Cycle of Apathy Must Be Broken

Samuel Ganten, Editor

Since the beginning of the idea of wealth, those who have had privilege have sought to separate themselves from those who have none. Now more than ever, their descendants are able to view the world and end this artificial separation. But by hyper-focusing on local and western-centric concerns, we ignore the big picture and perpetuate prejudice and intolerance.

Recently, we had an opportunity to observe this effect in action. On Monday, April 23, Alek Minassian ran over innocent civilians on a Toronto street. This tragic event caught the attention of Western media.  But what else was happening across the globe?

Imagine this: as people are registering to vote in the 2018 midterms, a suicide bomber kills 57 people. For Afghanis, as well as millions of other people, this is reality. But you didn’t hear about this- you heard about 10 people dying from a van attack in Toronto.

Events like this aren’t uncommon. The Washington post found in 2017 there was 22,487 terrorist attacks and 18,475 civilian fatalities. Most of these attacks were in Africa and the Middle East, with actors like ISIL and Boko Haram killing citizens of their own countries more often than not. The most reported incidents of the year, however, were the Barcelona truck attacks and the Manchester bombings.

I am not trying to delegitimize the experiences of those who have survived Western attacks. They have experienced trauma and suffering in ways that I cannot comprehend. Yet by exclusively focusing on their stories, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

Terrorism isn’t the only issue Western perspectives tend to skew. Whether it is communicable diseases, economic misery, food and water insecurity, war, or any other metric, the rest of the world holds a veritable monopoly on these problems while we sit detached from the world around us.

This conundrum poses 2 important problems to our society. Firstly, it ignores the role that members of the developed world have played in causing conflict. Secondly, ignoring these issues allows for them to appear in our own backyards.

Many issues present today that remain ignored by the general public are the result of 3 primary phases of European expansionism: Colonialism, Imperialism, and Neo-Colonialism. The 2 previous movements lacked subtlety; they used technological superiority and exploited local weaknesses to conquer land and settle people from their homelands. No matter what the justification was, it was always to gain resources, increase wealth, and achieve supremacy over other nations. Woe to the conquered, for their oppression knew no bounds.

The primary roots of the conflict and disaster that plague the world outside of the relatively peaceful confines of Europe, North America, Australasia, and Japan are the results of this. But our willingness to ignore this and a Euro-centric worldview paved the way for the Neo-Colonialism of the 20th and 21st centuries. It differs from the previous eras in 1 notable way; it only focuses on resource extraction rather than territorial expansionism via economic dominance.

One might say that since Campolindo is not directly connected to past genocides and conquests, these tragedies don’t wholly concern us. This may be true, but we, if not exactly endorsing such a system, are willing to tolerate the worst abuses of the system. We say to ourselves that this is terrible and intolerable, yet do not translate these thoughts into action, showing the destructive logic of insular thinking

What does this have to do with a terror attack in Canada? Our fixation on this story rather than a broad focus on all the nations and peoples of the world results in promoting structures of oppression. By willfully ignoring issues that are of great importance, apathy allows for policy makers to pursue policies that disenfranchise people for economic prosperity because there is no fear of backlash.

One might say that local issues are important to focus on because the members of a community are able to more easily access the information needed to participate in the decision making and can affect localized policy decisions better. But in today’s era, we have a multitude of resources to learn about the news of the world- now, ignorance is a choice. Beyond this, our democratic society allows us to change policy in significant ways by voting for people and policies that are best suited for our interests.

Every student at Campolindo is either able to vote or will be able to vote by the end of their high school career. Access to technology is ubiquitous as well as the education and support to utilize it. More than many, your participation and voices are able to combat systems of oppression and turn your votes into meaningful gestures.

Simply trusting a benevolent government to pay attention to threats in the world and respond appropriately hasn’t done us any favors. Apathy towards other problems leads to serial policy failure. But beyond this, our society has made the same mistakes regarding Russian aggression, the 2008 recession, and global warming. Each time we had the information to make different decisions, but chose not to use it. Even if these issues appear briefly in the national consciousness, they disappear only to be replaced by less important issues like how many scoops of ice cream the president has.

When these issues are ignored, they spiral until they become so big we cannot ignore them any more. Russia invades Georgia and Ukraine but when they influence our elections we care. Subprime mortgage lending drives up housing prices but when the market crashes because too many aren’t able to pay their mortgages we care. Species are dying and temperatures are rising, but only when San Francisco is underwater will we care.

To blame anyone for this phenomenon is ridiculous because we collectively hold responsibility for our bad decisions.

When your grades are sinking and you feel miserable every single day, it is understandable that other issues seem trivial or unimportant. But to ignore our common humanity in the face of unfathomable suffering is irresponsible at best. To reject self-interest and become a global citizen should be the ultimate goal of all. That 1st step starts with puncturing the bubble that surrounds us.

Knowing is half the battle. Becoming an informed person is the 1st step towards transcending the problems of our modern era and changing the world for the better.