And while I shall keep silent about some points, I do not want to remain silent about my morality which says to me: Live in seclusion so that you can live for yourself. Live in ignorance about what seems most important to your age. Between yourself and today lay the skin of at least three centuries. And the clamor of today, the noise of wars and revolutions should be a mere murmur for you.
In making our morality telescopic we trivialize the choices that do matter; the ones close to us, involving the people in our lives. Obsession over a world you cannot hope to meaningfully influence is the road to either madness or self-delusion, and it is hubris from the outset. Cast off the chains of telescopic morality and move forward with the morality of human flourishing, of eudaimonia.
We should go a little easier on ourselves when it comes to indifference to the news – and recognise that we’re one of the first generations to have to deal with the torrent of information about things very far removed from our own lives. For most of history, it was extremely difficult to come by information about what was happening anywhere else. And you probably didn’t mind. What difference would it make, if you were a crofter in the Hebrides, to learn that a power struggle was brewing in the Ottoman Empire?
Much of what we now take for granted as news has its origins in the information needed by people taking major decisions or at the centre of national affairs. We still hear the echoes in the way news is reported; timing is assumed to be critical, as it really would be if we were active agents. If you don’t have the latest update you might make a terrible blunder or miss a wonderful opportunity.
Ease of communication and a generous democratic impulse mean that information originally designed for decision makers, now gets routinely sent via the media to very large numbers of people. It is as if a dossier, with the latest news from Kiev, which might properly arrive on the desk of a minister has accidentally been delivered to the wrong address and ends up on the breakfast table of a librarian in Colchester or an electrician in Pitlochry. But the librarian or electrician might quite reasonably turn round and politely point out that they can’t do anything with this knowledge and that, surely, the files have come to them by mistake. They don’t, but only because habit has closed our eyes to the underlying strangeness of the phenomenon.
February 10, 2014 @ 4:50 pm
I have always had this horrible feeling that the fact that I am not deeply emotionally involved in the trials and tribulations of people thousands of miles away from me is a moral failing.
February 10, 2014 @ 6:27 pm
I guess entertainment is the main reason for news consumption. That and satisfying our need for self-importance.
February 10, 2014 @ 11:16 pm
Dunbar's number and the cognitive miser, buddy. Evolution has not provided us with the cognitive capacity to meaningfully "care" about complete strangers, let alone billions of them.
February 11, 2014 @ 8:57 pm
But newscasters come to be seen as surrogate friends and thereby get us to become indignant, irate, sentimental, etc., and we can pat ourselves on the back for being "informed". Fun.
February 11, 2014 @ 10:26 pm
Superficially so, noel. We live in a world of superficial and remote emotions!