“The industry has to convince its consumers of the significance of today’s News, and it has to make them want to come back tomorrow for more News—more change.” C. John Sommerville, ‘Why the News Makes Us Dumb’
There are numerous reasons we should be concerned about how much ‘news’ we consume. C. John Sommerville offers many in his article from 1991. I want to consider one: the very concept of ‘news’—especially as it has become the product of an industry—tends to focus on bad news. We are often served what arouses fear, shock, or even revulsion. And this becomes our daily diet of ‘what is happening’ in the world.
I suggest our response should be more radical than, “Hey, tell us about some of the good stuff!” A problem with news is its focus on the ephemeral. Almost always what is ‘breaking’ is precisely that—something that is new, different and changing.
Aristotle says that all men by nature desire to know. We all have an interest to learn, or in other words to see something ‘new,’ or at least new for us. News and the whole online and social media culture that accompany it seeks to fill that desire. And they fairly overwhelm us. We are served up so many facts, images, and opinions or takes on things, that we barely have space to think about anything else. Charles Peguy wrote that once upon a time when a common man said something it was not what had just been served him by the media.
What else is there to think about? Our culture is so steeped in the ephemeral dressed up to seem all-important that it’s hard for us to picture other fare for daily rumination and discussion. But there is so much more, if we make an effort to see it. This will be difficult because our very powers of perception are jaded and thus almost immune to noticing. So it will require discipline, even a regimen of fasting from the glut of stuff.
It might sound trite, but the quality and richness of our life, and our shared life with those we love, is on the line.
A great reason for hope is nature. Human nature, and all the rest of nature. We can begin by cultivating an eye for the wondrous rather than the shocking; the enduring rather than the passing; the beautiful rather than the enticing. It’s all around us.
The other day I was cutting open a butternut squash. To tell the truth, when I saw the inside—though I’ve seen it many times—I thought to myself: this should take my breath away.
Better than anything I’ll see on the news today or any day, are the simple gifts of living in this little corner of the world, with all the things in it, most especially the people. Somehow I need to recalibrate and refocus my consciousness. For seeing these things anew each day, unlike the news, will feed our souls and raise our hearts. And draw us together.
I wanted to share the joy of butternut squash, so here it is:
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Great message today Dr C! It’s so easy to get consumed with the negative news which can’t help but dampen the spirit. It’s important to recognize it as a magnet that pulls us and more important to resist the attraction. A daily immersion in nature is the perfect antidote. And AMEN to the beauty of a butternut squash, a staple in my diet.
Thanks, Karen. The magnet image is very apropos. And your antidote too…
Thanks for the reminder John, we have given up media as part of Exodus 90 but with Lent coming up would be also a good thing to give up for the rest of us. Blessings on you and your family.
God bless your efforts in Exodus 90, Rick!
Loved the video on the Butternut Squash! We do the same with Acorn Squash, roasting the seeds and all. Indeed such beauty in nature before our eyes that we so often miss in our rush to get back to the news.
I turned off the news in March of 2019. Stopped reading almost everything but Kevin Knight’s daily feed of new Catholic articles on NewAdvent.org.
I realized that if the news is serious enough, someone will let me know. I don’t have to go digging for current events that I have no means of doing anything about since the problems in the news are almost always too far away from even the city I’m living in.
Call it subsidiarity if you will.
My stress level almost completely disappeared. I found new levels of calm in silent prayer in adoration for stretches of more than 4 1/2 hours.
In December 2019, I was eating pizza at a restaurant and saw some 60 minutes broadcast on research that won’t be conclusive for another ten-some years demonstrating the thinning of the prefrontal cortex in children due to cell phone screen time. Then I saw some mention of some new flu that China was having trouble with on the news broadcast to follow.
Three months pass. And some neighbor lets me know there’s no toilet paper. I wouldn’t have known. Living as a hermit, I had a fully stocked cabinet.
Two more months pass. My relatives start talking about how awful something or other is which was apparently not worth describing. I waited a week. Finally checked the news and found more outrageous than the Rodney King incident had been caught on camera. Pretty angering but still almost entirely out of my purview of being able to impact a resolution.
By December of 2020, I realized almost nobody was going out anymore every time I went to the grocery store. I could finally find open restaurants again, but nobody could even really chat with each other with lots of weird walls between the seats.
The loneliness got a bit absurd, even for a hermit.
So I got a dog. He is a laborador retriever. A Black Lab. I named him Augustine “The Carthaginian.” As with a family tradition lasting generations, I have now added pages of pre-scripted holy dog puns dating back to the days of Dogma, the Papal Bull (Terrier). Augustine is available to give his Apupstollic Blessing, should anyone out at Christendom like. He is 2 now. We call him Áwgee Doggie, emphasis on the Áw,
I reviewed my publications from 2014, published by Aleteia by Daniel McInerny and decided it was high time I find a way to write a tome on Thomistic Aesthetics. In the meantime, the Catholic Imagination project kicked off by Gregory Wolfe and Dana Gioia’s exchanges in 2014 has grown into an MFA program at the same school where I figured was the only place to hammer down on Aquinas’s Aesthetics since my main concerns about the concept are Ethical.
I moved to Houston only because Scottsdale really hadn’t done anything but proven to be the abject inverse of a vibrant desert. I’m writing poetry nonstop. And now philosophy, too. I have my first published writing since 2014 forthcoming.
I still don’t bother with the news. Given the current state of the field’s ethical standards, I have no interest in writing any more journalism, as I dabbled in once for Daniel McInerny, but only because it was charity event coverage and had football in it,
And I never once ran out of toilet paper.
Daniel, Quite a narrative! It seems you have found a very functional approach. I hope that peace continues to reign.
I have even more good news. This is taken from Naples at the Table by Arthur Schwarz. Pasta e Zucca (Pasta with Pumpkin or Squash):
1/2 cup of olive oil, smash and brown 2 garlic cloves in the oil and remove.
Cube 2 lbs of squash and fry for 15 minutes with some salt and red pepper flakes. Longer for pumpkin.
add 5 to 6 cups of water and salt, bring to a boil, add half a pound of pasta.
when stirring the pasta, smash up some of the squash to make it thick.
stir in chopped up parsley before serving.
can be made thick, medium, or soupy.
Great way to eat squash and a very satisfying Friday meal for Catholics.
Thank you Davin! We’re going to try this.
Next Up: Dr. Cuddeback and Julia Childs on Squash!
Enjoyed this as I also have marveled at each type of squash I cut into, and especially golden butternut!
Amen on the ‘bad news’ vs. good news! Thanks for the post and the video!
Thanks Bridget! More will be coming.