Monday, 9 July 2012

So It Goes: Why Indifference can be a Positive Thing

You may well have heard the term 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. While there are a few interpretations of it's meaning, for me it says that being only vaguely informed on a certain issue is actually less helpful than knowing nothing at all. That, coupled with another saying - 'any idiot can have an opinion' - creates something akin to the society we have today. With constant ,speedy access to 24 hour news from all over the world it would seem to be safe to assume that everyone now has a greater knowledge of world events. It would seem however, that this is not true.

The title of this blog entry comes from Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five which is a satirical novel about World War II, and other things such as time travel and extra-terrestrial activity. The phrase 'So it goes' is used 106 times throughout the book to convey the passing of time, life or just to move the story on to the next section. After reading the novel, that phrase now sums up for me the whole meaning of the word 'indifference', and creates a feeling that goes further than the pejorative, rather off-hand definition of the word. To me, indifference can be seen as a positive thing because you are in a state of uncorrupted thought on a particular issue; which can then be built upon with proper knowledge and intelligent discussion. While in Slaughterhouse-Five it is often used to convey tragic irony or for comic effect; it is also used in a more positive light aswell.

Getting back to the main point, too many opinions these days are formed based on very little information. We are all guilty of this (including me), just watch an episode of BBC's Question Time to see what I mean. With the sheer amount of debates that go on on the TV, radio, internet and print media, it is hard not to have some sort of opinion on all the big stories of the time; infact we are almost pressured into it with the constant barrage of coverage. An interesting casing point is the conflict in Syria. Despite the fact that very little concrete evidence is known about either side of the disagreement; you are seen as some sort of fascist sympathiser if you do not denouce the current regime as evil. They may well be, but then again they may not be. This is not intended to be a controversial statement, but instead a demonstration of my point that we use very little firm knowledge to form damning opinions of others, policy ideas etc.

Linking into this is the subject of 'passion'. Another thing I have always though is that the more passionate one is about a particular subject, the less likely they are to be able to have a reasoned and rational discussion on the subject without resorting to emotional arguments (which, in my opinion, carry very little merit) or personal insults (which are totally unhelpful). This is why so many discussions on socal issues are sitting at stalemate and very little social progress is made. 'Controversial' topics such as abortion and gay marriage are destined to move forward very slowly despite the fact that the impact they have on people not directly involved is next to nothing. What effect does a same-sex couple getting married have on a straight person, or even a gay person who does not want to get married? The answer is absolutely none, but it greatly effects the same-sex couple who want to get married for the better which leads to a happier society overall. While this is a slight diversion from my main point on indifference, it highlights how indifference can actually lead to great social progression. I am 'indifferent' on the subject of gay marriage because it does not directly have any impact on me, but I can still make a sensible decision on the matter; and one which would greatly benefit many people in the country. Instead of this however, emotional arguments made by the anti-gay marriage brigade and the relative pragmatism of governments means that the arguments of the gay community fall on deaf or tired ears which only creates unhappiness for a fairly large section of society.

I am aware that this has turned into a rather long and convoluted 'discussion' on gay marriage, a topic which effects me very little, but I hope my point on indifference is clear if a little abstract. I think what I am trying to say is that emotion needs to be taken out of discussions so that rational and clear facts can be presented; and also governments and individuals need to think who is actually effected (and being against something in principle even though it effects you little, is not being 'effected') while discussing anything in the news. If just for once, someone sat down with a clear and indifferent head and looked at all the valid evidence, then maybe we would see better social progress in the world :)