33 votes

How do you cope with the apathy/jadedness that comes from living in massive, complex systems? (i.e. systems where individual action has almost no impact, but collective action could have an impact)

This is a question that's been bothering me a lot lately. It recently popped up in another Tildes thread. This comment from @pseudolobster sums up an example of such a system (streaming services becoming dominant forms of media distribution):

Someone's going to spend $10/mo for the streaming service, the movie is 1/10000th of their catalog, $0.001 goes to the middlemen, who give $.00001 to [the creator]. [...] If I could somehow give 1 cent to the actual creator, I'd have increased their revenue by orders of magnitude.

In a vacuum, the choice "do I steam or do I pirate" from a single person doesn't really do anything? But then, you could argue, we don't live in a vacuum. We discuss things with other people, which could influence their decisions. There could be a ripple effect, eventually shifting the overall outlook towards streaming/piracy on a group/community/society level. Or maybe, as change gets bigger, it becomes too finicky to really influence with the (nonexistent) power most of us have.

This could be generalized to so many things, and not just whether consumption can be ethical or not. With climate change, for example, I hear "well, whether I recycle as an individual doesn't really change anything when my output pales in comparison to the waste of large corporations." You could apply this to voter apathy, too. ("Well, whether or not I voted wouldn't have changed the outcome of the election.")

What do you think about this? Do you focus on the small actions, the larger systemic change, both, or neither? How do you feel about apathy/jadedness in these situations? How much of a moral offense is it to not do the "right" thing? Does the answer change if you're acting alone vs. encouraging others to act with you?

11 comments

  1. pseudolobster
    Link
    Delude yourself into thinking you have more of an impact than you do? Seriously though, you can make a difference by figuring out how the system works and subverting it. Find out the way in which...

    Delude yourself into thinking you have more of an impact than you do? Seriously though, you can make a difference by figuring out how the system works and subverting it. Find out the way in which you can make the most difference with the least inconvenience to yourself. In the case of entertainment, try and support creators directly, through as few middlemen as possible.

    In the case of environmental impact, vote for people who will enact legislation to restrict big emitters. Don't worry so much about accidentally throwing some cardboard in the garbage instead of the recycling, instead find a phone with a replaceable battery so you can go another year or two without having to buy another. I stopped buying shoes 8 years ago. I used to go through a pair a year, shoes made of synthetic foam and mesh, but I realized I'd save money and have less of an impact buying shoes made of leather and cork and resoling them every 5 years. You don't have to go full vegan and worry whether your produce was grown with bonemeal fertilizer or your envelope glue is made with gelatin, but make a conscious effort to eat less meat.

    Do the best you can, and naively hope everyone else will as well. It's all you can do to avoid existential dread.

    20 votes
  2. Whom
    Link
    Individual action is for me. I don't eat meat not because I think it will have any real impact on the meat industry, but to make me feel good about myself and be more comfortable with the way I'm...

    Individual action is for me. I don't eat meat not because I think it will have any real impact on the meat industry, but to make me feel good about myself and be more comfortable with the way I'm conducting my life. The same is true for any environmental choice I make, the software I use, the self-education I put myself through for politics, etc. I think most of us have an opportunity to feel much more secure with ourselves if we live according to our principles, and the bit of good we do or the bit of harm we reduce is a good bonus.

    However, that does mean recognizing that broader change is not driven by individuals, which is what causes this anxiety in the first place. That's an uphill battle, and I think if I had the answer of how to sort those things out then I wouldn't be typing here, I'd be off doing something...radical. Still, I think the approach you have to take if you're not going to run off and do the most radical version of what your beliefs lead you to is advocacy for that wider change. Conversations irl and online which agitate and plant seeds. It's not totally satisfying. Even though I'm doing a decent amount of this and I have a future that I'm preparing for which gives much more opportunity for that kind of thing, with the world's problems being so huge, nothing's going to feel like enough unless you die for it or something. I think we have to live with that contradiction and let it guide our actions if we're not going to go all the way. It's uncomfortable, but I don't think solving that discomfort would be a good thing. Getting rid of that discomfort would be getting rid of your drive to do good that you're not already doing. Fuck that.

    Worth mentioning that I actually wouldn't apply this to your examples for other reasons (I'm generally not a voter, have no moral objections to filesharing, etc.), but I think the principle applies.

    9 votes
  3. moocow1452
    (edited )
    Link
    Hey, wouldn't you know it, I just read an article about this! Here is the discussion on Tildes. Author ends on this note,

    Hey, wouldn't you know it, I just read an article about this! Here is the discussion on Tildes.

