Apathy as self defense
In today’s ultra-capitalist society, where the individualist mandate takes precedence over a sense of community, to not feel, to not have regards for one’s fellow human beings- it has almost become an advantage, a personality trait many desire and one that is rewarded in the form of greater success in the workplace.
I am not talking about expressions of disregard or contempt toward others, but what I am trying to say here is that, the 'smart' apathetic person, who doesn’t wear his apathy on his sleeve, but instead wears many masks at different times and spaces, seems to have an ultra effective defense mechanism that many others don’t.
The thing about apathy (I will use the term here to refer to a lack of regard for others) being a 'beneficial' personality trait is not surprising at all, given the current climate of hyper-capitalism. The mandate of capitalism is ultimately profit maximization, profit maximization for the individual and the corporations and institutions. Given this tendency, one can easily understand why putting one’s needs above others, often at the expense of the others, comes in handy. Those who prescribe to this individualist, capitalist philosophy of 'profit-rules-all', I believe, will always tend to be on the apathetic side.
You might think - 'of course, I can spot an apathetic person and of course most can and hence they will most likely not be liked by many within society and indeed may not be that successful in life'. I beg to differ however. These people are master manipulators, almost to a sociopathic degree. They are extremely gifted at understanding what it is that people need. If they need something from you, they will probe into your very essence and find out what is missing. And this is the crucial point to grasp. We all have needs. If your innate and fundamental psychological needs as a human being are not being adequately met in your life then, unless you understand what is happening and respond appropriately, you will latch on to any source that appears to satisfy these needs. The supremely apathetic give you what you need and once you have been utilized, they will view you as disposable (provided they do not think that you might come in handy again.)
If we move into the realm of pop culture (pop culture is an important reflection of the times we live in) we can see many instances where apathy gets people what they want. The movie “Nightcrawler,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed is the perfect example of what this article is trying to say. The main character Gyllenhaal is a highly motivated video journalist who only covers accident scenes. This is a type of job not many can handle as you constantly have to deal with very disturbing scenes. But Gyllenhaal seems to find joy in it, in fact revel in it. The station he works for rewards him for his “quality” material which are often recorded using less than legal means. Gyllenhaal, tempted by lust for his female boss, proposes her the exclusive rights to his materials in exchange for sex. In one scene when a character say to him “You filmed him dying”, Gyllenhaal's character Lou replies: “That's my job, that's what I do, I'd like to think if you're seeing me you're having the worst day of your life.” That is the extent of his lack of concern.
Now, let’s talk about politicians. Do you think anyone can just, with a few commands, send drones to kill targets? I get that they may be targets who pose national security threats to their country but time and time again it has been proven that these politicians do not particularly care for civilian casualties when making these decisions. Just think about India and China’s reaction to the Rohingya crisis. They are siding with Myanmar just because they have national interests in the Rakhine state and it would serve their purpose to have the Rohingyas displaced from their homes. The kind of people that can support a genocide of a people, an ethnic cleansing- I would most definitely brand them as being on the psychopathic spectrum.
There are an abundance of people around us who are not just apathetic but almost sociopathic. The reason they thrive is because of the prevailing world system rewards this behaviour. Many people ascribe to be like these non-feeling supposed humans. In fact, the pharmaceutical industry is make quite a buck nowadays overselling “happy pills” and in the process, contributing to making this world that much more devoid of compassion for the fellow beings and regard for others.