On Not Being Outraged by the News

Have you heard the news? Its outrageous, isn’t it? For someone to be treated so unfairly, unjustly! Its a travesty that this thing has been done. The people that have done this are a bunch of &^%#!!@* and deserve to die. %$#@ them! Anyone who can do or say such things is a lousy piece of $@!&. Can you believe it! Oh, it makes me so mad, I just want to kill that !@#$&*((&^.

As part of my Lenten discipline, I have given up reading internet websites, except for research purposes, but have allowed myself any website that involves communication. And, since I am on Facebook, this means I still get treated to the various posts my friends (and yes, many of them are my actual friends) make on their facebook “walls.” Lately, I have been treated to a few posts which deliver some sort of message of outrage at this or that thing in the news.  I don’t mean to stand in judgment on my friends, but seeing the way others post in that forum on this or that issue (almost always political, sometimes cultural, sometimes both) has given me pause as to my own attitudes toward things I hear or read on various news outlets.  That first paragraph there is an approximation of the reaction I normally have whenever I hear something I vehemently disagree with.  Okay, so its a bit of a parody, but not by much.  Whenever some election, political vote, or opinion polling seems to go against my beliefs, my point of view, I confess to having gloomy, slightly paranoid thoughts sometimes, a habit I have tried hard over the years to break.  My point is that this experience of giving up the internet has led me to the conclusion that I should basically do this full time, only using the internet for research and communication purposes.

I mention all of this because, years ago, I had a teacher in college who inspired me to stop reading newspapers and periodical magazines on a regular basis, for much the same reasons that I am contemplating giving up the internet (mostly).  This man eventually became my Master’s thesis advisor, and had a profound effect on my life in many ways I will not have occasion to mention here.  He even wrote a short but pithy book arguing that news consumption literally makes us dumb, not only because it focuses us too much on conflict (and therefore leads us to blow things out of proportion, which is only one my of problems) but also because it dumbs our view of the world down by reducing it into tiny bits of easily consumable information, often devoid of proper context, merely for the sake of fitting into periodical schedules.  I’ll never forget reading his book; I’ve never been able to look at any news entity the same since.  And I quit reading newspapers and watching the news regularly about that time, and have never done so since.

I know what you’re probably thinking.   Isn’t it irresponsible not to want to stay connected with current events?  Isn’t burying yourself in a room somewhere reading books just sort of hiding from the world?  People made the same objections about my mentor’s book, but it kind of misunderstands his point.  He didn’t say the news industry was evil (well, not totally, anyway), and he didn’t even say that all periodical literature was bad for your mental health.  He understood people needed things to talk about, but what concerned him was the way the more regular news schedules (weekly, daily, now ever present) tended to focus one’s mind completely on the moment, to the exclusion of a larger view of the world.  (This is partly what led me to study history as a graduate student, and was no small influence on my conversion to Catholicism as well.)  If one was grounded in a such a larger view, he thought, some news consumption would not be that bad.  His concern was for people who seemed to have no other means of understanding their world but the things they see on their nightly news cast or weekly magazine.

The upshot of this post is that I believe I slipped back into a sort of news consuming mentality when I became an avid internet user, and of course blogs and other websites have merely accelerated the phenomena my mentor complained about so many years ago.  It is thus in the interests of my mental but also spiritual health that I think I need to sever myself from my attachment to the internet.  I’m not suggesting that there aren’t causes worth fighting for or injustices worth getting upset about in the world, but I find it is better to encounter those experiences directly rather than through the mediation of the periodical news industry, generally speaking.  It is far too easy to learn to hate those we disagree with, if we only take the view of them that is presented to us in the media, far too easy to blow out of proportion even legitimately troubling events that come our way through such media.  And it is easy because such decontextualized, periodically packaged news items naturally float free of the wider world from which they have been abstracted, leaving us free to fill in the rest with our imaginations, which though they are sometimes helpful just as often thrive on fear, anxiety, and distort our view of things beyond what they really are.  At least, this is the case with me, and I hope my resolution to cut myself off from the entertainment and news of blogs bears fruit in the form of greater patience in enduring events I unjust or intolerable, greater charity towards others, and hopefully less unjustified outrage in my soul when all is said and done.



Alypius Minor

~ by Alypius on April 10, 2014.

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