    Author ends on this note,

    One thing that gives me a small amount of hope is the recent wave of tech worker organizing. Whatever becomes of it, it’s heartening to witness a group of people who are part of this alienating system attempt to build a movement around solidarity and direct action.
    Or maybe we’ll relearn, as the writer and artist Jenny Odell suggests, to do nothing, its own form of action. That’s an American tradition, too.

    6 votes
  4. mrbig
    (edited )
    Link
    Most of the time, voting only satisfies our deontological concerns. A single vote has no statistical impact whatsoever. Unless some rare conditions are met, the same is true about many correct...

    Most of the time, voting only satisfies our deontological concerns. A single vote has no statistical impact whatsoever. Unless some rare conditions are met, the same is true about many correct choices, such as boycotting harmful companies, avoiding meat or paying your taxes. Your actions carry no weight.

    Do you focus on the small action...?

    Yes. Learned it from my father, who used to say something like:

    It is better to give a whole education to a single kid than to split 1000 pencils between 1000 kids

    And he followed through. He made substantial contributions to a young kid's education, from primary school all the way to high-school. This kid lived in a slum surrounded by drug dealers, and my father had a positive and measurable impact on his character. His help came with the obligation to study even more, as my father always reminded him of the importance of education.

    I never had the financial resources to do as my father, but I helped a bunch of people as a friend, as an "unlicensed therapist" and through my religious activities. Small contributions, but that is what I can do. I focus on the persons and events in which I can make a difference. When it comes to larger phenomenons, I do my part to mitigate my own deontological guilt, but I have no illusions regarding the minimal reach of these actions.

    This issue is well discussed in the philosophical field of ethics. Useful links:

    6 votes
  5. suspended
    Link
    Some people do become apathetic and throw the baby out with the bathwater. I did for about a decade concerning environmental and political issues. Then I woke up, so to speak, and realized that it...

    Some people do become apathetic and throw the baby out with the bathwater. I did for about a decade concerning environmental and political issues.

    Then I woke up, so to speak, and realized that it was necessary to address these issues locally as well as globally. For example, our family does whatever is within our means to tread lightly on the Earth. We, also, support larger environmental projects such as tree planting campaigns and The Ocean Cleanup.

    Another example, is that we participate in voting here in the United States. We, also, call or write our representatives. We have participated in protests as well.

    5 votes
  6. skybrian
    Link
    If we're talking about movies and individual effort to spend money to help artists, supporting people on Patreon or similar sites seems like the way to go? However, I think a focus on individual...

    If we're talking about movies and individual effort to spend money to help artists, supporting people on Patreon or similar sites seems like the way to go?

    However, I think a focus on individual effort might be misguided? The way to make an impact is to do things that scale. Even if it's an individual project then think about writing a recipe or making a video for others to follow.

    Elections are sort of the ideal example, because individual votes barely count most of the time, and yet collectively, turnout wins elections. Your own vote is mostly symbolic compared to helping the campaigns of candidates you like. If you want to make an impact you need to somehow get in a position to influence others.

    4 votes
  7. Odysseus
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    I let go of my ego. The individual is small and insignificant compared to these complex systems because these systems are comprised of a great many individuals. Compared to a thousand individuals,...

    I let go of my ego. The individual is small and insignificant compared to these complex systems because these systems are comprised of a great many individuals. Compared to a thousand individuals, my impact is meaningless, but compared to almost any one of those individuals within the system (barring those with extreme influence like politicians, billionaires, etc.) I have a near equal impact.

    Our impact is small seemingly negligible, but so are we. It doesn't mean that our impact doesn't matter.

    4 votes
  8. ubergeek
    Link
    I cope by working cooperatively with groups that will help me meet my personally desired goals, and don't support the ones that are antithetical to them. ie, I'm a dues paying member of the DSA,...

    I cope by working cooperatively with groups that will help me meet my personally desired goals, and don't support the ones that are antithetical to them. ie, I'm a dues paying member of the DSA, and I don't shop at Hobby Lobby.

    2 votes
  9. [3]
    vivaria
    Link
    oh no typo. could someone with editing privileges pls invididual -> individual? (noise this comment thanks)

    oh no typo. could someone with editing privileges pls invididual -> individual? (noise this comment thanks)

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      Amarok
      Link Parent
      I can't help but wonder if Tildes' exemplary/noise comments will be as coveted as Slashdot's +5 Troll comments used to be. :P

      I can't help but wonder if Tildes' exemplary/noise comments will be as coveted as Slashdot's +5 Troll comments used to be. :P

      4 votes
      1. pseudolobster
        Link Parent
        Pretty low bar tbh. I got that for a dickbird once.

        Pretty low bar tbh. I got that for a dickbird once.

        2 votes