Sunday, September 01, 2013

A surfeit of news

I just came across a line in a quote I'd kept which reads: institutions of fear that promise safety by the destruction of others.

This is a wonderful line that epitomizes what's happening in much of the Western world at the moment: we are being led increasingly to believe that we're in great danger from some (unknown) source and therefore the 'institutions of fear' need to look out for us, and in so doing, will destroy others. Hasn't this been exactly what's happened since 9/11?  But it goes back much further than that: the McCarthy era was one particular and horrendous example of it; Hitler persuaded an entire country - or so it seemed - that one racial group needed to be destroyed in order that Germany would be safe. And there are innumerable examples of it throughout history. The worst facet of the contemporary version is that the media picks up on this fear and safety issue very quickly, and very quickly makes an enormous big deal out of the words of men (and some women) who ought to have been ignored for their foolishness. 

Some people would claim that it's our own fault that the media is the way it is. The interesting thing is, however, that if you go without a newspaper, or without television or radio, even for a few days, you quickly realise how unimportant a great deal of the so-called news is.  The news world is a fantasy, for the most part. For thousands of years human beings have got on without the wealth of news that we're subject to, and survived. Only really important things got through (or sometimes didn't), and these things were important to the particular people involved rather than their neighbours in the next city or country. News today involves us even when we have no need to be involved, and makes us feel guilty when we have no need to be guilty.  So in many ways, the media is an institution of fear, like those in the first paragraph.

There are no safety equipment suppliers to overcome the problems of this kind of perpetual interruption of news from the outside as we receive it in this century. Some people, a very few, will not only ignore the news but will hide themselves away from society, as though this somehow helped. It helps them, perhaps; it doesn't get rid of the main issue, which is a superabundance of so-called news. How in the world can it be that we need 24 hour news channels?  Who can absorb so much news?  Who would want to? 

Certainly there are advantages in having access to news as you need it, but it's the 'as you need it' factor that's important.  And we don't actually need it as much as we think. We've just survived a week in Auckland with very little news: I gave the newspaper a cursory glance some days and spent more time on the CodeCracker or the Cryptic Crossword, or the Sudoku than I did on the news. We didn't watch the TV news the entire time, nor did we hear the news on the radio.  Presumably it went on its blathering way, day in and out, and yet we survived with no problem whatsoever. 

I don't want to go to the extreme of never hearing any news at all. I think that's foolish. But neither do I feel we need anything like the amount of news we get, and we certainly don't need it played up to the hilt as it's so often done. News needs to be kept in its place, or it becomes a fearsome monster that eats your life away.

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