The Age of Apathy?


What are the consequences of a capitalistic society on human relationships? What are the effects of a competitive mindset on human connection? What has this perpetually-in-motion, none-of-my-business culture of ours done to the human soul?

There is a video on YouTube, of the social experiment variety, titled “The Freezing Homeless Child.” Depicted in the video is a young boy wearing tattered clothing, planted on the street by the creators of the experiment. The objective is to gauge the reactions of the passersby when confronted with very conspicuous poverty. The conditions are all of those that would hypothetically elicit a strong emotional response: this is a white child dressed in rags, appearing hungry in freezing weather. One would expect that he will be approached by maybe five people, asking questions about his welfare, his family, does he have any relatives, etc., and they would try to help him, in some way. It would be assumed that at the very least, he will be given money, because how could anyone with a heart see a starving homeless child and not make any advances of assistance towards them? This is not the case. In fact the exact opposite happens. That child stands on the pavement with only a plastic trash bag for protection against the elements for hours, in plain view, and not a single person even approaches him. Many cast a glance in his direction and move on, apparently not even being able to spare some coins in this busy and very crowded shopping area. One person even stares at him for a while, and then, seemingly bored with the affair, shrugs and walks away. It is only after another actually homeless man reaches out to him that the people on the sidewalk take interest.

Not only is this video on YouTube simultaneously enraging, disappointing and very, very saddening, it also speaks volumes of the social mores of 21st century society. We have evolved to the point of not caring about things outside our sphere of influence. To put it more crassly, if it isn’t about something that directly concerns us, then we do not give a damn. It is not an anomaly to hear often privileged and


wealthy people speak badly about the poor. Why do we think this way? What engendered such a profound and profoundly extensive apathy? While there are innumerous answers to that extremely broad question, one of the problems is that we’ve been raised to see each other as essentially competitors in a dog-eat-dog society. While this tension is not overt, it certainly exists and influences the way we interact with people, especially strangers. Another issue is that we’ve adopted this culture of “it’s none of my business,” or, “that’s not my problem.” Other people’s struggles are viewed as so much of a hassle that they are not even acknowledged.

It was truly stunning, to watch as scores and scores of people ignored that child on the sidewalk. You kept expecting someone, anyone, to stop and help him. When no one does, you feel deep surprise, anger or melancholic awe. It makes one wonder about the future for us as human beings. It makes one wonder when we came to be so soulless.



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