Struggling Against Personal Apathy

Sometimes, it’s a struggle to fight apathy. Particularly when confronting bleak aspects of the world.

I am in the perfect position to be working on subjects of great import to me, but I find myself struggling with apathy again. I had hoped that I would no longer suffer this stupid problem but here I am, facing it again, and with no rational sense of why. Sometimes, I really don’t understand myself. I despise this self-defeating procrastination.

Perhaps it is atelophobia, that is, the fear of lacking perfection. I definitely had this problem and never properly recognized it until very recently. Maybe it’s the lack of ever following deadlines, maybe it’s this terrible nihilistic concept of how – within the grand scheme of cosmic life – it just doesn’t matter what I do, and maybe it’s the fact I always hate myself for being lazy. I had assumed punishing oneself for laziness was a positive reinforcement, yet according to Kelly McGonigal’s book “The Willpower Instinct”, this is not so. In fact, it’s utterly detrimental and it’s actually better to forgive oneself.

Unlike what most people boast, I have read through a good amount of positive psychology books on getting work done, but I always seem to fail to follow through. I’m always lacking in the step that requires self-monitoring and then the apathy sets in. Oftentimes, I just don’t feel enough to care. The apathy first began with a moral quandary, then acknowledgement over a reality that I didn’t quite like, and then wondering whether life had any significance in the grand scheme of the universe’s life cycle and the heat death of the universe.

I had been struggling with depression throughout my grade school life from fifth grade onto my early college years. The best way to describe the feeling was a detached sense of reality and lack of seeing value in what I felt were trivial and boring aspects of life. Classes, in particular, were of no value to me until I began college and could choose what I wanted. Choice, therefore, was empowering and I hadn’t been able to handle that freedom at first since it felt like every aspect of my life was decided for me. Particularly because my parents kept hounding me about how I could end-up going to juvenile prison if I didn’t strictly listen to them. A ridiculous argument born out of fear and paranoia from the national news and my father’s job, I had never once committed a crime or even attempted anything of the sort. I was always an attentive student and the only real problems were lack of self-respect and inability to deal with failure. My parents are great for financial support, but they’re damn stupid with dealing with anything related to either difficulty or empathizing with people outside of their own paranoid worldview. Admittedly, I probably have aspects of their personality, or perhaps the whole personality, and just don’t recognize it. But, to be perfectly frank, I really despise this part of my life and these tendencies of both my parents. The high school wasn’t all that different either. The high school was either extremely strict or extremely lax in administering regulations and there was never a sensible middle ground. Fights would break out practically every week during my Junior year in high school, the graduation ended in a massive fight with eight police cars coming in to stop the mass violence (at least, by my count before I left), and I was never able to express myself without scorn or derision or paranoia by the faculty when trying to convince them that I wasn’t going to harm people in the school.

I had written an essay related to a scholarship I had hoped to win. Participating in the essay ended-up being one of the worst decisions of my life. After 3 months with no answer, I suddenly got a response 3 days after the Virginia Tech massacre. It came as a shock to the faculty during an emergency conference about an essay that I wrote in which they learned that someone of my skin pigmentation wasn’t a Muslim. This only helped bolster the racism of my classmates who were quick to perceive me as crazy as the essay I had written for a scholarship somehow became public knowledge within the school the very next day after the emergency meeting. As for the reason this fiasco began regarding the material in the essay? I said I was justified in hating members of the faculty for being incompetent. Now, during my high school years, I had been taught and led to believe that rules were the cornerstone of decision-making in a very advanced social process. However, these schisms and general stupidity in rule implementation throughout high school made me believe, at the time, that people in power were the only determinants of the rule-making. And for a so-called democracy, the school system of the US school I went to felt fairly authoritarian in both its theoretical reasoning and practice. Amazingly enough, in college, it was basically confirmed by a few professors that college is for those who are meant to think in a society while grade school is only meant to teach the history of a country and nothing else.

