From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Apathy is a psychological term for a state of indifference — where an individual is unresponsive or "indifferent" to aspects of emotional, social, or physical life. Clinical apathy is considered to be at an elevated level, while a moderate level might be considered depression, and an extreme level could be diagnosed as a dissociative disorder. The physical aspect of apathy associated with physical deterioration, muscle loss, and lack of energy is called lethargy — which has many pathological causes as well.
Apathy can be object-specific — toward a person, activity or environment. It is a common reaction to stress where it manifests as "learned helplessness" and is commonly associated with depression. It can also reflect a non-pathological lack of interest in things one does not consider important.
Certain drugs are known to cause symptoms associated with or leading to apathy.
History and other views
Christians have historically condemned apathy as a deficiency of love and devotion to God and 'his works'; this interpretation of apathy is also referred to as Sloth and is listed among the Seven Deadly Sins. Clemens Alexandrinus used the term to draw to Christianity philosophers who aspired after virtue.
Macaulay referred to "The apathy of despair." Prescott described "A certain apathy or sluggishness in his nature which led him . . . to leave events to take their own course."
The modern concept of apathy became more well known after World War I, when it was called "shell shock." Soldiers who lived in the trenches amidst the bombing and machine gun fire, and who saw the battlefields strewn with dead and maimed comrades, developed a sense of disconnected numbness and indifference to normal social interaction.
In 1950, US novelist John Dos Passos wrote: "Apathy is one of the characteristic responses of any living organism when it is subjected to stimuli too intense or too complicated to cope with. The cure for apathy is comprehension." US educational philosopher Robert Maynard Hutchins summarized the concerns about political indifference when he claimed that the "death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."
Douglas Hofstadter suggests that, recognizing that the human brain's "ego" is nothing but a construct, no emotion is necessary. Since the realization of the future of an expanding universe, apathy is the only intelligent response. It is in contrast to the contented feeling of self-satisfaction of complacency, driven by the illusion of the "ego".
There may be other things contributing to a person's apathy. Activist Dave Meslin argues that people often care, and that apathy is often the result of social systems actively obstructing engagement and involvement. He describes various obstacles that keep people from knowing how or why they might get involved in something. Meslin focuses on design choices that unintentionally or intentionally exclude people. These include: capitalistic media systems that have no provisions for ideas that are not immediately (monetarily) profitable, government and political media (e.g. notices) that make it difficult for potentially interested individuals to find relevant information, and media portrayals of heroes as "chosen" by outside forces rather than self motivated. He moves that we redefine social apathy to think of it, not as a population that is stupid or lazy, but as result of poorly designed systems that fail to invite others to participate.