Old folk at lunch

Thursday, February 9, 2006

On apathy



I was at university during the Vietnam war and the University of Queensland was as frantically antiwar as most universities were at that time. Like the USA, Australia both had conscription and had troops in Vietnam -- and the young treasures at university definitely did not want to get shot at. In such a climate, to be vocally pro-war was almost impossible (though I was) but one group of dissenters got around that by forming what they called "The Student Apathy Group" (SAG). Apathy was almost the only respectable way of dissenting from the prevalent Leftist line. Also studying at the time was a very good humoured Australian Army Major named Imre George Apathy -- of Hungarian origin and universally known as "Bob". When SAG heard that there was a real-life student Apathy on campus, they promptly made him their patron!

So I think it is clear that apathy can be useful at times. And it is in fact very prevalent. I was at a birthday BBQ recently with a small group of perfectly decent ordinary Australians where I supplied the sausages. At one point I said: "And you will be pleased to know that the sausages are halal" I got exactly the response I expected -- total incomprehension. I might as well have said that the sausages were "haram" (forbidden). It was just another indication that those of us who blog, read blogs or just keep up with current events are in fact well out of the mainstream. The average person is interested only in events that affect him or her directly and personally.

And I think that is a good thing. Australia has benefited greatly from economically rational economic policies introduced by both major political parties so Australians can afford to be apathetic. Whichever party gains power will almost certainly do a better job of managing the economy than do most of the world's governments. But apathy has its price. The U.S. economy is not as well managed as the Australian one -- witness the vast U.S. agricultural subsidies -- but Americans have a somewhat higher standard of living than Australians because they are so highly motivated and therefore work harder. By contrast, Australians would rather go to the beach most of the time. And they often do.

Footnote:

Yes. I did join the Australian Army (I became a sergeant) and I did volunteer for service in Vietnam. Incomprehensible, I know. Definitely not apathetic.

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