I’m not certain if this is true for other places with large middle-class populations, but in small, fairly well-off Penang, and possibly most of this country, there seems a wall of apathy raised in face of dehumanizing social issues.
People are always willing to dig into their pockets instead of engaging or involving themselves in any social or semi-political action demanding a step out of their comfort zones – staging peaceful protests, being seen at certain forums or events to publicly demand change, or urge authorities to action.
People seem unprepared to make a public stand or publicly show how they feel about something that doesn’t directly affect their lives, although it impacts the lives of others. It raises a question about the values they hold, their inability to sympathize with the suffering of others, or identify with those suffering widespread injustice. Ironically, the injustices may actually affect their own lives, yet they seem unwilling to openly admit the fact. Again, this apparent apathy may simply be put down to ignorance, lack of information, instinctive self-preservation, just a delusional ‘tidak apa’ (lackadaisical) attitude or any other reason occurring to them.
There are among us, those who think nothing bad will ever happen to them if they avoid ‘thinking’ about these things. The justification for this view could be, ” As long as I keep out of trouble’s way, trouble may not see me…” OK, toe the line, but don’t grumble when things don’t go the way you wish them to.
Some, jump on a bandwagon when they see a crowd going in a particular direction, if they think they’re in it for the experience, for kicks, the fun of it, or suddenly realize the urgency of the issue. It’s a mystery why the plight of others, even if they are the poorest, most powerless and vulnerable in society, seems not to move the main body of the middle-class. Privately, there is usually a lot of ” Oh, how terrible.”, “What can we do? Who are these people?” etc etc…that ultimately peter out with a sigh and is lost among other more immediate personal concerns.
So saying, a number of activists do arise from the educated and intellectual middle-classes; but that’s entirely another issue. There are many whose beginnings are humble and whose communities are directly affected by dehumanizing human rights violations, development projects, or social ills ignored by authorities with vested interests.
Even among the spectrum of non-government organizations, civil society groups, or other interest groups seeing themselves as stakeholders in the public interest, there is an underlying suspicion of the motive to act. But, act, they do, which is most important and desperately needed.
It is very puzzling (and annoying) when some member of the public, who can see what the issue is, points his/her apathetic finger at you indicating that ‘it is YOUR JOB (NOT THEIRS) to champion the underdog’. Their mere inquisitive presence serves to lend their support, which stops when they leave the site of the event. What they’re really saying is, “We’ll come for the ride, but you do the work and when all is well and right, we’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor.”
To yours truly, it is everybody’s responsibility to respond to realities around them especially when it impacts the most vulnerable in society.
In contrast to my rant about middle-class public apathy, here’s an interesting photo study of a campaign against sex trafficking of young girls and children in India. It is refreshing to see community participation in this emotionally moving effort by a young woman artist to raise awareness of the issue, pushing society to act against human trafficking in a unique way. See the link below.