This book is not primarily about the attitudes of people, about whether they care passionately about values and lives. But it is nonetheless about attitudes, attitudes that form when people have a disturbing sense that something important is hidden from them. In such instances we might try to reproduce the hidden “reality”; but rather than finding the secret, we find the stock-in-trade images of our ordinary lives, shadowed still by something hidden, perhaps mysterious and seemingly important, and especially important if the hidden doesn’t seem to be like a real thing with determined identity. Dimensions of indifference in many instances, given certain expectations about reality and mores based on those expectations, figure “something” hidden and important. The very happening of these dimensions threatens some large views of the world and often disturbs the hopes and comforts we take in situations of stress and pain. Patterns of denial can develop; for example, insistence on personalized and intentional universals that are free of indifference, teleological speculations about the world’s continuity, and ethics of attachment. In such instances, indifference in the occurring of lives can become a negative preoccupation in the positive meanings of people’s lives—like a dark specter of meaninglessness that requires well-tended vigilance at the deepest levels of affirmation and hope. Often in those situations one finds insistence on systematic tightness, emphasis on definitive closure, passions focused primarily by shared identity, and a dominance of values of conformity in conceptions of community and commonality.
I have seen the eyes of indifferent people, as I am sure you have. Their cold preoccupation, their blindness to compassion, their failure to notice or care. This book is not about them and is largely indifferent to them. It—the book—is rather about aspects of indifference in living events, not about a kind of character described as indifferent. It is about dimensions of occurrence that are utterly neutral and without intention. And it is also about some of the differences that paying attention to such dimensions makes. It is preoccupied by differences in sensibility that can arise when people are aware of dimensions of indifference throughout their lives, and, far from traumatized or obsessed by them, accept them and themselves with them, and develop, perhaps, values that take constructive account of those dimensions and the departures and beginnings that they occasion.
– Charles E. Scott, Living with Indifference