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Guestwords: American Apathy

Wed, 03/13/2024 - 17:14

Since 9/11 I’ve observed a slow but steady increase in complacency, apathy, and selfishness in America, causing many to become disengaged from issues facing our nation and the world, and blind to the powerful, soulless forces that manipulate our elected officials.

Many Americans let government and big businesses do as they please, content as long as their myopic world remains reasonably comfortable and appears secure. Few Americans appear to stand on principle or righteousness.

How many Americans gave up their iPhones when it was proven that Apple was intentionally slowing down older phones as a means of getting consumers to buy new ones?

How many Americans left Facebook when it was revealed the company was selling confidential member information to third parties?

How many Americans watch golf tournaments run by or hosted by nations with atrocious human rights records?

How many Americans know much, if anything, or care about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a long-term American resident, or Shireen Abu Akleh, a U.S. citizen, both journalists? Each is believed to have been assassinated by a foreign country, Saudi Arabia and Israel, respectively, because of their criticisms of those nations.

How many Americans hold their elected officials, the ones they voted for, to their campaign promises?

American apathy has given unprecedented license to Washington politicians to sell out our democracy and our national morality to the highest bidder while we’re distracted by partisan politics and social media.

Nothing illustrates our apathy better than the brazen genocide unfolding in Gaza for all the world to see. The U.S. not only supports it, we as taxpayers finance it. And the U.S. is probably the only nation that can single-handedly put a stop to it.

Few Americans question why we almost never hear the Palestinian side and why we never get Palestinian reports from the ground. Few wonder why the 16-year Israeli blockade of Gaza by air, sea, and land is rarely, if ever, mentioned, a blockade that has created deplorable living conditions in Gaza for almost two decades and likely precipitated the Hamas attack in October.

Few wonder why we stand virtually alone in the world community. A recent vote in the United Nations General Assembly speaks of our isolation when 153 nations voted for a “humanitarian truce” with only 10 voting against it, including Israel and the U.S. The other dissenters, a mix of relatively inconsequential sycophants, were Austria, Czechia, Guatemala, Liberia, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and Paraguay. Not exactly the dream team of allies.

A 2016 Forbes article, “Why We Fail to See What’s in Plain Sight,” may help explain what’s going on today. It notes that a behavior the author calls “availability bias” causes people to give “greater credence to information that is commonly held by a greater number of people in a group, even when the information is all from a single source.” In this case that would be the Israeli government.

The article further explains that our ability to “make informed choices diminishes when we are exhausted. That fatigue can prevent us from being attuned to key pieces of information.” Sept. 11, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol may have caused such exhaustion.

But our woes aren’t caused exclusively by blind spots. As the U.S. and its allies increasingly conduct warfare remotely with long-range missiles and drones, American casualties have become more tolerable, even acceptable. We don’t see the volume of flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base as we once did. And it’s not accidental that our battlefield enemies are almost always weak and impoverished people with limited means of fighting back or being heard.

Americans rarely see the gruesome realities of such warfare on the nightly news. The type of images of human suffering that helped end the Vietnam War are carefully censored by restricting the media from war zones. Regardless, as of Feb. 29, 94 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. War as seen by the public is sanitized and censored at all costs. As a result, Americans are becoming increasingly pacified, disconnected, and dispassionate.

Persuasive public relations and manipulation of information allow the innocent to be deemed the demons to justify the killing. But how much killing of civilians, predominantly women and children, is considered acceptable to our country? Have we lost our sense of empathy and compassion? Has the average citizen invested even a fraction of the daily time spent chatting by phone or texting or on social media, and invested that time getting better informed on the subject by hearing both sides of the dispute? You don’t have to be a scholar, simply observe, think, and question. Don’t we all owe that to our fellow human beings?

This is not the time to bury our heads in the sand or in our electronic devices. It’s time to open our minds beyond the sound bites, political rhetoric, and sensationalism, and stand for something honorable.

Unless the public wakes up soon, we’re going to lose our moral compass and find ourselves adrift in a darkness never to return to the place we once knew and loved — a place we took for granted.

Jeff Gewert is a contributor to USA Today, The New York Times, and Hearst Media newspapers. A retired video writer, producer, and director, he lives in Montauk.

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