Apathy: The American Hell

I don’t believe in hell, in the traditional sense.

We don’t need one. I think we condemn ourselves to something infinitely worse: apathy. The underlying anti-force that propels us toward meaninglessness, when we stop living and start merely existing.

I hate the words, “I don’t care.” I hate joking about how much you/we/I don’t care because this deadens us to the fact that we don’t care. 

I’m a big believer that humans are, by nature, creatures of meaning. I subscribe to Viktor Frankl‘s belief in a Will to Meaning…humankind lives for purpose. Otherwise he/she loses the will to live.

Frankl observed throughout his imprisonment in four WWII Nazi concentration camps that those most apt to survive weren’t necessarily the strongest and fittest but those with a reason to live. 

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl speaks repeatedly of the “existential vacuum” of modern society. This means that ever more people in our society see life as empty and meaningless, so they fill it with “stuff.” Possessions, pleasure, work, television, food, sex. Anything. These behaviors provide temporary distraction and some degree of satisfaction.

But isn’t there a difference between complacent, distracted satisfaction and true, long-term satisfaction? We can try to substitute “stuff” for meaning until the end of time, but nothing will stick. We will just have to fill it again. This is, I believe, why stats say that one in ten Americans  has a mood disorder. That one in four of our students fails to graduate four-year high school. That we eat to the point of obesity.

But where there is a hole, there is a way to fill it. I think everyone’s individual challenge is to discover how. Nothing external can cure apathy. The fire must light from within.

My cures lie in artistic creation, the search for truth, and, in an everyday sense, to stop concerning myself with me but rather to ask myself what others need to be happy. Chasing after one’s own happiness is a  spiritual paradox.

Complacency can only hurt you if it doesn’t bother you. If you’re cool with apathy, it has consumed you. If apathy bothers you, you can find a way home.

Viktor Frankl says this: “… (B)eing human is being responsible — existentially responsible, responsible for one’s own existence.”