The Sin of Indifference

Thanks to Stevie over at for nominating me for the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge.

The rules of the challenge are:

  1. Three quotes for three days.
  2. Three nominees each day (no repetition).
  3. Thank the person who nominated you.
  4. Inform the nominees.

For my first quote I am going to take one from George Bernard Shaw:

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity. From “The Devil’s Disciple” (1901), act II

I heard it recently during a television programme commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster. For those who missed the publicity surrounding the anniversary and too young to remember the actual event, mine waste stored on a mountainside slid onto the village school burying it and many of its occupants. 116 children and 28 adults were killed.


At the subsequent enquiry the barrister acting for the villagers used that quotation during his summing up. The enquiry found that the people responsible for siting and maintaining the waste tip should have been aware of the risk that it could become unstable and ought to have taken steps to prevent what happened.

The significance of the quotation for me was in relation to my researches into the Irish famine years 1845-’52. Few now doubt that the suffering caused by the repeated failure of the potato crop was far worse than it needed to have been, nor that the attitude of many of those in positions of power contributed to the entirely inadequate response to the evolving situation.

The words I would have used to define that attitude would have been an absence of empathy. Shaw’s words offered an alternative: indifference. It’s what happens when people in positions of influence and power perceive a problem and either ignore it, as at Aberfan, or impose a solution regardless of the consequences for others.

It also characterises the way supposedly civilised people sometimes respond to modern crises like the arrival on European shores of refugees from poverty stricken and war-torn parts of North Africa and the Middle East. There was a vox-pop piece on a BBC news programme recently in which a bloke from Devon said: “We can’t look after our own, why should we bother with them?”

To which my response is along the lines of “sorry mate, but we do care for our own.” (There will be more about this in my next piece). We have health care free at the point of delivery, education free up to the age of 18. Those who designed some aspects of the benefits system could, however, be accused of indifference. Indeed, that is exactly what Ken Loach has done in his award winning film, I, Daniel Blake.

We also have a media, and quite a few citizens not unlike that man from Devon, who are so indifferent to the plight of those of our own citizens in genuine need that they characterise them as scroungers. The real point is that it should not be about choosing between looking after ‘our own’ and caring for others. We should be sufficiently concerned about all those in need, wherever their origin, to support whatever steps are necessary in order to relieve their suffering.

I nominate:

Janet Cameron and

Jennifer Young

Val Tobin

5 thoughts on “The Sin of Indifference

  1. I was wondering why I never heard from you and discovered that for some unexplainable reason I was unsubscribed. Now rectified. Briefly on the Irish potato famine, what I read is the lack of response was much deeper than indifference. Rich British landowners wanted to depopulate Ireland to take over the lands for themselves and did everything in their considerable power to exacerbate the situation so the surviving Irish would leave. No surprise there. Many starving Irish families were literally sold into slavery along with blacks in West Indies colonies, even after the so-called British ban on slavery. This isn’t indifference, it’s gross and crass profiteering. In the case of the Aberfan disaster, the same again: not indifference but profiteering, as are all man-made environmental disasters under predatory capitalism. Bottom line is the bottom line: it would cost money to clean up a mining site and if the law doesn’t force the issue, why waste money? The profits have been extracted, there’s nothing to be gained by cleaning up. That’s predatory capitalism, or capitalism run by investment banking. As George Soros said in an interview, “I never give any thought to social or environmental consequences when I make investments: the point is to make money, nothing else.”


    1. Thanks for your comment, Sha’tara. I’m not sure how you became unsubscribed but am glad to welcome you back! I think one of the problems with Irish landlords at the time of the famine is that many of them were not rich – or not cash rich anyway. Many were in debt. A lot of the people occupying their land were unauthorised sub-tenants of sub-tenants whose plots were too small to feed their families even without the disaster of potato blight. It is much more to do with the age old problem that there can never be enough food to feed all of the people. Food production goes up, the population goes up – faster!
      Aberfan can hardly be ascribed to capitalism since the coal industry in Britain at the time was nationalised. However, state run industries are no different to privately run businesses – they do what they are mandated to do at minimum possible cost. And that is where indifference comes into the picture. You solve the immediate problem in the most obvious and least cost way, indifferent to the effect on your fellow human (and other) beings. What George Soros said, in other words.


  2. Yes I would agree with Sha’Tara that if the issue is going to cost the owners money, then they will ignore it for as long as possible; that is until a tragedy like Aberfan occurs when they will be forced to confront the consequences of their indifference.

    Liked by 1 person

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