Friday, March 07, 2003

The Price of Vigilance

Last night I had an interesting conversation with a man who recently moved from to New York to Chicago in search of brighter prospects. He talked about how he lost his job seven weeks after September 11 and as his options become fewer and the drumbeats for war get louder and louder, he finds himself stuck on the idea that he must get a job "before the bombs start falling."

One of things that he said that really struck me was that he hadn't wanted to care about this war but he was forced to care about it, not merely because the topic has swallowed up media discourse like a relentless anaconda, but because his sense of logic won't let him ignore the absurdity of what is being done and said. I went home with these words tumbling round my head to turn on the TV and watch that farce of a press conference.

I think about this because it has recently dawned on me that apathy is a luxury that no-one, pro-war, anti-war, conservative or liberal, employed or unemployed, can afford anymore. Contentment, completeness, pre-occupation with the self-absorbed routine of living a life, all the little selfish vices that inevitably proliferate during times of peace and prosperity no longer exist for too many of us. For those of us who are safely employed, with no loved ones in danger of being shipped overseas, who have never given much thought to foreign affairs one way or another, we find ourselves wondering why this matters all of a sudden, and what has changed to make us all so uncomfortably aware of what we think. Let's face it; it hurts to care. It hurts to have your eyes constantly open, and to be always listening, and waiting, and turning the same thoughts over in your head. If the lights are always on you never sleep.

But I don't think we can turn them off. Not for the obvious reasons, the threat of terror or whatnot. But because the connectedness of things, the economy, terrorism, the war, the state of the world in general, has become so direct, so obvious that even if you are able to shut out the world and go on with your life, pretty soon the reality of what is going on comes crashing in to destroy the remains of your illusions. When you refill your gas tank, or fly in a plane, or check out a library book, or take a phone survey, or watch TV it ways of seeping in and infecting you with an uncomfortable suspicion that, Fuck, this does matter after all.

As someone who usually decries apathy and selfishness, it feels odd to lament their loss. But those are the things that are as much apart of being human as are altruism, empathy, and compassion. They protect us from the anguish that all is not right, and comfortable, and prosperous, and that there is only so much we can do. They protect us from searing truths that, while necessary, can destroy our sense of self. They allow us darkness and silence and sleep. So I thinks it's okay for me to say being liberal, ant-war, and employed, that I miss not caring and ignoring and tuning out, because benign apathy is only possible when one is not angry or worried or afraid. And I miss being happy and confident and fearless.

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