Read not the Times

The field of economics points out that everything we do prevents us from at the same time doing something different: This law of life economics calls “opportunity costs.” If you do this, you can’t at the same time do that. Being here means you can’t at the same time be there. Despite what commercials tell you, you can’t have it all. You must “make your option, which of two.”

That very useful law occurred to me this morning in connection with the practice of following the news.

Most of the people I know are intelligent and college educated. (And by the way, if you think those two qualities are synonymous, you have another think coming). Most of them follow the news at least to the extent of listening to National Public Radio. When they learn that I rarely listen to radio news, or watch television “news” (TV news hardly deserves to be called news) and don’t read newspapers or newsmagazines – the little news I get, I read from the internet — they are often somewhat shocked. It seems to them (I suppose) that I am deliberately choosing ignorance over knowledge.

Not so. I’m heeding the law of opportunity costs. There are but 24 hours to a day, and every moment spent watching TV news about things that don’t really concern you are moments lost to whatever else you might have been doing. Announcements of how many people died in this or that airplane crash or earthquake or flood are very little removed from descriptions of celebrity scandals, and are no more useful. Nearly always, news reports concern the surface appearance of things, never the substance. If any of these stories really concern me, I know that I have to dig for information that any news broadcast or report is unlikely to provide. In the absence of such digging, “keeping up with the news” merely provides familiarity with names. So what use is it to read of the appearance of crises in finance or foreign policy or political horse-races?

It is useless and worse than useless, for it tends to mold your mind-set, subtly manipulating you day by day to see the world a certain way.

I don’t mean to imply that I always, or even usually, make the best use of my time that I can. Unfortunately, I don’t. But neither do I waste my time listening to things that result in my merely gaining familiarity with names and thinking that I know what’s going on in the world.

Every moment you gaze outward toward appearances is a moment that you cannot spend gazing inward toward realities. Every moment pinned to the present is one lost to the wider world of past and future. Every moment spent absorbing another person’s views is one lost to your forming views of your own.

“Read not the Times,” Henry Thoreau said long ago. “Read the eternities.”

13 thoughts on “Read not the Times

  1. Frank,

    Yes, to all your points.

    Your primary insight [I read “Every entertainment choice has a cost”] should be noted in the school of “selective sensual imput”, along with “Garbage in, garbage out, What you see is what you be. You are what you eat. Gossip is the food of fools..” etc.

    I am also reminded of Andrew Weil’s 8 steps to health, one of which is “news” fasting: skip the daily murder, mayhem, and misery. Mark Twain made the same point over 100 years earlier. Thomas Jefferson modified his bedtime reading from news to philosophy and religion, and reported that it improved his dreams.

    Seems that “Sensory fasting” has had a long and noble history in humankind’s healing kit. Ironic, isn’t it, that your reminder comes to us via “the news”,the very poison we’re trying to limit?

    regards, clay

  2. I agree with all you said and clay’s concept of news fasting as well. I use to get up and watch the Today show everyday religiously and noticed how each day became more and more depressing for me. When I started fasting from the news my whole outlook was much better. I start each day on a positive note through meditation. What a difference!

    No news or news magazines or newspapers in this house. Good of you to bring this to the conscious mind.

  3. Thanks, Sherry.

    You know, it’s funny, I posted that entry expecting to be blasted by people telling me I was sticking my head in the sand. This morning, reading your comment, I asked myself why I had expected that. The answer I think is that whenever we (or anyway I) do or think things that cut contrary to what our society continually supports, we (or anyway I) feel exposed, naked, suspecting that the difference between us and — presumably — nearly everybody else means that we are wrong.

    Then, when we put out our own thought, our own experience, we sometimes hear from others who, like ourselves, do not fit the stereotypes the media’s megaphones are relentlessly pounding into our brains.

    There are more of us than there are of them! (Maybe.) For all we know, the media-promoted representatives don’t even exist except as media stereotypes, any more than the Cleaver family did, or Ozzie and Harriet, much as we may have loved them. So we thank God for each other as we find each other in real life.

