Apathy is a privilege

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 7, 2018, 11:30 PM | comments: 0

I made the mistake of looking at Twitter today, because on occasion I see interesting things about musical theater stuff or software development that's interesting. But these worlds don't all live in isolation, and of course politics bleed in. A software guy asserted that losing friends over politics means they weren't really your friends because politics "ain't that important."

I find that to be a wholly stupid view of the world.

Politics in America have the strange distinction of being both the reason and solution for our worst attributes. For example, politics both codified and eliminated Jim Crow laws. That it can change at all is likely the reason we've managed to keep the nation going at all, because without that hope that it's possible to change the things that are wrong, we wouldn't make it.

Generally, I hate the term "privilege" because it has been co-opted to trivialize any kind of achievement. Like, I may achieve milestones in my career, and some will use that term to imply that it was easy because I didn't have the obstacles that a person of color would have. It wasn't easy, it just wasn't made harder by a lack of whiteness. I wasn't entitled to reach those milestones. Regardless, privilege is absolutely the notion that you can be apathetic toward politics because you don't have anything at stake. The wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., explains it best in the Birmingham jail letter:

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

That last part is really important. Out of concern for other humans, it's important not to be complicit in their harm.


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