated themselves on these issues.  I do believe the questions I asked above are of monumental importance and will be largely answered in the next decade or so.  I am incredible concerned that most of my fellow citizens in the U.S. are not even aware of the questions, let alone the possible answers.  Furthermore, they do not really care or do not have the time to care.  This troubles me greatly.

I spent 6 hours in a car yesterday with a co-worker whom I get along with very well.  He classifies himself as an “average Joe”.  I would agree with him.  We were talking politics.  The following is a snippet from our conversation:

Him “You know, when it comes to this election, I have to go by the “feel technique”.

Me: “What does that mean?”

Him: “I do not believe anything that I hear from Obama, Romney, or either of their campaigns.  They both lie, deceive, misrepresent facts, and accuse each other of all sorts of things.  I assume that the truth is always somewhere in the middle.  However, how I am supposed to learn what the truth is?  I work full time, have 2 kids under the age of 12, coach a soccer and baseball team, own my house and 3 rental homes that I have to maintain and do the yardwork at, when am I to find the time to learn for example, what I think the best plan to fix our economy is?  I would need to read all sorts of opinions from economists and look at factual data and come to informed opinion.  I do not have time to do that, it is just not a priority in my life.  So I go by the “feel” technique”.

Me: “What does that mean?”

Him: “I go by how I feel, I know that I do not want my taxes to go up.  (His family makes less than 100k a year).  I know that I have neighbors who are still out of work and some that have found jobs.  I know the housing market still sucks (or I would sell some of these damn rental properties).  Etc.  If I feel the economy and country is going in the right direction, I will vote for Obama, if not, I will vote for Romney.”

Me:  “So you are not going to rely on any facts, but only on subjective knowledge when it comes to voting.?”

Him:  “I do not have the time for anything else.  I would rather coach my kid’s sports teams than read up on politics.  What am I supposed to do, not sleep?”

I share this conversation with you for one reason.  I do believe that he is “average Joe American”.  He wants to care, will vote, but seems blissfully unaware of any of the questions I posed above.  Let alone of their importance.  It is my belief that most of my fellow citizens have little idea that things like science are under attack in parts of the country, that women’s rights are under attack everywhere, that homosexual equality is about more than just homosexuals, and the list goes on.

The GOP and Christian groups are well aware of the fact that most of our fellow citizens are asleep at the switch, too busy, or too apathetic to either care or learn facts on their own.  They use this to manipulate people into supporting policies and agendas that they in no way should be supporting.  This troubles me.

In the past I often write about the need to speak up.  Today, I want to reiterate that.  If you are reading this, you are most likely not “average Joe or Jane”.  It is not that I think my readers are special, sorry you (and I) are not special.  However to sit at your computer and read two pages of political and religious commentary at my site, and knowing you probably came from a previous site and are on your way to another webpage means that you are taking the time to think about the real issues.  You are concerned about many of the same things I am.  You are probably a person who does prioritize learning as much as you can about the facts before you vote.  If you are at my site you are most likely not a theist.  This implies that you are also concerned about the role that religion is playing in our society.  (I say that because the apathetic atheist is probably not reading atheist blogs).  We are the people who need to speak up.  We are the people who need to help educate our friends and family.

I mentioned as much to wife last night (also an atheist).  She warned me about sounding pedantic and self-righteous.  In this, I agree with her.  The remainder of the car ride with my friend was a talk about many of the questions I asked above.  I went out of my way to not sound self-righteous or pedantic but answered his questions as best I could.  I went out of my way to leave my bias out of the conversation. (He knows I am an atheist and liberal)  I told him, here is what I think, but do not just take my word on it, if this is an important question to you, learn as much as you can.  In the end, I felt that I made one minor contribution to my greater goal—I spoke up…to one person…who thanked me for taking the time to shed some light on the hard questions.  The key thing to note here, is that I did not “come off as all atheist and liberal” (his words).  If I had, the conversation would have ended.  That is not what he wanted.  Did I get my points across?  You bet, but in a meaningful and productive way.  I urge all of you to do the same.  We have to know our audience and adjust our arguments accordingly.  I did not compromise one aspect of anything I believe (or do not believe in),  in this case, calm rational speech got me much further than any other tactic.

Thanks for Reading.  I look forward to your comments.


