Saturday, March 19, 2016

And now, the News

There seem to be very few reasons not to despair of the human race. If asked why it has decided to tell us all this, and is driving us more than a little made as a result, the news will soberly reply that it has no choice, It simply has a duty to tell us 'the truth'.   Yet this isn't entirely true.  In any nation at any given point there is a welter of conflicting evidence about what is going on in the land. Some people will be drawn to murdering partners who have been unfaithful with a meat cleaver, but the majority will tearfully and angrily muddle along. Some people will riot and vomit in the streets, break shop windows, and run off with looted spirits, but most will be keener to trim back the flowers in the garden or keep things tidy in the kitchen.  There is a plethora of headlines that would both be true and yet impossible to run:

"Man abandons rash plan to kill wife after brief pause."
"65 million people go to bed every night without murdering or hitting anyone."

We should remember that the news is ultimately only one set of stories about what is happening out there, no more and no less.  
Our nation isn't just a severed hand, a mutilated grandmother, three dead girls in a basement, embarrassment for a minister, trillions of debt, a double suicide at a railway station and a fatal five-car crash by the coast. 
It is also the cloud floating right now unattended by the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor's mind as he approaches the patient's bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow, the small child tapping the surface of a newly hard-boiled egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage, the factory producing the first prototypes of a new kind of engine, and the spouse who, despite extraordinary provocation and unkind words, discovers new reserves of patience and forgiveness. 
This, too, is reality, The news we are given about the nation is not the nation.

The News: A User's Manual, Alain de Botton. pp. 43-45


  1. Very true though hard to remember if you become fixated on the News we're fed on a daily basis. Bad stuff happens - but it's NEWS because its so rare. Mostly, most of the time BAD stuff does not happen - but how would you report that?

  2. The problem is inherent in the system, I think...our system. We're wired to respond to stimulus, and that is what the news has become. Constant stimulus. That's probably why this election is running the ilk that it is, instead of completely competent, civil, and boring people. Those guys don't shoot their mouth off, don't attract the cameras, and don't have any ambition to dominate the people around them.

    The only news source I visit explicitly is the Economist, because they have long, detailed articles that provide a little of what de Botton maintains we need: context. The medium also doesn't lend itself towards panic-blast news bulletins. It's a weekly magazine (though it obstinately refers to itself as a newspaper, which I find endearing), so a lot of the fluffy stuff has already evaporated by the time they go to press.

    Another point de botton makes is that if a dictator wanted to take control in a modern country, he wouldn't need to suppress news...he would only need to encourage a flood of random, unconnected articles to keep people distracted.

  3. I stopped buying a daily paper a long time ago - mostly because I couldn't find the time to read it. I found a weekly paper much better because - well, I had time to read one paper a week and it had a lot more analysis than a daily had.

    My TV broke over a year ago and I still haven't replaced it so I'm not bombarded with sensationalism. I scan the BBC web pages for insta-news but if I wan't in-depth stuff I read out it in books written months or even years after the events.

  4. I'm friends with a reporter for the biggest daily around here, so when we get together for cinema night I hear all the news stories worth telling. ;)

    Sometimes I enjoy visiting the news sites of other countries and regions (Al Jazeera, for instance, and the propaganda sites for China and Russia) to take in other perspectives.


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