Wednesday, January 25, 2006

On Postpathy: Apathy and Current Thought

Professor Dodd (my econ professor) said something interesting the other day. No, it wasn't "Markets function best when everyone acts in their own self-interest" (but he did say that! Ten points for Dodd!). Centuries ago, in Europe, people would sit around coffeehouses and discuss philosophical issues. Now, this is a well-known fact if you've read the Baroque Cycle (and the inherent connection to economics is immediately obvious). If not, then yes, Professor Dodd is right; people did do that. He continued with "Now we might think, why waste your time with that?" And because at this point I was already thinking about the Baroque Cycle, I started to think that popular topics of thought sure have changed over the years.

It's almost like popular thought has devolved from "We can know everything" (Enlightenment, and into Romanticism and Transcendentalism) to "We can't know everything with certainty" to "Why bother trying to know" (Nihilism) to "Huh? There was some guy who said we we can't know everything?" (Yes, there was some guy who said that. His name was Heisenberg. His Uncertainty Principle stated that it's impossible to know the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously. Scientifically, this meant that quantum applications were going to have severe limitations; on a broader philosophical scale, this seemed to imply that scientific knowledge had advanced to the point that nothing else could ever be learned with certainty. That human knowledge had progressed to its furthest absolute and everything else was only an untestable hypothesis.)

But I highly doubt the average person you talk to has any idea what Nihilism is. They only know that it expends way too much effort to actually think about things. If we're beyond the postmodern era, then we're into the "post-caring about anything" era. The Contemporary Postpathy, if you will. And it's more widespread than you might think. I blasted my alma mater, good Shiloh High School, for its studenty body's widespread lack of caring about anything. Now I realize that there are a lot of people in a lot of places who don't care about anything (and I was, to a certain extent, wrong about Shiloh. More on that later.) Some people would attack this apathy as an outgrowth of "consumerism" (a load of crap), some would see it as an extent of whatever sort of "social breakdown" they allege is going on in America (yeah, and there's evidence of that. Right.). I can't explain Postpathy. I can only observe that it's the trend in contemporary thought, and that it's not a promising trend.

And what have I observed? Well, you've got Leno's Jaywalking; Hannity has something similar that he calls Man on the Street. Basically, they demonstrate that most people do not know who the Vice President is, let alone the Secretary of State, the Speaker of the House, or anyone who actually makes decisions on a regular basis. There's a second problem, one that I see as more serious, that involves a lack of ability or willingness to think about higher-level matters. People don't have passion anymore; they don't care about ideas. And that's a shame.

1 comment:

Patrick Gribbins said...

Of course Leno and Hannity aren't exactly conducting sound scientific experiments here; they're in the business of "good" television and radio, which often equates to showing just how ignorant a person can be. Even though we don't get to see all the people interviewed who did answer correctly, however, I'm pretty sure that the ratio of uninformed to uniformed individuals is one bleak and ugly number. If Leno stopped smiling and said, "No, really, look at these statistics; this generation is really in the shitter," the audience might sober up and have a hard time laughing for the duration of the show. Whether or not Leno might say anything laugh-worthy would also be a factor, but that's beside the point.

Oh, after reading about this Postpathy of yours, I couldn't help but be reminded of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I wouldn't go so far as to say that censorship, flashy technology, and drugs are the causes of our peers' lack of thought, but the symptoms sure do look the same.