Indifference, by Gaither Stewart


Image by Justin Norman via Flickr

by Gaither Stewart
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rome, Italy
September 14, 2016

Indifference is an American-European story. As French chansonnier Serge Gainsbourg sang of his love for Brigitte Bardot: “What does the weather matter, what matters the wind? Better your absence than your indifference.” Or Gilbert Bécaud: “Indifference kills with small blows.” The indifference of one person to the other in a dwindling love affair is emblematic of the terrible impact of indifference in any field at all.

Of the murderous twentieth century, Niemöller wrote that indifference means ‘no difference’. There is no conceivable philosophy of indifference, so apparently lacking in principles. Or response. Like disengagement, indifference cannot possibly be seen as a virtue. Indifference shows no aspirations of goodness. Indifference is the destroyer of whole societies, most evident in the United States of America today. Indifference is an unnatural state in which the lines between good and evil blur and fade away. At times indifference is also seductive, a cherished refuge. For it is easier to look away from victims, close our eyes to torture and social injustice. No desire to weep and curse about the destiny of others. Nonetheless, indifference to suffering is inhuman. Even more dangerous than hatred. It happens that someone performs a great action for the sake of one individual or even for the sake of humanity as a whole; indifference however can never be creative in that manner. Indifference is instead a non-response. And on the other hand it benefits aggressors of all sorts and on all levels hammering at the gates.

Inhuman as it is, indifference to suffering is bearable only as long as the suffering is invisible. The widespread apparent indifference to war is in fact on such a high level as to fall into another category: indifference to war might be called inhuman were it not for the enthusiastic way humans not only condone but participate in it. In these times in Europe and the United States where information abounds, we have to call conscious indifference to war and injustice, and also its brother ‘indifference to indifference’, criminal and evil.

Inactive indifference is the opposite of active resistance. The battle between indifference on the one hand and resistance on the other is continual. The individual must resist being possessed by indifference. The individual’s value is proportional to the battle one puts up against indifference. For there does exist something outside of us despite certain idealistic philosophy according to which nothing exists outside of us. For indifference appears in all places and at all times about every subject that has no direct bearing on one’s own little life.

Here is a short list of obvious forms and objects of indifference:

Indifference! It doesn’t matter.

Indifference to the abyss between rich and poor.

Indifference to the true value of labor.

Indifference about a truly free press.

Indifference to public corruption.

Indifference to violence against women.

Indifference to man’s mistreatment of animals.

Indifference about arms controls.

Indifference to the fraud of citizens by governments.

Indifference about national health care.

Indifference to capital punishment.

Indifference to bombing the others from the stratosphere.

Indifference to global warming.

Indifference about war.

Indifference about indifference.

What then is the problem? How can we account for the victory of conscious cultivated indifference to matters of life and death? First of all: The fundamental problem in our times is the very nature of bourgeois capitalism and the dominant role of the capitalist bourgeoisie. Working people and intellectuals hovering around the fringes of the bourgeois world are potential instruments for dissecting, analyzing and changing that world; but as a rule the working class only yearns for the Eden of the bourgeoisie.

Meanwhile intellectuals within that milieu either adapt or suffer in their splendid alienation, torn and drawn first in one direction, then the other. Many European intellectuals consider themselves the standard bearers of the authentic bourgeois class, seen in moral terms and not economic, some still linked to the idea of social revolution reaching back to the era that culminated in the Russian Revolution. For that reason and infected by a sense of self-depreciation for the havoc and carnage of two world wars they had wrought, bourgeois intellectuals in post-World War II Europe searching for rescue gravitated toward Communism and embraced with enthusiasm renewed unity with the working class. The result was a wondrous force leading to the formation of huge Communist parties also in West European countries as in Italy, France and Spain in a spirit of resistance against the indifference that had infected fascistic Europe in the 1930s leading to WWII. For a time a glorious future seemed to be emerging from the useless destruction of the partial continent. But moment by moment they gave up; the required sacrifices were too much for them. In the long run, intellectuals-liberals proved to be a Trojan horse inside post-war European Communism, recalling the betrayal of German Social Democrats on the eve of World War I: Liberal intellectuals followed NATO Europe, while the working class was gradually seduced by the fraudulent flawed American dream. The effect for Europe was calamitous.

