Last week when a storm hit the West Coast, some of the electrical power went off and my television was affected. I called Comcast and they explained that my zip code area had an outage. That Comcast outage lasted several days.
I found, however, that if, instead of working with my Comcast remote, I pushed the On button at the top of my television I could, for unknown reasons, still get PBS.
One evening, PBS featured two and a half hours of news which was, of course, mostly bad news, one program after the other, starting with a gruesome and senseless war in an African country, the tragedies in another involving political malfeasance, the lack of the recommended Covid shots in a number of states, repeated reviews of the dreadful January 6 Capital Building riot, a car accident killing in which the crazy teenaged driver stated that she simply wanted to nudge the pedestrian a bit. But the episode that challenged me most was the sight of the heartbreaking starvation of so many children in Madagascar, and one that featured a small girl with pleading eyes and a painfully distended stomach. Owing to the crisis of global warming, it hasn’t rained in a far south Madagascar area for several years and the area lacks the water for growing crops. There is something especially disturbing about seeing events as, or immediately after, they happen. When witnessed in living color, as a feeling and compassionate human being I felt pressed to act. But how?
News nowadays is almost invariably bad news. Reporters go all over the world to find out what is wrong. The little acts of kindness that make the day to day is not news. Empathy is part of being human and one of our very best attributes. How can we deal with so much fearful and threatening information? How can we live in peace and justice while being aware of so much in the world that is tragic or scary? The pathetic visual memory of those starving children lingered to spook my days.
Then, a week later, while watching another television program, I learned that food and money had arrived in Madagascar. This news, briefly stated and without pictures or more than a moment of explanation, eased my sadness.
My NY Times never leaves me in tears. Written articles have a spatial distance that movies and videos lack. I grew up with news that was read or radio news that was broadcast -- and often long after the fact. I didn’t even know very much about the Holocaust, the most horrible event that occurred in my long life, until after World War II had ended. Perhaps it doesn’t matter; I was a teenager in the States and couldn’t have done anything to rectify the atrocities in Europe. But as to the news of today, is it humane to be so informed, to know so much, too much perhaps. It certainly isn’t human.
On the Firing Line on November 12, 2021, the compassionate artist Ai Wei Wei said that with the explosion of technological communication “we know more than we can understand.”
I have decided to ameliorate the significance of news in my life. I only get a copy of the NY Times on weekdays. I have stopped watching televised news on Saturday and Sundays. News does, of course, manage to creep in, but not, usually, as a mainliner. I can recommend this self-imposed weekend vacation.