The Numbing Menace of News

When Thoreau discovered a rumpled newspaper on the crest of Mt. Graylock, the discarded wrapping for a hiker’s lunch, he found the ads more interesting than the news. Thomas Merton, the marvelous monk who started rapprochement with Buddhist monks in the ’60s, didn’t read daily news. He waited until it became distilled into magazine articles – as if it needed to be cured. No one’s figured out how to cure on-line “news.”

Ok, I watch it, or better, catch it unfold digitally.  It’s frighteningly numbing because it’s scandal after scandal, obscenity after obscenity, golden showers all over. Why should I watch a pissing contest, where it isn’t really a contest because one guy gets to piss on the otherwise well-dressed?

The news, at least recently, numbs: it’s a visceral attack on intelligence and decorum. It menaces because it places us in the space of retort and retaliation rather than even-tempered humane assessment.

At present I think we need time and space to collect ourselves for a new mode of responsiveness, without rancor and without pedigree: there are no historical precedents.

Detached political analysis and counterargument have become utterly out of place. Without a retreat from the daily barrage we have no hope to find words that in the long run we can stand by as worthy – not just wise cracks reversing the flow of invective.


There’s another reason to avoid the numbing menace of news. By nature, news gravitates to the sensational and broadly political at the expense of the everyday, communal, and personal.

I’ve been following the corruptions of the Israeli head of state (see, I DO read the stuff!). When he feels weakened, he’ll start a war or threaten one. This rallies the citizenry around the flag and capitalizes on fear for the safety of sons and daughters in uniform and at risk.

Public demonstrations or lobbying for social change are suspended. The occupy movement started in Tel Aviv, not on Wall Street, and was shut down by a manufactured “military emergency” called the Gaza war. More recently, the head of state disrupts and scatters desert Bedouin tribes-men and -women to distract the public from the financial corruptions that will bring him down.


The gentle and humane, the everyday and communal, are not newsworthy.

It’s not newsworthy that Israeli women, in acts they construe as Thoreauvian civil disobedience, quietly bring Arab mothers and their kids to the beach, sneaking them illegally through military check points.

Nor is it newsworthy that a graduate class of Arab and Jewish women will amicably discuss the hijab, its meaning, and the meaning of being an Arab woman with an education: does it make her unmarriable?

Daily news has a taste for the apocalyptic and outrageous. It overlooks the everyday decency of folks who are not deemed headline-worthy.

As a result we reduce a country or region we know little about to the impression left by headlines — by horrific violence or ugly corruption.

Sometimes it’s good to read that Vlad is richer than Bill Gates or the Donald. We can shake our heads at that denouement to the socialist dream. And perhaps we can understand the mutual attraction between Vlad and the Donald. They have the same goals: wealth and power and the public be damned.

Trump admires Putin because Putin is richer and has more power and is more willing to kill. Vlad no doubt admires American ostentation because it’s more colorful than drab Russian displays of wealth. So, you see, I read the menacing news.

But to tell the truth I wish I knew much more about daily life in St Petersburg and in Haifa, in Chicago and in Washington, in Venezuela and in Cape Town. Without these rewards, the world becomes scandal- and outrage-only: a numbing menace indeed.


3 comments on “The Numbing Menace of News

  1. This captures so well my relationship to the news since a few weeks after the election. It feels like verbal harassment, as if Trump is trolling the world on a massive scale, just to make us depressed and numb in the manner of a victim of long-term verbal abuse. I want to re-connect, but I want to find a way of doing so without feeling nothing but discouragement as a result.

    • efmooney says:

      Yes, it’s hard to walk away from verbal abuse. You want to leave the relationship, but can that be an option? I just joined a woman’s march yesterday that was great. I see signs in the shop windows that say “Resist hate, assist love.” I’m keeping track of uplifting news, corny as that sounds. Starting with the New York Times argument that Obama has been the best President since FDR. And I’m wearing a pink knitted hat. Our spirits need encouragement.

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