On Awareness: A Diatribe

I was cruising around the blogdom (blogoshpere, blogoverse, what have you) and visited Bookninja – a great, topical place for writer/publisher/reader types. George, the site’s author, in his posting about the controversy surrounding book pricing in Canada [controversy summary: our dollar surpassed parity with the USD$ in August, and yet our sticker prices are still in line with our dollar being worth $0.85] began as follows…

The parity/book pricing issue is still making headlines, which probably means nothing else is wrong with the world. Glad to hear we cleared up that Darfur/rainforest/child sex trade mess. Just like acid rain and the impending nukular armageddon. Whew. Glad it’s over. Now, back to blindly consuming my way through life….

The point of his posting was about customers getting upset over the supposedly unfair pricing scheme, but I was caught off-guard at first by the bitter sarcasm of the opening paragraph. With no criticism directed towards George (because what I’ve excerpted above is just that – an excerpt – and is not his main point), there’s something about people taking a passive “high road”, even sarcastically, which drives me nuts.

How, pray tell, shall we “clear up” what’s happening in Darfur? Anyone got a quick-and-easy child sex trade disinfectant? It inadvertently highlights a problem that I’ve noticed: everyone seems to be aware of the world’s problems. Indeed, thanks to television, the internet, and various types of media, that whole AWARENESS thing has totally succeeded. It has succeeded in creating a society that is so self-satisfied to simply be aware of suffering – suffering-by-agency, if I may invent the next cycle of academic theses – that doing anything to help isn’t necessary anymore. It seems as if it’s enough nowadays to simply say: yeah, I know. And that’s the end of our moral responsibility.

In fact, I would wager that it’s probably harder to motivate people to get off their asses in support of a cause/belief now more than ever. Part of this has to do with the fact that people who are getting-by reasonably well – what used to be known as the middle class, but which is now becoming “the haves” (vs. the “have nots” who are working three part-time jobs and still flirt with the poverty line) – have absolutely no incentive to lift a finger to do anything. In the United States, as an example, the greatest thing George W. Bush did was to stay the hell away from drafting kids for Iraq – rather than seeing sons and daughters ripped away, like during Vietnam, we’re all comfy in our well-paying jobs, in our warm homes, with our new TVs, arguing about the relative strengths of Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD.

Our economic comforts make us lazy. They allow us to philosophize idly, without consequence. Nothing, save the economy itself, makes us worried anymore. Our perspective of the world becomes increasingly virtual; the suffering of others becomes something we hope TV and film celebrities, like Don Cheadle, can solve for us. We’re simply asked for money to donate – again, another passive gesture. Alms for the poor.

I don’t mean to critique anyone who’s got money, nor to cast aspersion on the efforts of anyone who’s trying to make a difference; I’m not trying to be a prole with a chip on his shoulder. I just turned 37 yesterday and this is the first year of my adult life where I haven’t had to worry about paying rent – and I like not having to worry about that. I’m just concerned about the lull of consumerism and the lack of ways for people to truly, as in dirt-under-your-fingernails truly, get involved and feel as if they’re making a difference in an immediate, non-virtual way.


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