This was one of the influences for a moral quandary that I had realized. I’ve since realized the problem as a result of operant behavior within animals in general and thus a flaw, if one can even call it that, within humans. We humans have a tendency to ignore and to not perceive the tragedies within foreign countries as real. This has been somewhat lessened in influence as a result of social media, but the problem persists because, for the most part, people just pay attention to the general town that they live in and nothing else. They hold psychological biases for their in-group, in this case their country, and don’t perceive the lives of people in foreign countries as having equal value to those among their own populace. The in-group/out-group issue can serve dehumanization campaigns even of people that we do meet day-to-day, such as the current stigma against Muslims and people of Hispanic descent within the US. As I studied more political psychology, I learned the reasons why this was and I realized I couldn’t put my expectations on the general populace to simply “know better” or be knowledgeable as I am in consideration of these pertinent moral and ethical questions. That may sound patronizing but I say that simply because they honestly have no interest in such questions. Admittedly, my reasoning could be little more than pop philosophy but I try to include my readings of psychology in my examination of this geographic fact of life regarding human apathy for those who live outside one’s borders.

The most pertinent reason for my apathy, especially for all of 2013 where I could hardly bring myself to do much of anything, was the issue of drone strikes. I had happened to come upon a video of bombings thanks to Youtube’s recommendations list as a result of watching Chomsky and Chris Hedges videos. I had clicked it not fully knowing what it was and saw a collection of real life bombings caught on camera. For the following months, I woke-up with horrible migraines, chest pain, sometimes I felt like it was hard to breathe, and I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I had been misled into believing that those bombings were drone strike videos but that wasn’t the case. It was just videos of . . .  typical bombings in different parts of the Middle East. The first time seeing them brought on a sense of overwhelming anger, hate, loathing, and revulsion. The chief emotion that kept wracking me was guilt. I realized whenever someone pays taxes, they pay into that horrific act of destruction and mass death of civilians. I tried discussing this on various forums, not knowing how else to handle it and not wanting to burden my family with it, and I mostly got shut out of various forums. In retrospect, I should have realized that would be the case. However, discussion without any videos on forums which I had never linked such content was also shut out as “trolling” because the lives of people overseas just didn’t matter to the typical US citizen. A harsh truth, but one I continued to observe whenever trying to form a serious discussion over such issues. Whenever serious discussion was met, people would either jeer at me for having compassion for people overseas or they would say that it had nothing to do with them; this is despite the fact that we recognize we’re living in an elected government by the people. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of people don’t care about foreign policy or just what the US actually does overseas to other countries. It doesn’t register into their radar or even their worldview. I didn’t fully comprehend just why until reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. However, it should’ve been clear to me when thinking back on my high school years, although even then I would often think about the human power structures of the world itself.

Fortunately, I was slowly able to move on from this crippling depression and guilt, by recognizing that the decision obviously wasn’t mine, that if I could change it then I would, and that recognizing I wasn’t to blame wasn’t an attempt to say to myself that I didn’t care about the impacts of what drone strikes did when they burned alive innocent men, women, and children who had nothing to do with terrorism. Even to this day, it amazes me how we US citizens can argue that Islam is the problem, meanwhile we pay taxes for a drone program that is now bombing and flaying alive innocent people in seven different countries; a fact that we conveniently ignore while touting ourselves as morally superior and ignore how our complacency with such a program continues to create massive terrorist insurgencies throughout the Middle East. Moreover, what are people who see news of their own country and neighboring countries with wreckages from drone bombings suppose to think of us? They would constantly be bombarded with images of people with the same ethnic background as themselves and the same faith as themselves suffering from horrific injuries or seeing the general destruction of such bombings; what are they suppose to think of us? This has had real world consequences, like the revolution in Yemen to oust their country’s leaders.

The last, and probably most normal, of issues related to procrastination and depression, was wondering what significance my life has when I consider the heat death of the universe. Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence helps sometimes but not always. I eventually pulled through and pushed past this one by recognizing the reality that, even if heat death is certain, this is still my life and I should try to maximize my life satisfaction because it is still my experiences. It isn’t wrong to live for personal self-fulfillment but I always struggle with the first step of just pushing forward, it’s always been a struggle for me to do work when I don’t feel like it. I’m not sure how to adequately handle that aspect of beginning a project. I can’t “push through”, I can’t “trick myself”, and I can’t “just do it” as none of those work. The latter, in particular, is shown not to work in psychological studies. I try breaking it up into steps but then procrastinate by reading or watching TV. I think the issue is Atelophobia. I’ll try to remind myself of the Growth mindset as I seem to forget at the most important of moments, but I’m just not sure anymore . .  .

If anyone has any advice, feel free to give me tips on this issue.


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