Forgive my American perspective. I live in America. So, what that means is that my perspective is infused with bits of history distorted by public education and television. It is also laced with nostalgia and stitched loosely together by threads of fragile mythologies which unravel at the slightest tug.
I grew up post US vs Them Americana into the new and improved national identity of me, me, me; a by-product of all of the wars following WWII. Vietnam, for instance, now a hub of cheap manufacturing and a burgeoning tourism industry, was once the bitter pill chased with the Civil Rights Movement that the average person knows virtually nothing about aside from what can be Googled. Those of us who were born in the 1960s were caught between the promise of a generation and the bender that kicked off the Age of Aquarius. Oh poor Generation X, beneficiaries of so much unfulfilled potential.
This too, it seems, will be our legacy.
Now, as the free lovers grapple with living on a fixed income for the rest of their lives we must be the adults; but, we are not like any adults I ever knew. No, we are Goldie Locks in the woods whining, “This one’s too hard! This one’s too soft!” playing the victim of bad policy and the unfairness of it all!
All things in moderation is sage advice to be sure, but be damned if you call yourself moderate in today’s world of fringe nutters who cannot comprehend that after they’ve gone left four times, they’ve gone in a circle (a square actually, but that’s pedantic). By the way, the same thing happens when you go right four times. Why must we keep circling back to reopen old war wounds?
Even though there are more people alive today than ever before who have the right to vote, we are left with a society seemingly okay with civic engagement being at an all time low. The top reason the average person gives for not voting? According to the U.S. Census Bureau we’re too busy. Busy doing what? I won’t dive too far into that pharma-vortex, but here’s an example:
Bob and Tammy are mortgaged out the wazoo. Their neighbors, Sam and Jenny drive a Lexus, actually two. Bob and Sam both have erectile dysfunction. Sam pays child support. Jenny pays a therapist. Tammy just buys shoes. These fictional characters may bear a striking resemblance to average people on a cul-de-sac near you.
In his book, The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer talks about “the rule of rescue” which research has shown prompts charitable giving. The rule of rescue, says Singer, is caused by “the identifiable victim effect.” This simply means that donors are more likely to contribute to save those with whom they can readily identify. Not-for-profit organizations know this and use it to their advantage when fundraising. That is why we hear about seven year-old Marta whose baby brother Sam was killed when their home was destroyed. Show Marta in the rubble that was once her home and you’ve got a picture worth a thousand dollars.
Singer’s book was required reading for one of my classes this past semester. I like it when professors use relevant materials other than textbooks, and this one was excellent. However, parts of it sent me into an internal dialogue that went something like this: “What’s that Lassie? Timmy has fallen down the well? Don’t you know there are people in the world who don’t have a well to fall into? Maybe Timmy needs to take this opportunity to realize how lucky he is to have a well!”
Yes, I was conflicted by the end of the semester. One of the many reasons I was relieved when it was over!
There are people who believe we should give ‘til it hurts, but people like me typically give what is tax deductible. Singer says that’s okay too. According to those who critique such things as other people’s personal choices, as long as we give, it doesn’t matter the motivation. Altruism, social pressure, legacy building, civic investment, tax deduction – all are good reasons for giving. Yet the person with precious little disposable income will give far more and more often than the average person. Why do you suppose it is that the average person can’t be bothered? Apathy or too many identifiable victims? To further investigate this question, my brilliant son suggests Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. (He has a copy you can borrow.) I’ll wait for it to come out on Netflix.
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11 thoughts on “Why The Average Person Can’t Be Bothered”
This was pretty thought-provoking. I freaking love classes that make you uncomfortable and force you to think about things as they are or as they should be. I miss those. I’ve been grappling with “giving” for quite a few years now. I want to “give” I want to “help”, but there’s that whole “can’t—not now” thing going on because…I’m bloody unemployed. But will I happily and easily give once I have a steady job? I hope so…
Hala J. I suspect you give in ways you don’t even realize. Time spent listening to a friend, a stranger even, being thoughtful enough to engage in dialogue with a person on the other side of the planet for example…yes, “giving” isn’t always about the money. I do hope you find the job you are looking for and that you don’t have to work too many of those “it’s a paycheck” ones before you can follow your passion.
Thought provoking post. It sounds as though you’re doing some critical thinking in class!
Yes, and it was starting to give me a headache. HA! Seriously, it was an intense class, required for my major. I think it should be required for all majors.
You brought up a lot of good questions and issues. No easy answers and I can understand why you were relieved to have the class end. Uncomfortable thinking is not an American, or maybe human, common trait.
Exactly, it was that uncomfortable thinking that challenged me the most last semester. These and other questions are the very reason I decided to go back to school.
I wonder how much the new idea of “giving” by sharing and liking non-profit pages results in actual results. Does that really make a difference? I’m not so sure. Besides I’d rather go volunteer in person and get my hands dirty(gardening) or keeping my hands busy helping.
Money, it turns out, is often a barrier to charitable giving for several different reasons. There are a lot of people who prefer to donate their time rather than write a check. Your question is a good one, and Singer refers to researchers making a sincere effort to determine the answer to the effectiveness question in his book. You may want to check it out.
I’ve ordered it at the library. Hopefully I can read it soon! 🙂
Well done. I love the too busy response. It would be so refreshing to hear people tell the truth instead – given my current priorities, your request doesn’t make the top 5,000.
Conflicting priorities, that is the most accurate response for just about any question involving human behavior.