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24 thoughts on “Talking to the Apathetic and/or the “Too Busy”

  1. Loren Miller from Bedford, OH, United States

    The lazy attitude portrayed by your coworker is no different from the attitude taken by believers, who are spoon-fed selected portions of the bible rather than read it for themselves. Going by feel rather than by facts is yet more of the same. Democracy depends on an informed electorate, yet when the electorate opts for Jerry Springer over Anderson Cooper or Bill O'Reilly over Bob Schieffer, we should not be surprised when the quality of the choices made suffers.

    Personally, I was able to raise my daughter and pay decent attention to national and world events and one did not suffer for the other. Indeed, I think my kid actually learned the importance of being aware of what was going on around her at least in part from the daily newspaper in the morning and the newscast we watched over dinner at night. Unfortunately, there is no law requiring being educated or well-informed as a prerequisite for exercising one's franchise as a voter in the US.

    More's the pity.

    1. reasonbeing from Rochester, MN, United States Post author

      Well said Loren. I agree with that assessment very much. That is why I used the strategy I did. My coworker differs from your example for one reason. He does watch the news and reads the paper, but rejects much of what he hears as partisan nonsense. Hard to argue with that assessment. In a sense he is not spoon-fed, he is not eating at all. I realized that if in our what turned out to be a 4 hour discussion I came across as pedantic, self-righteous, or partisan, he would have shut me off as well. I was able to make all of the points that I wanted to make, but really had to think about how to say them in a manner that would be heard by this particular friend. That is my main point. Those of us who are activists I think need to know our audience and adjust our means of communication accordingly.

      1. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

        The problem is that virtually all of the media coverage out there is absurdly partisan. The majority of "news" sources aren't reporting the news, they're putting their own particular spin on the news and only reporting the things that they personally want people to know about. That's not how the news used to be but it's certainly how it is today.

        As such, it's hard to find an unbiased source that just reports, not repackages events. To be honest, I don't think such a source exists these days.

        1. Loren Miller from Bedford, OH, United States

          Which is why I have multiple sources, which include CBS and NBC News, National Public Radio (WKSU and WCPN), BBC News, the New York Times and the Plain Dealer (my local paper). I particularly like and respect NPR for the quality and thoroughness of its reporting.

  2. vjack from Hattiesburg, MS, United States

    In my experience, real passion is almost always going to be mistaken for self-righteousness and bring accusations of "militant" behavior. I suspect virtually everyone who has made a difference as an activist has faced these judgments, but just think how much better off we are because they persisted.

    What I have a tough time remembering sometimes is that we are all apathetic about some things and enthusiastic about others. People who refuse to think about politics puzzle me, but I've known a few people who could never understand my disinterest in hunting, watching Glee, etc. They saw my blogging as a pointless waste of time, and I felt similarly about many of their activities. Some people aren't interested in helping others or changing the world; some people just want to be entertained.

    1. reasonbeing from Rochester, MN, United States Post author

      That is a great viewpoint regarding passion and self-righteousness. I think you are very correct in linking the two. I also agree that we are all apathetic about many things. However, I view it as a personal goal to try change that, one person at a time (or perhaps by many at a time if this blog gets really successful…).

  3. Steph from Kyle, TX, United States

    I agree with Loren that the coworker shows the typical thought process toward electing our officials. Just look at who we have in offices representing us.

  4. Grundy from Dacula, GA, United States

    To some degree, everyone uses the feel technique. We respond to stories and what's happening directly around us. I care most about how the economy looks in relation to myself. I know that the economy affects those much poorer and much richer that I differently, but I'm not always sure how. Our brains are not built to value statistics over narratives.

    Great post, RB. Politics are your area, not mine. Religion-wise, the people who are apathetic and too-busy are generally default atheists–which is fine by me. It's easier to influence people who have not yet formed opinions that those who already have, so you are doing a good thing by questioning your friend's political beliefs.

    1. reasonbeing from Rochester, MN, United States Post author

      I agree that we all do to a degree, but I think some of us to a much smaller degree. Most of us that are online blogging, commenting, reading I think are generally well informed. I did not really question his beliefs too much, but rather gave him a whole bunch of stuff to think about, and he learned some things as well. I presented both GOP and Dem arguments, etc. It was fun.

