Yeah, this is one of my reductive philosophy posts, wherein I attempt to prove all of the world by reducing it to a single Either/Or proposition. Which is a logical fallacy, by the way.
Still, during my recent wanderings through life, it strikes me that most of what befuddles us about the actions of others does indeed reduce to the single question (and, because I am male, I am using the male pronoun): Did he just not know or did he just not care?
Whether we are questioning our president or our waiter, ultimately, most of us will revert to one of these two positions.
Marie Antoinette's apocryphal response to being told that the French people "had no bread" and were starving, "Let them eat cake," conveniently covers both options. In her bored world of privilege, if the story were true, she had absolutely no awareness of the living conditions of French peasants. At the same time, the substance and diction of her response clearly indicates that she had no particular interest in their plight either. She was beheaded.
There are a few things to clarify here. First, the underlying implication of my question is that Man can be perfectly good, that all of his actions are not based on evil and sin, though they can be.
"Did he just not know?" is a question that assesses a person's ignorance. But it does not excuse that ignorance? Oh, no. There's a subtle dose of "how clueless is this person" contained in the language of the question. He should have known, shouldn't he? And yet, coming as the first of the two questions, "Did he just not know?" also does allow for a way out. Sometimes we just get bad advice. Sometimes people were supposed to tell us something, but, for whatever reason, didn't. Sometimes we don't know where to look. In the dichotomy, I see this as the lesser of the two concerns, but maybe not by much.
"Did he just not care?" Now, that's an interesting question because once you stare at it a bit, it breaks down in at least two ways. First, was he just indifferent in a couldn't-be-bothered kind of way? He didn't have time, it was beneath his pay grade, there were more pressing concerns, or, perhaps, was any sort of emotional involvement likely to get in the way of a decision that he thought he had to make.
But not caring can also imply callousness or even cruelty--the entire range from "what happens to other people is no concern of mine" to "they must be sacrificed."
What are we referring to? These days, it might be the poor, it might be the third world, it might be the future generations who will suffer the effects of global warming. It might be the guy who swung into your lane on the interstate or the family member who ate the piece of pie that you were saving in the fridge.
But probably not the latter two examples. Most of us live in some greater or lesser degree of powerlessness which means that there is more power above us, and the people who are making decisions that affect us are making decisions that likely have long-lasting impacts. In a pure, tangible sense, it is less likely that those decisions are made for our betterment.
If a decision is made that impacts a group of people, we can be pretty certain that before that decision was made, that bill was passed, that policy was instituted, that compromise was reached, that trade-off became acceptable, more powerful voices, interest groups, and egos got first considerations, which is why we are surprised, but should not be, when our leadership, national or otherwise, lets us down and leaves us questioning their motivation.
For as I suggested at the start, though, the idea that something is either/or, black or white, right or wrong is usually fallacious. There are too many shades in between. Did he not know or not care? Well, both. Probably. Sadly.