A torn note taped to a beige background reading "It's time to internalize that apathy is depression."

Cultural Collapse and The Broken Path

The first time I heard the word ‘apathy’ repeatedly in the press was when I was a kid, and it was to describe post-Vietnam War unemployment. Specifically, it described those who were unemployed. It was intended to depict them as lazy, as having brought on their joblessness themselves, completely divested of the circumstances that led to it.


A decade later, ‘apathy’ sold headlines describing Gen-X. The apathy generation. They said we rebelled against systems, complained a lot but didn’t do anything about it, couldn’t hold down jobs. Again with the unemployment and the laziness correlation.

Now I’m reading it about the US, the entire country. We’re apathetic, would rather be on unemployment, don’t stand up to our government ‘s hateful policies. As if it isn’t American settler culture exactly as it was built to be.

As someone who works in the employment industry I can say with certainty that no one wants to be unemployed. No one wants the tension of a government institution breathing down the neck of their personal distress. Also, there’s no such thing as laziness.  It’s just an ableist plot to keep us all exhausted. And I agree that despite being a quasi-democracy, Americans are more complacent towards our government than folx in other countries. But why might that be?

The generations of unresolved colonial trauma–that some of us caused and now can’t see that we also received? Are receiving? The unacknowledged trauma of a global pandemic that’s still affecting us, and changed us and every system in play to the point of cultural collapse? The bracing realization that every level of our livelihood has been intentionally disqualified by our leaership, which repeatedly favors increased productivity? The unearned privilege we’ve held through world dominance? Clinging to outdated systems and ways of being that mostly benefit a wealthy handful but placate the middle class enough to overlook poverty? Yes we’re apathetic. And we’ve never acknowledged that apathy is depression, and depression functions through divide and conquer, through othering. It makes us feel unworthy of anything but shame, which convinces us to believe the lies we’re sold.

We’re a nation of depressed people playing out an abuse dynamic, over and over, on land we stole. What was the other outcome?

If we’re going to change any of this it starts with tending that deep trauma that holds us hostage in ourselves and as a collective, because that trauma is what projects the notion that we are all separate, that we are not in relationship. If we are to function well as animists through this cultural collapse, we have to overcome the lie of separation. We have internalized what I call The Broken Path, the point that we were divested from our awareness that we are kin with Nature—the point that we were animists with rituals that wove through our ancestors into our land, to sustain our communities and the traditions that would hold the descendants.

The lie is that there was no break, because there’s no path. That by virtue of being human we were always seperate from Nature, better than. Except that we do have a path into tradition. It did happen. It was real.

The lie is that because we ancestrally created this mess and have perpetuated it through our own wounding, it must also be our final destiny. However, we’re living the cautionary tale right now, and we do have options.

The lie is that we have been groomed to ignore the path, to ignore our own wounding around separation from it, and to ignore that a path that leads into our ancestral kinship and land relationship still exists.

The truth is this Apathy is what that lie feels like. This is what it lives like.

Apathy is a life force, and it’s alive. It functions as a container, a holding place for feelings so big we don’t know what else to do with them. It tends indescribable yearning for something more that is so arrested by wounding it conveys like more is unattainable, like we don’t care, when in reality we care immensely and feel cut off from our souces of power to tend those wounds.

Those sources are within us, all around us, and interwoven through all of us. We can reclaim them, and in doing so heal and tend our wounds, our ancestral scars. By doing so we don’t just change our present, but create technology for change and interconnection that enables the descendants to truly do better.

When we look at Apathy for what it is, it’s not hard to miss that it is part of the colonial plan. It’s skillfully used as a tool of institutional disempowerment, and it’s exhausted from both being weaponized by our leaders and overtaxed by us. If we can experience that our interrelationship to Nature is bigger than our institutions, bigger than our need to rely on Apathy to hold our wounds, we can get the skills we need to start calling them back from Apathy and making more informed choices that hold us all.


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S. Kelley Harrell, M. Div.

I’m an animist, author, deathwalker and death doula. For the last 25+ years, through Soul Intent Arts I’ve helped others to ethically build thriving spiritual paths as fit, embodied elders, who upon death become wise, capable Ancestors. My work is Nature-based, and focuses soul tending through the Elder Futhark runes, animism, ancestral healing, and deathwork. I’m author of Runic Book of Days, and I host the podcast, What in the Wyrd. I also write The Weekly Rune as a celebration of the Elder Futhark in season. Full bio.

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