  5. matt greenberg from Norristown, PA, United States

    i've always enjoyed your writing (which is why i'm here) but this was my favorite post that you've written. just wanted to say that before i got into my comment. while i was reading it i felt like i was reading my own thoughts – kinda creepy :)

    i'm hopeful that people are becoming more aware. the good thing to take away from Wisconsin was how so many people got involved in the conversation. social media has also made it easier for people to gather information. we'll see what kind of effect that has.

    as for my own contribution – i've recently become a lifetime member of the ACLU and plan on attending their monthly meeting in Philadelphia. i also convinced my wife (separated) to watch Rachel Maddow and she did. she now has it set up to dvr automatically. one small step…

    finally, i wrote another blog post that touches on one subject from this post – education. check it out if you like:

    1. reasonbeing from Rochester, MN, United States Post author

      Thanks Matt–I appreciate that greatly.

      That is a great point about WI. I hadn't thought of it that way, but it really is great to reflect on how many people cared and became involved. I do not know what percentage of the population ended up voting. That would be a neat number to learn. Social media is a great tool for spreading ideas. I have recently been having a ton of fun on twitter. Congrats on joining the ACLU—I should do that. I will certainly check out your post.

  6. The Doubter from Opotiki, Gisborne, New Zealand

    Like you I am always end up feeling a mix of amusement, outrage and dis-belief by what I consider the ‘average Joe’s’, stance and political awareness. Maybe it’s our education system, this idea that economics/social politics/philosophy are classed as higher education learning and by virtue the masses miss the opportunity to learn/be involved, so it becomes second nature as they develop into adults that they automatically take an interest. Although I am aware that research has demonstrated that many humans are like rivers and take the easy course in life and avoid obstacles or issues………they would rather watch the latest X factor show!!
    Like many I suspect that when it comes to politics, I am not driven to identify with one particular party, how could they ever represent my individual views/opinions as a whole!! No it tends to be individuals themselves that impress me. The one failing of our so called democratic process is that we are left to choose between a very limited selection of parties, a sort of a least worst option.

  7. The Doubter from Opotiki, Gisborne, New Zealand

    Currently I suspect in times of trouble the human condition becomes very selfish………..that we start making decisions for our best interest rather than the collective and politicians get caught into making promises they know they will default upon….and here’s the rub, WE ALL KNOW IT, but still we play along like the don’t say….’the emperors got no clothes on’ scenario. Actually we probably need to pay more taxes, contribute more into social welfare institutions……………take a ten year plan view…..but alas no President would ever get elected if they told the through…..very sad situation really.

  8. The Doubter from Opotiki, Gisborne, New Zealand

    Final bit
    Sorry if this sounds like I bemoaning the system………………but do think the majority of people have their head up their arse, when they are faced with difficult circumstances. It’s also a sense of perception for me, yes I know many are losing jobs/houses/marriages……………..but when I look at other parts of the world, where a third of the population live in real poverty and children die before they reach their fifth birthday, well it makes me take stock and hardens my resolve, your colleague with his three houses has nothing to really worry about…………shit some people don’t have one fucking house!!Not that I begrudge people weallth, but there is a trade off ith risk and accountability.

    As humans we expand our minds/problems to fit our life… included!!

    1. reasonbeing from Rochester, MN, United States Post author

      Thanks for the comment Doubter (I have missed your blogging by the way). I agree that politicians often do not tell the truth for the reasons you stated. Nobody wants to raise taxes and nobody really wants to plan ahead. We have become a society of instant gratification…the what can you do for me now mentality.

      My buddy is not at all struggling financially, they are very much middle class. The three houses are a strange situation. They are all smaller houses. He owned one and his wife owned before they married. They rent them out now, but after paying the mortgage do not really make much money on them. They are investments for the future. In no way do GOP economic and tax policies benefit him. I think he understands that. In the end I think he will vote for the person who is least likely to raise his taxes. I think there is more too it than that, but I do understand it.

  9. Ahab from United States

    You don't sound alarmist. You sound like someone who sees the current political situation soberly and with clear eyes. People can't afford to be complacent with the Religious Right threatening progress. We must stand up to the Religious Right in whatever capacity we are able, be it through voting, volunteering, or donating to progressive organizations.


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