When Apathy Is a Good Thing

A look inside the pathetic life and twisted mind of the Wisconsin mass murderer.

People who can’t take pride in themselves take pride in their race. Wade Page, murderer of five Sikhs and an Oak Creek, Wisconsin policeman, was just another loser before he became a famous loser. Kicked out of the army in 1998, fired from his trucking job in 2010, foreclosed on by Wells Fargo in February, and dumped by his girlfriend in June, the alcoholic musician wore his hate on his sleeve. The tattoo aficionado sported a Celtic cross overlaid by the number 14—a reference to a 14-word white supremacist slogan—on his shoulder. People didn’t like him. He didn’t like people—especially people of color, whom he referred to as “dirt people.”

Another white supremacist rebuts his beliefs by demonstrating that the depth of human depravity knows all colors. Page, who murdered six people at a Wisconsin house of worship on Sunday, overdosed on bad ideas. Overlooked among his many mental tics is a fetishization of action.

So consumed was Page with this fixation for proactivity that it named his band. “End Apathy began in 2005 and the concept was based on trying to figure out what it would take to actually accomplish positive results in society and what is holding us back,” Page told a racist website two years ago. “A lot of what I realized at the time was that if we could figure out how to end peoples’ apathetic ways it would be the start towards moving forward.”

Move forward? Purveyors of backward ideas, C.S. Lewis reminded, mistake movement for advancement. “We all want progress,” the English thinker wrote. “If you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

Page’s beliefs strike other Americans as exotic. But the tenet so central to the hate-rocker that he named his band (End Apathy) for it is also an article of faith among his countrymen befuddled by his action. From the 113,000,000 “results” for a “do-nothing Congress” Google search to VH1’s saturation advertising of the “Do Something Awards” (Did you know award nominee Selena Gomez is “the youngest ambassador for UNICEF”?) to air later this month, apathy gets a bad rap.

Could Harry Truman, Selena Gomez, and Wade Page all be wrong?

“End Apathy” is another way of saying lose interest in the important things in your life—love, family, friends, work, God, etc.—to become singularly obsessed with my bizarre crusade. This is precisely what Wade Page did. What the world needs now is another monomaniac. Right.

In addition to tattooed racists ripping off Cookie Monster’s singing style, academics, journalists, and politicians seem particularly obsessed with hating apathy.

Professors who vandalized, bombed, and shut down educational institutions as students in the 1960s long lamented the apathy of successive waves of students, as if the former activism is preferable to the later condition. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein offers “14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever.” Number one on the list? “They’re not passing laws. Let’s start with the simplest measure of congressional productivity: the number of public bills passed into law per Congress.” Klein points out that the 112th Congress has passed fewer bills than its postwar predecessors. This is a bad thing? Government apparatchiks, perhaps guilty over their adverse impact on citizens fulfilling the most basic duties, have pushed to make voting-booth apathy illegal. “Jury duty is mandatory,” William Galston wrote in the New York Times, “why not voting?” Former Obama administration budget director Peter Orszag recently argued that compulsory voting would “make our democracy work better, in the sense of being more reflective of the population at large.” But why would enlarging an electorate to include people with so little interest in politics that they don’t even vote improve the body politic?

Everyone has their own idea on how to “end apathy.” Most of them aren’t very enlightened and would benefit from heightened apathy about the apathetic.

The important part of doing something isn’t the “doing” but the “something.” Is that vague verbal placeholder a variable for helpful or harmful action? Should it be the latter, the honorable tradition of obstruction thereby earns its honors by—what else?—obstructing. Deliberative restraint, not headless-chicken frenetic energy, generally leads to positive change.

The greatest word in the English language—no—is the most hated word amongst “end apathy” enthusiasts. Don’t let its brevity fool you. Never have two letters said so much. That beautiful “n” word needs to be spoken more to those who use the ugly “n” word. As multiplication instructs, a negative confronting a negative makes a positive. Political science doesn’t quite get this.

Wade Page energetically evangelized white supremacy through music and the Internet. His lethargy extended to employment, relationships, family, debts, neighbors, and health. Not having a life leads to designs of taking over—or simply taking—the lives of others.

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