From an article in last week’s Economist about the general sentiment of Europeans toward the EU:
Nobody has a good word for apathy. Arnold Toynbee, a historian, thought it defined the penultimate stage of decadence. Civilisations proceed, he said, from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage. Apathy is also anti-democratic: democracy requires the informed consent of the governed, and will not last if voters can’t be bothered.
Although the article was written in reference to Europe, I couldn’t help but think about America’s history. Although much has changed for the better throughout our short 225-year history, my intuition tells me we are settling our large-waisted selves onto the sagging sofa of apathy, from which it is difficult to reach the generous bowl of chips and guacamole resting on the coffee table of abundance. In other words, I would pin our civilization somewhere between selfishness and apathy on Toynbee’s degenerative timeline.
It’s almost laughable to think that America in 2007 demonstrates, more than ever before, such socio-political virtues as courage, tenacity, humility, wisdom, and compassion. And strangely, this couch isn’t as comfortable as I first thought, but I’m too lazy to get up.
My second thought is the strange parade of celebrities who of late have made inexcusable and unquestionably racially insensitive remarks (I’m thinking of Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and now Don Imus) who have then, after profuse and sometimes ambiguously sincere apologies, are then pulverized by cultural leaders via media coverage. Interestingly, this particular trio comprises three white men. The race and gender of the offender, however, are irrelevant to the pattern.
I read these comments by various players on the Rutger’s basketball team on CNN.com.
- Don Imus “has stolen a moment of pure grace from us.”
- “We are highly angered at his remarks but deeply saddened with the racial characterization they entailed.”
- “We were stripped of this moment by degrading comments made by Mr. Imus last Wednesday. What hurts the most about this situation is that Mr. Imus knows not one of us personally.”
- We just hope to come to some type of understanding of what the remarks really entailed, his reasons why they were said.”
The strange thing to me is that these comments would seem appropriate if the offensive remarks came from someone close and well known. Is it unreasonable to suggest that one could just ignore rude and racist remarks? Is it true that responding with dignity rather than victimization (or not responding at all) would let the focus fall on the offender and his ignonimy? Is there any room to give a person the benefit of the doubt that his apology is sincere?
My favorite comment is the third. Why does the impersonal nature of their relationship lead to more and not less hurt?
Might I even suggest, without being accused of defending Mr Imus, that the reaction to this situation might be seen as more about punishment than reconciliation? To the women of the Rutgers basketball team, I say: Good work this season. You did well. And ignore the comments of those whose minds are smaller by far than your achievements.
My friend Ezer shared with me an article by Gwen Ifill in the NY Times today. I appreciated her perspective. A couple interesting things she wrote:
“I’ve been working in journalism long enough that there is little danger that a radio D.J.’s juvenile slap will define or scar me.” This is what I was getting at by ignoring the comments. Rise above them.
And secondly, “So here’s what this voice has to say for people who cannot grasp the notion of picking on people their own size: This country will only flourish once we consistently learn to applaud and encourage the young people who have to work harder just to achieve balance on the unequal playing field.” I think she’s right in implying that Imus isn’t picking on people his own size. The Rutgers girls stand far taller than he.