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Chaos Theories: Apathy, vanity plague American society

In a tragic occurrence last winter, Ohio University student Andrea Robinson died from type-B bacterial meningitis.

As one would expect, her friends, peers, professors and the university itself all expressed sympathy at her loss, for Andrea was much beloved throughout campus.

The following October, though, her family received a letter, not filled with condolences, as would be appropriate, but inquiring as to why Andrea had not returned to school in the fall.

As the letter cheerfully reads, “as the 2010-2011 fall academic quarter is underway, we noticed that someone is missing — you!”

Although this unwelcome, unfortunate letter was blamed on “a computer glitch in OU’s Institutional Research data system,” it still raises the following question: Are students only a number to this university?

If so, then OU is not alone because a plague of apathy seems to be sweeping across the entire nation.

As Howard Friedman explains, for instance, “We don’t care about the homeless and the poor unless they are dying on our doorstep … We don’t care about America’s weak internal security unless we get attacked … America is truly exceptional in its ability not to care.”

While his evaluation might be a bit harsh, his point is clear: There is a growing endemic of self-centeredness and indifference in America today.

Unfortunately, much of this attitude is rooted in aspects of our consumerist culture that are not even considered selfish anymore. Many do not consider it excessive to upgrade to the newest edition of the iPhone, even though their contract still has a year left and the phone might contain conflict minerals; it is not uncommon to blow a paycheck on extraneous Walmart items that end up in the dumpster a week later.

Acquire, use, discard, repeat.

This cycle is increasing in speed with our personal possessions, and now it appears that we are doing the same with people.

In the case of the former, at least, the negative effects are long-term and removed; with the latter, however, we arrive at Andrea Robinson and her family.

That is where our apathy needs to stop: when we start hurting people other than ourselves.

Certainly, many do go out of their way to form personal relations, to cast off consumerist practices, to donate time and effort to others. Indeed, much of the apathy projected is from institutional and governmental levels upon individuals.

And certainly, in a society that on the surface level is expected to care so much — for job interviews, college applications, social relations — the expectations can be overwhelming, and it is comforting to engage in self-indulgence, confident that one can fabricate empathy the following day.

Still, one wonders what would happen if everyone cared just a little bit more.

Allison Hight is a sophomore studying English and a columnist for The Post. Are we doomed by our lack of caring? Email Allison at


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