    As I said — thanks.

  4. Nicely said. I’ve been on a news moratorium for some time now. It started not for time considerations as much as to get away from the negativity. “If it bleeds, it leads” says it all. But looking back, I have to say that I’ve used the time much better than I would have, either being really entertained with a good book, or really learning something, or really closely examining the insides of my eyelids.

  5. Sherry sent me this by private email and when i told her i liked it and wanted to post it here she said go ahead, so even though it appears by my name rather than hers, it’s from Sherry.

    If you’ve never read Rainer Maria Rilke, now’s as good a time as any to start.


    I read your response to my reply on your website. I wanted to share this with you, but not necessarily everyone. It’s not personal or anything, but it was something I read today and I thought it was interesting. I struggle with self doubt all the time and thinking that if I don’t think like the main stream then maybe I am weird. So this excerpt from a book was meaningful to me and maybe to you as well.

    From “Letters to a Young Poet”, by Rainer Marie Rilke, 1904

    And your doubt may become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become critical. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perplexed and embarrassed perhaps, or perhaps rebellious. But don’t give in, insist on arguments and act this way, watchful and consistent, every single time, and the day will arrive when from a destroyer it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the cleverest of all that are building your life.

    Well, now that I put it here for you and in this context….I think you are doing just that and I am the one that this is most meaningful for. It’s good insights anyway and everyone can use good insights.


  6. Hi Frank – Was just talking to Rich and told him how I wish my folks had the mental capability now for me to be able to share your piece with them. I can’t verbalize my thoughts very well and you have concisely stated why I feel the news media had become a danger to the intellect and rational thinking. I have watched my folks submerse themselves in the slanted, negative, thought controlling process that our news has become and they now are unable to see the wonder and beauty in life around us. I have received, in spades, the very comments you were expecting to see when I have expressed my views about limiting news and media input. Nice to know I’m not the only one with my “head in the sand” πŸ™‚

    Totally different subject – am thoroughly enjoying The Sea Priestess. The story is excellent but the imagery is breathtaking. One of those books where I look up and see around me those surroundings rather than my current one. Am also looking forward to starting on Dr. Ritchie’s books. Have you ever read any of Taylor Caldwell? She has always been one of the many “favorite” authors I have. She wrote a book when she was 12-13 called the Romance of Atlantis. Her father locked it away as he was sure she had plagiarized (sp?) it, as it was written from a very adult perspective. This was one of the first crumbs I had dropped in front of me that led me to my belief in reincarnation.

    Happy Holidays, Frank. I consider you one of my presents this year πŸ™‚

  7. Thanks very much. I hope you won’t be inclined later to return the gift to sender. πŸ™‚

    I haven’t read any Taylor Caldwell since reading Dear and Glorious Physician as a boy — which was in another century. But Dion Fortune! In fact, I have just re-read three of hers, Sea-Priestess, Moon-Magic and The Secrets of Dr. Taverner. She was an amazing author and an amazing woman.

    As to the news, i don’t know what’s to be done for others. Sauve qui peut, I suppose.

  8. No, not a gift I’ll return but I am aleady passing it on.

    That’s about when I was reading her books also. Have to say Captains and the Kings scared me and opened my eyes to look more deeply at things also. I haven’t ordered Moon-Magic yet but is on the list. In her prologue to Sea-Priestess she says something about her characters not being that likable – but I think they are quite wonderful. Intelligent, funny, wry, open, questing – what’s not to like? Promised myself I wasn’t going to motor-mouth again and here I go. It is just fun to talk to someone who enjoys good books.

    I don’t think there is anything that can be done for others – the only one we can direct is ourself – but it doesn’t keep you from being sad sometimes to see the waste.

  9. A bit over a year ago I asked people to take me off all the forwarding lists for anything political, religious, or news-related. My life has since improved immensely, and I have had time to do other things I much prefer (such as writing, painting, music, and wine, blog writing, reading, cooking, time with friends). I’m with you on this one.

    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine

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