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Commentary: Fight back with targeted apathy
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Commentary: Fight back with targeted apathy

It was pouring when I flew into JFK Airport the night of September 10, 2001; the freshly scrubbed sky would be a particularly brilliant blue the next morning. I woke up at 7 a.m. in my short-term Brooklyn sublet, jet-lagged and depressed. I was between apartments, between jobs, between girlfriends, and halfway through “The Elementary Particles.” Lacking a compelling reason to get out of bed, I decided to pick up where I’d left off. The protagonist had just reunited with his high school crush: “From the point of view of the good of the species, they were a couple of aging human beings of middling genetic value.” Classic Houellebecq! I made coffee, dozed off, and read some more. By 10:00, I finished it and thought a nap sounded good.

I forced myself to get some exercise instead. The municipal swimming pool one block over was less crowded than usual. The woman behind the desk told me the pool might be closing soon.

“Did something happen?”

She stared at me. “Did something happen?!? They blew up the World Trade Center! Leveled it! The Pentagon too!”

I slowly backed away, went to my apartment, and turned on the radio. Howard Stern was still broadcasting: “Drop the nuclear bomb on them!”

The attack on the World Trade Center happened five miles away from me, and I slept through it. I used to regret this, as if I’d shirked my duty to “bear witness” to this terrible event. But, really, what good would it have done? By that evening I’d watched the videos so many times it felt as if I’d been there. It certainly hadn’t taken me long to catch up to the fear, anger, and confusion everyone else was experiencing. It’s not as if I enjoyed my few hours of ignorance. My ambivalence and uncertainty about what I was doing with my life had already ratcheted up my personal threat level to red.

The truth is, I resented history’s intrusion into the short-sighted “hero’s journey” I understood myself to be on. I was here to “make it.” And while my definition of success remained vague, I knew it would require a certain amount of attention. Attention that now, thanks to Osama bin Laden and the thousands he murdered, was in shorter supply than ever. Also, I had recently turned 30. If Houellebecq’s dystopian downer had taught me anything, it was that this was older than I thought.

My selfishness emboldened me. There was no way I was leaving the city now. While others reacted to the stench of death in the air by settling down, I took it as a license to keep the party going. And I simply had no time for the “news,” whether it be hand-wringing about unprecedented vice presidential power or cynical, already-commercialized displays of “unity.”

My reasons may have been less than noble, but my instincts were correct. Through nobody’s fault but my own, my life was in a sorry state; I had no business worrying about the state of the world until I’d sorted myself out. And, in time, I did. When Donald Trump got elected, I was as shocked and dismayed as any lib but soon found I had a limited capacity to care. I had three children by then, and so it always seemed more urgent to attend to my own flaws and mistakes.

Cleaning up my mess made me more tolerant of others, and I began to wonder: was Orange Man really that bad after all?

Now it seems that many of my fellow Americans are embracing the powerful life hack I accidentally discovered. As Ryan Zickgraf recently wrote in “Compact”:

Everywhere in 2023, there are signs that the age of ‘hyperpolitics’ in America is drawing to a close—much to the chagrin of the political media-NGO-industrial complex. News consumption is down, political donations are dwindling, and yard signs are being shoved into attics. Likewise, Black Lives Matter (the organization) imploded, and hardly anyone noticed, and the Proud Boys are seemingly too busy not drinking Bud Light to rally.
Sounds great to me. Likening the Capitol riot to 9/11 always struck me as silly; the media has obviously been far more effective at weaponizing 1/6. Resisting begins with harnessing our apathy. Take it from me, it isn’t as hard as it looks.

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