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Do We Need to Read the News?

We are used to thinking of what we call the news as a tool that can help us to vanquish ignorance: we will, thanks to its updates, properly understand what is going on and where importance lies. But if we examine the role of this phenomenon with greater scepticism, we may find that it is as responsible for blinding us to ourselves as for introducing us to the complexities of so-called reality.

The presence of the news continuously — albeit slyly — encourages us to forget entirely what we actually feel in relation to certain events. The way stories are told invariably promotes one particular set of responses: this is outrageous, he is bad, this is tragic, she is a victim, they are repulsive… These verdicts may seem entirely fair, but only too often, to an extent we are bullied into forgetting, they don’t quite. We might in our hearts — oddly but authentically — not think that something is such a tragedy after all, we might not really care in the least about something which we have been repeatedly pressed to think is vital. And we might fancy someone we’re definitely meant to hate. The news quietly closes off alternative avenues of investigation and response.

At its core, the news is opposed to introspection. It doesn’t want us to know ourselves better and compulsively disconnects our emotions from their true but often hard-to-grasp targets. It takes our nascent feelings of anger, for example — and redirects them away from our acquaintances or early care-givers to causes that aren’t remotely for us to bother with. It coopts our fears to an ever-changing roster of monsters, and thereby blinds us to what we really need to be vigilant about before it’s too late. 

Because of the prestige that we have collectively accorded to the news, the hurried judgements of skittish third rate minds are allowed to determine nothing less than our view of ‘normality’. It is almost universally taken to be sensible to ‘catch up on the news’ rather than, as is actually the case, for the most part extremely dangerous and irrelevant. There is almost nothing we really need to know outside of what has happened in our own heads and in the lives of ten or so people who count on us. 

We would surely be made to feel untenably odd if we decided — as really we should — that we were from now on going to check the news only once a week, and the rest of the time devote ourselves to exploring the contents of our soul via meditative reflection.

While pretending to inform us about the state of the world, the news has become a formidable instrument of self-forgetting.

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