Nevertheless, that socialist strain remains a great divide separating the European working class and its intellectuals from their respective American cousins. The two similar classes—the bourgeoisie and the Middle Class are however not the same thing. Nor are their intellectuals the same. Their histories are as different as are their particularities and today the abyss separating them on many universal issues is widening.

Although the European bourgeoisie and its intellectuals and the American Middle Class and its intellectuals are united by their roles in society, those same histories and particularities create misunderstandings between them. American society itself is much more isolated than Europeans in general, due also to the ubiquitous nationalism and rampant immoral neo-imperialism, especially since September 11, 2001. Only a tiny minority in American society seems genuinely conscious of the others in the world today, a world peopled by foreign devils they do not even know or care to know. Their indifference is directly linked to that twisted ignorance so devoid of grandness and depth, and therefore the extremely critically dangerous aspect of U.S. foreign policy of uncontrolled imperialism. Society seems unaware of, or is simply unconcerned about events in those faraway vague and hazy places, with the result that if indifference is a quality, American indifference, as Niemöller could have warned, can destroy the world.

Even though sick with Eurocentrism and indifference to the rest, European society, because of its history and geography European society is (hopefully) becoming vaguely aware of the reality that also they are the others, and must somehow, someday deal with strutting and clattering, unending U.S. imperialism today more than ever before sharpened by its drive for hegemony based on a hubristic conviction of America’s Exceptionalism.

Crossposted at The Greanville Post

Gaither Stewart is a Writer on Dandelion Salad and Senior Editor and Rome-based European correspondent of The Greanville Post. A veteran journalist and essayist on a broad palette of topics from culture to history and politics, he is also the author of the Europe Trilogy, celebrated spy thrillers whose latest volume, Time of Exile, was recently published by Punto Press.

From the archives:

Loyalty by Gaither Stewart

Innocence by Gaither Stewart

Abby Martin: Rejecting Neoliberalism and Imperialism

Chris Hedges: The Destructive Ideology of Capitalism

Marxism in Noir By Alan Wald

Russian Intellectuals and the Intelligentsia by Gaither Stewart

12 thoughts on “Indifference, by Gaither Stewart

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  5. Volunteerism is fine and noble. But like protest marches and placards it is insufficient to bring about the radical change needed. Nor can we just see to it that the soup kitchen is open and be unconcerned about events in the next town, or state, or country. What to do? has always been the question of questions.

    • thanks for your comment but may I say this : I live this relentless volunteerism 24/7. it is not just fine and optional . it is survival of the species . Kropotkin calls it mutual aid .

      without the homeless shelters here we run people would FREEZE TO DEATH .

      with food stamps being cut off people on the street would starve . without prison reform we are all sunk because it effects EVERYTHING .

      relentless volunteerism is all out war against the number one problem in our society – Apathy . it ups the game . it is contagious . it saves lives . it is the great preserver of civilizations and without the word civil , civilization is not a word .

      should one be involved in politics ? sure . but first if you don’t have the infrastructure of relentless volunteerism firmly in place , politics will crush a community . why ? because it changes like the wind . I been in this fight for 4 decades of volunteerism and I worked for three campaigns for Ralph Nader for president .

  6. The kind of volunteerism that challenges the status quo is the only waynt challenge institutional indifference. Anything else just serves to maintain things as they are.

  7. Volunteerism deals with the local problems, but takes the system off the hook. But better to do something than wallow in isolation.

    Even simple things like getting those in power in an otherwise progressive city like Georgetown Texas to admit the effects of the Lost Cause and put our Confederate statue in perspective is enervating.

    • EVERYTHING IS LOCAL . think locally and act locally .

      if we can’t take care of those in our own back yard , our so called concern for the globe remains in the abstract .

      I personally don’t care what flag people fly in Texas . I don’t live there . my job is to make sure nobody freezes to death here and that the soup kitchen is open every night and that prisoners get visited to know they are loved .

  8. that is in the macro sense of the word . there is the micro world of indifference that each individual has to watch out for . the macro is only the culmination of the micro .

    indifference is based on the four point Stoic doctrine called Apathia . Mix that with the American Jesus which is the opposite of real Christ of the gospels . Throw in the violence of the American Revolution and you have a toxic mobster cocktail mix of the sins of omission giving birth to tyranny over others .

    How is this combated? what is the antidote ? RELENTLESS VOLUNTEERISM !!!!! cosmic patriotism . preservation of sentient beings .

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