Wednesday, March 30, 2011

News Fatigue

Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed by the effort to follow world events right now? I generally feel obligated to remain aware of current events, to have some understanding of them, and—at least on a good day—to hold an opinion about them. I confess that the largely peaceful revolution in Egypt, one of the most significant events of our young century, has pretty much slipped off my screen entirely. Libya is front and center right now, with a shifting cast of characters too complex for me to absorb. Gaddafi is clearly a bad guy, a very bad guy. The rebels are the good guys, unless they later prove not to be. The U.S. military played the limited (and highly effective) role promised and then, also as promised, pulled back and turned enforcement of the no-fly zone over to NATO. Which is dominated by the U.S. In a most encouraging sign, the Arab League is supporting this operation. Except when it isn’t. Some argue that the U.S. took too active a role; others insist that we need to “finish the job” by deposing Gaddafi. And all of this is changing hour by hour.

That does not leave much time or energy to focus on what is happening in Yemen, Syria, or the other nations where pro-democracy forces are challenging entrenched power, because I also need to pay attention to what is happening in Japan. And earthquake so powerful that my imagination can barely grasp it, followed by a tsunami of incredible destructive force. Many lives lost, others profoundly disrupted. A Japanese economy that may require years to recover, sending ripples around the globe. Crippled nuclear reactors are leaking radioactivity in a tense drama that has skittish people in the American Midwest popping iodine pills. The future of nuclear energy is being passionately debated, with persuasive arguments being made on both sides of the issue. I will share my opinion if you wish, but it will likely be different tomorrow.

These momentous events have pushed U.S. politics out of the headlines almost entirely, but Washington is rapidly approaching another impasse over the federal budget that this time, some pundits believe, may result in a government shut-down. That did not work out particularly well the last time it happened. And here in Wisconsin, the budget bill Governor Walker signed is now officially a law, unless it isn’t, so some municipalities are enforcing it and some are not. Chaotic and confusing? You bet. Democracy is always a messy affair, but in these divisive, contentious times, we appear to be teetering on the edge of complete dysfunction.

I try to read two newspapers each day and read "The Economist" each week, as well as following events on the web and radio. It is beginning to feel like a full-time job, and not a particularly enjoyable or encouraging one. So I am grateful for the sports section, and the beginning of baseball season. The world may be crumbling around us, but if the Brewers can stay healthy, we have a real shot at the post-season this year. The snow will melt, the crocuses will bloom, and the umpire will bellow “Play Ball!” The substance of hope has been built on far less than this: God is good and all, somehow, will be well.


Jim said...

Good stuff, John. I agree it is exhausting, for those of us who try to be "up on" it all. We'll do our best, until the next big snowfall when we get to focus on the tasks of that moment.

Kaz said...

I sympathize with your feeling of being overwhelmed. The kind of journalism being sold today--often packaged for the most schizophrenic of consumers--is not exactly helping us make more sense of these events and I often walk away feeling less informed.

I recall a chapter in How to Watch TV News, where media critic Neil Postman admonishes his readers to have fewer opinions about things in the news. While this in no way lifts the burden of becoming well-informed, it makes it easier by removing the pressure to reach a swift conclusion on any one topic. I've found I feel less overwhelmed by the news itself when I don't feel like I have to formulate an opinion about everything too. Opinions, as changing as they are, likely won't serve me well down the road anyway.