The right to say you don’t care

I’ve just come from watching Michael Winterbottom’s Road to Guantanamo and I have to say the experience was quite harrowing, in spite of the fact that I am a trained media studies specialist generally resistant to being emotionally manipulated (Is this the time to say I deplore The English Patient?). Winterbottom has been called ‘Europe’s Michael Moore’, but left-wing politics is where the similarity ends. Michael Moore’s film was funny, Winterbottom’s wasn’t, and wasn’t intended to be. The film has its supporters and detractors, and you need to watch it to make up your own mind (it’s available online).

I’m not here to address the politics of the misguided ‘War on Terror’; there are many more blogs dedicated to the cause. I want to use the film as a starting point to think about Manuel Smith’s Assertive Right No. 10: ‘You have the right to say “I don’t care.”‘

Significantly, Smith’s assertion refers to the right to say you don’t care, not that you have the right not to care at all. In that sense, if you’re not eating up your broccoli and your mum says to ‘think of all the starving children in Africa’, you have the right to say you don’t care. You don’t have to be blackmailed into eating your vegetables.

But when actually faced with a starving child, I wonder if anyone has the strength to say so? Kevin Carter, the South African photojournalist who took a photo of a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture, and killed himself months after he won the Pulitzer Prize for it, had the right to say he didn’t care. But he did. Twelve years on, the picture still moves me. Do I have the right to say I don’t care? I don’t know.

What I’m trying to get at is that the fact that we do care is what makes us manipulable in the first place.

I have a friend, a good friend in fact, who feels no guilt driving her 4×4 no further than the neighbourhood supermarket for her weekly groceries. She argues that since she got one now rather than 10 years ago means that the world was already saved from 10 years of potential carbon emissions! How does one argue with that? She’s exerting her right to say she doesn’t care, and for that matter, to be illogical, and to provide no reasons or excuses for her behaviour.

I suppose I can say I have the right to assert my rights to the same against hers.

But why do I find that so unsatisfactory?


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