Friday, July 06, 2007

Do we really care?

(I think this is would be a depressing article to some people, although I don't think so myself.)

So do we really care?

Care about what? the environment? extreme poverty in third world countries? human rights violation? child soldiers? For sure you care about these issues, I mean, who doesn't?

I hate to say this out loud, but I think we are not being as honest and virtuous as we believe.
The fact is that we honestly do not care about a lot of things we say we do.

This is not an attempt to raise awareness or encourage people to care more, nor is it a cynical expression of frustration. Instead I am trying to make a point as truthfully as I can. I think it is quite logical that we do not care about many of these issues as human beings, despite our moral believes.

Our indifference comes with good reasons, I should add. This is not to say that we are all cold-hearted egocentric bastards, but we are human beings who act according to a set of incentives and disincentives derived from our physical and emotional needs. Perhaps the real question is: why do we care about issues that do not concern us?

Some say that the source of apathy is industrialization, but I think it merely changes the scope of our relationships. As the population move into the cities, the close personal bonds between community members are weakened. People care less about their neighbors if know them at all. In an industrialized society, most people receive salary and depend on government assistance if unemployed. Nowadays, our social circle shrinks to only close family members, friends, and colleagues. In the past, we have personal connections with community members partly due to economic reality. In agriculture based societies, strong relationship is essential because of the need for collaboration and mutual assistance during difficult times. That being said, I don't think people from the past would care about civil wars in other countries more than we do now.

Our moral value tells us that we should care about these issues, but at the same time we do not want to face the costs. Compassion for the less fortunate is deeply entrenched in our belief system to the extent that deviation would provoke a sense of guilt. It is simply morally unacceptable to say that we don't care about the misfortune of others in our liberal society. While it feels good to think that we are responsible global citizens who are aware of and care about these problems, the costs of acting upon are higher than most of us are willing to accept.

How many of us actually spend time on causes we believe in? Have you ever volunteered for Amnesty International? Oxfam? Unicef? Ever written a letter to your politician? Let's put aside the effectiveness of donations, but have you ever made donation of any form to support issues you are concerned with? I've never done many of the things I just mentioned, and I am learning to live with it or do something about it.

It's hard to admit our indifference in many issues because it's an internal struggle between who we are and who we think we are. Perhaps this is why we usually pretend that we do not see fund raising volunteers on sidewalks. All the facts force us to look at our values against the costs. As much as we are unwilling to accept, the well being or lifes of others sometimes worth less than $10 or $20 a month to us. So the best way to avoid this internal confrontation is to look away.

What really bugs me is how hypocritical we are. I hate those who talks like a saint but acts as a sinner. This disparity is most evidently presented on environmental issues. If you don't recycle, save energy, or cut down driving, don't say that you care about the environment. If you are unwilling to donate money to any organization, think twice before you say you are a responsible global citizen, because it is the least you can do. I mean, keep it real man. If you say that you care, do something. Conversely, if you do nothing, be honest enough to admit that you don't care.

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