Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Shallow and Apathetic Times

By Harry Willson

JANUARY 24, 2000:  It is strange how often lately I have caught myself brushing one person or another off as "shallow." I keep running into people who are not interesting and who seem to be incapable of pursuing a matter to any depth. They simply allow the TV-sponsored conventional wisdom to be their accepted view. They are unwilling to question the motives or keep track of the past record of behavior of the people everybody is supposed to admire. They are incapable of calculating their own enlightened best interest, and they're not looking for help in that task, either. They are simply muddling through life, and are beyond being challenged to anything other than a passive role.

Emiliano Zapata's battle-cry strikes them as ridiculous. "Más vale morir a pie que vivir a rodillas." (It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.) But that cry is not ridiculous; it is plain truth. These shallow people would have been no help in the much-needed slave rebellion that Zapata wanted, and they will be undependable in the rebellion of the left-out people, which may or may not be pending here.

These are the people who buy lottery tickets, betting on 80 million-to-one odds rather than hard work and ambition to fund their retirements. These are the masses who believe what presidents and congresspersons say, who listen to the noise that nowadays passes for music, who shop obediently in malls, who eat and drink poison without questioning, who don't know and don't want to find out and don't want to be told what is really going on.

A very revealing clue turned up some years ago. A stock market gambler named Milliken was found out, exposed, tried, found guilty and punished. The general public was polled and a majority reported that they thought the punishment was too severe. When asked why, they replied with something like, "I want it to be legal for me to do what he did, when I get the chance." They intended to cheat, to take unfair advantage of others and to steal from them. They didn't want any legal hindrances to be in their way. This goes a little beyond "shallow," but shallow is where it begins.

The American public in general objects to any kind of organized public protest, in spite of an impressive tradition and the plain language allowing it -- even insisting on it -- in the founding documents of our country. This also can be traced back to shallowness. The Boston Tea Party would probably not occur now. The Bill of Rights would not pass in Congress nor in any state Legislature in these times. There would be no Civil War, beyond long distance bombardment, in our time, because not enough people could be persuaded that any of these issues mattered one bit: slavery, the Union, armed rebellion, civil rights, hunger, poisoning, or massive guinea pig-type testing on the uninformed.

Who cares? This people is not interested. This people prefers to drift, to muddle on without thinking, to remain stressed-out only by small personal matters, to seek personal relief through drugs, the worst of which are "legal."

An old Chinese greeting said, "May you live in interesting times." It was hard to be sure whether it was sincerely a case of well-wishing. Interesting times can be dangerous, or troublesome. The old Chinese definition of "crisis" was "dangerous opportunity." But we are living in shallow times.

Tom Paine declared that his times were "times that try men's souls." He may have overstated it. The issue when he wrote that, during the American Revolution, wasn't freedom or liberty or slavery or opportunity. The issue at the time of the American rebellion against the British Empire was, "To whom shall we pay the hated taxes?" Freedom had almost nothing to do with it. Yet people did become stirred up, and seriously.

The people of our time will not allow their souls to be tested or tried at all. But maybe it's not just the times that we live in that are shallow. Certainly we do live in "interesting times." The working out of the details of the advanced decadence of a collapsing civilization is interesting to any serious observer, even if aspects of it are dangerous. Yet the people are bored, desperately bored, and fat and hard to arouse. The attention span is short, and they are slow to anger, slow to care at all.

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