I often wonder what benefit is derived from the obsession so many of us have with cable news. From my observation, the byproducts of watching and listening to the pundit class drone on are anger, mistrust, and, if we are honest, abject hatred for the opposing opinion. All that is offered on these channels are the superficial views of those who have inexplicably risen to their present positions entirely because they have figured out how to profit from giving their opinions. Men and women hold as tightly to the vitriolic verbosity promulgated by the cable news outlets as they do to the truths of the Gospels, if not perhaps just a little bit tighter. Again I ask, what joy is gained from following these people?
The great philosophers contend that the chief aim of life is to pursue happiness, and that happiness comes from living virtuously. Yet having listened not only to the corporately-funded tirades of these charlatans, but also to the ensuing recitation of said tirades by their listeners, I feel confident in claiming that there is neither happiness nor virtue to be gained from taking any of these pundits the least bit seriously. Who finds happiness in hearing about all the various ways in which our country is allegedly threatened both from without and within? Who finds joy in the hate-mongering and slander perpetrated by both sides of the political divide? Imagine going to the doctor for a once-a-year check-up and always being told you have but a single year remaining to live. It is to be hoped that you would eventually either seek a second opinion, or else find a new physician entirely.
In each man’s life there is enough true, verifiable difficulty to occupy his attention: relationship problems, financial distress, sickness, workplace issues. Yet these peddlers of fear, hate, disgust, and discord only inject more stress into the lives of those who take them seriously.
Yes, it is important to know what is happening in the world. There is no doubt about this, but what we see today is not a concern on the part of cable news viewers with the state of world political affairs (seeing as everything is political, including professional sports), so much as an obsession. Again I utter my refrain—where is the joy to be found?
I have a theory. What passes for the “news” today is one part world affairs and three parts custom-fit sensationalism. News agencies report on the stories their audiences want to hear. They also adopt an angle on these stories that their audiences expect and prefer. Thus, for example, the viewer hears that this or that political figure—always on the other end of the political spectrum—has embroiled himself or herself in so-and-so new scandal and, would you know it, this viewer has been saying this all along that his guy or gal was a bum in the first place.
And why would not these media outlets push such stories? No one wants to hear that things out there are good. That will not sell advertising space! The news must be down and dirty, the true depravity of man must be clearly exhibited, and the opposition must be set up as the antagonists. The “news” today is nothing more than a manufactured, contrived, never-ending morality tale.
Despite the internal discontent engendered in him by news-watching, man continues to place his faith in these discordant news outlets. Why? Because by so doing, the onus of critical thought is removed. He no longer need think for himself when this man or woman who has his own television show is paid to do the thinking for him. How very convenient. This same man or woman—pre-selected for viewing because he or she is already sympathetic to one’s own political opinions— always views issues from the same perspective. It must mean that is the the right way—indeed the only way—to look at this issue.
What joy then is to be found in the watching of cable news, and the listening of talk radio? Circuitous validation. Watch the show, hear your pre-existing opinion be confirmed, and go to bed happy knowing that you are right and that your co-worker George in accounting is wrong.
Modern man is no longer interested in finding the truth. Rather, he is interested in being validated. So much of what passes for news can be easily disproved, or at the very least can be found to be evidence neutral, but because it sounds good and feels right, it is correct enough.
Let us turn off our televisions, spend time with our families, go out into the world, and see what the truth really is.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on the concept of happiness. The others essays may be found here and here. Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.