Why can’t we care about much of anything beyond getting through this week?
I suppose a few of us feel some crushing guilt when we hear such a question. A few of us effectively screened out questions like “Why don’t you care?” a long time ago; we exempted ourselves, because we don’t want to feel guilt anymore. It crushes us.
Ideally, we think of ourselves as caring people. If we are Jesus followers there is quite a bit of pressure to care about others. I think most of us think we are doing OK at meeting the standards. We are probably more caring than other people — especially Israelis who are creating an apartheid system in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians like Hamas who would sacrifice their whole people for their ideology.
You probably are more caring than they are, and I like to think I am too. But let’s face it. When it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian tragedy the vast majority of us have just barely heard about what is going on. That’s true even though our own church people have been talking about it regularly for over two years. We didn’t read a blog post, we didn’t go to the movie, we didn’t read a newspaper or listen to a broadcast. What’s more, we did not pray about it; we did not figure out how to give money to help suffering people; we did not support others who care more than we do; we did not protest to our elected officials who fund the whole thing; we did not demand an end to weapons production and distribution, etc. If we care at all, why don’t we do something?
I think there are a lot more reasons for not caring about Palestine than we are just wicked, guilt-resistant, pseudo-Christians.
I think we may be dramatically underestimating just how powerful and demanding the powers that be really are and way underestimating just how damaging it is to buy the philosophy of self-reliance and “freedom” capitalism keeps selling.
Here are some good reasons you don’t care, or at least don’t do much to show that you do:
1) You’ve got student loan debt that must be paid off. It is the all-purpose excuse for millions of people for tunneling in to their careers and keeping whatever job they have at all costs, working whatever hours are required to do so.
2) You either have high rent or you are stuck with a high mortgage. Nationally, 50% all renters are now spending more than 30% of their income on housing, according to a comprehensive Harvard study, up from 38% of renters in 2000. In PA the average renter needs to bring in about $17.21 an hour to make the average rent for a two-bedroom. The stats show that the phenomenon of twentysomethings living at mom and dad’s home is proven by more than anecdotal evidence; the few who have ventured into their own homes spend all their hours making money to make the payments.
3) You need to pay for private school for your kids because people do not want to pay taxes or sensibly elevate standards for public education. The average private school tuition in the U.S. for a non-sectarian elementary school is $15,945 a year, and $27,302 a year for secondary school. Catholic elementary school will run you on average $4,944 for elementary school and $7,826 for secondary school; other religious schools average $6,576 for elementary and $10,493 for secondary. Everywhere we turn, some giant institution is costing a lot!
4) You have to master the insurance system and might need to pay exorbitant rates because people do not want to share in each other’s well-being. In PA the average monthly health insurance cost for a single person is $271 but could be as high as $1200. If you actually go to the doctor, be prepared to take the day off as the system tries to frustrate any use of it.
5) You have to master technology that is too complex to master in order to participate in the society. Plus, you have to pay a fee to do so at every step: internet, phone, TV, security systems. And those are just the systems we can see. Behind every institution from law to transit the complexity is increasing exponentially. Many of us would love to respond to injustice if we could get our computer to work.
6) You have to master consumer capitalism. We did a kitchen in our home a few years back. We already replaced the dishwasher. Last week we paid $350 to fix the fridge. Our beloved repairman told us there were no better machines available. They all have the same problems and they are all junk because people have learned to expect them to fail and to change them like they are fashion, not utilities. It is a business strategy. To stay on the treadmill takes economic staying power. Which means a lot of time on the treadmill, which does not leave a lot of time for Palestinians.
I sometimes ask my favorite twentysomethings why they are not more rebellious. A lot of them gave it a whirl with the Occupy movement — and some are still engaged in the aftermath of that. Some are implementing beautiful responses to the traps the culture has set for them. But most of them are just too busy and tired to do anything. I feel their plight. It is hard to be an agent of transformation when the powers that be are so damnably well-outfitted. For instance, whatever they might try to do just might be filmed. That alone could make you want to hunker down with a good video game. If anyone is choked by the cares of the world, they are. If they complain, they are told that they have the freedom to make any changes they want, “Just DIY. You’re special and your country is exceptional.” Honestly! It takes a lot of energy to be special when you’re not feeling it.
I hope my honesty about what it is like for many people also sounds like sympathy. We want to care about Palestine and much more. But a lot of us are pretty busy just trying to get through this week. Even saying “Jesus will give you strength,” just sounds like there will be another duty to perform if he does! But Jesus is the master of overcoming gigantic powers. If you are doomed to some kind of slavery, He’s your savior.