It is perhaps in our nature, those who engage the news and politics in general, to find fault with just about everything. The attitude recognizes no partisan boundaries.
The news, of course, is relentless and infinite. As a New York Times subscriber I can simply glance at the digital headlines to see problems everywhere. This morning’s sample attests:
Photo Trove Is Said to Show Widespread Torture in Syria
States Cutting Weeks of Aid to the Jobless
Food Banks Anticipate Impact of Cuts to Food Stamps
Former Virginia Governor and His Wife Are Indicted
Ah, but suppose I viewed the pages through different filters. Could someone vitally interested in food, for example, mentally block out the headlines that disturb? The Times has a section devoted to “dining and wine.” It’s chock full of recipes, restaurant reviews, and seemingly endless stories of wines from all over the world. That should keep one busy.
Or, perhaps I’m suddenly obsessed with music of all genres. The Times does not disappoint. The paper has many sections having little, if anything, to do with problems of the world, unless you’re troubled by the antics of Justin Bieber or the string section of the New York Philharmonic.
There are certainly less serious publications with an online presence. The once proud Seattle Post-Intelligencer has transformed itself from a once-competitive newspaper delivered to my door each morning to a portal for voyeurs, featuring constant slideshows of cheerleaders and movie celebrities and weird people doing weird things. Not much there to boil one’s political blood.
I can only imagine that there are people in the world who possess Pollyannaish blinders. Their minds filter out the wrong and let in only the right. If such people exist, they probably don’t subscribe to the New York Times or read other newspapers or consult their local television news.
The Internet has enabled, if not encouraged, the politically ignorant. One can focus on one’s passion or obsession at the exclusion of all else. Certainly the “series of tubes” has changed us.
When I was growing up nearly every doorstep, or porch, or driveway, or front lawn received a daily newspaper tossed with troubled accuracy by a boy on a bicycle. In the Bay Area that was my home households could choose from an array of publications, but almost all chose at least one. In the evening the television was tuned to a national news program delivered by one of three networks; this was long before cable. If I dare say so, the consumption of “the news” provided a largely common experience, the stuff of society.
Now we are divided by ignorance, the default mode, since it’s nearly impossible to find commonality even in the news. Accounts of events differ, depending on ideology. If there was ever objectivity in reporting, it vanished long ago. Today each of us sees the world through blinkered eyes, and my world is not yours.
How, then, to function as a Great Society when we are all societies of one, replete with personal Weltanschauungs and disparate interests marinated in ignorance? Margaret Thatcher may have been right, but sardonically so.
We may thus understand the apparent need of political leaders to embrace ritual and ceremony. Jointly singing the Star-spangled Banner or reciting the Pledge are intended to unite, even if the venues in which they’re practiced are either sports arenas or tiny city council chambers, the former decidedly apolitical and the latter sparsely attended.
Yet, history records grand efforts to corral the masses into giant spaces, from the circuses of Rome and the spectacles of Hitler to modern Olympics and the Super Bowl (Go, Hawks). The noble aspirations of the commonweal give way to the pernicious and trivial.
Ironically, the libertarian impulse for individual freedom can find expression only after concerted efforts by the many to thwart oppression by a few. Those who rail against actions to keep the rabble in line exhort us to organize, protest, and resist—en masse. It is they who imagine a critical mass of voluntary associations overcoming the power of plutocrats and politicians.
Herein lies a conundrum. How does one achieve such a critical mass amidst societies of one? You may appeal to my moral sensibilities, but if I’m not open to your entreaties because I am otherwise distracted, then your efforts will have been in vain. Now multiply the arrangement by millions and you will readily appreciate the enormity of the task before you. More likely than not, our consent to the status quo has been ably manufactured.
Besides, there is no rabble with which to reckon. The jury remains out on whether or not this is a good thing.