Friday, March 15, 2013

News that is Always New

Something strange happened to me during the recent American election. My patience with the comparatively plodding commentary on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) ran short. Instead, I went for my daily dose of information form the Cable News Network (CNN). But now, at the distance of a few months, my sentiments are almost entirely reversed. My appreciation for CBC is at an all-time high, just as my tolerance for fakery of Piers Morgan and faux-seriousness of Anderson Cooper has been completely spent. Even when when he clearly hasn't a clue, God bless CBC Power and Politics' Evan Solomon, for his genuine efforts at pretending he knows what he is talking about. Let us also tip our hats to the socially concerned analysis Amanda Lang provides of the latest economic trends and business news on The Lang and O'Leary Exchange.

Hindsight is 20/20. My hindsight reminds me that most news networks rarely attempt to do more than illuminate the world immediately in front of our faces.

The news is perpetually new.  It is presented in such a way that actively refuses to interrogate the long-term 'conditions of possibility' for so-called newsworthy events to occur. We are required to face the shooting, the outrage, the press conference, the natural disaster, or other such interruption into the 'normal' order of things as if these were unprecedented happenings. Only afterwards is an expert found who informs us that all the indicators were there to predict said happening. But either we didn't know how to read the signs, or we weren't listening to those who did. In retrospect, we look pretty stupid for not paying attention. Someone, a sacrificial lambs of sorts, will be fired for our collective incompetence. And so, the world will back on its ordered course.

There are two things any self-respecting reader in the history of the human race should dislike about the news media: its oppressive presentism, and its insistence that every event has a determinable set of causes. Both come out of a gross over-estimation of our individual mental awareness.

Notice when you think about something, anything, even everything, your perspective on things is always partial--and, if you are honest with yourself, extremely limited. The 'mind's eye' can only ever hold a very small number of things under its gaze. I'll admit to having trouble two more than two closely related things in mind. This and that and...and then I am looking for larger categories in which to group things together to make things easier on myself. We concern ourselves especially with what is present, immediate, or ready-to-hand. We also tend to abstract, our mentally lift, things out of the complex web of relations, extending outward in spaces and backwards in time, in which they actually exist. We suppose that this thing, here and now, can be examined on its own, or in terms of its relations with a limited set of other things. Which isn't true in the study of physics, and is even less true in the study of human relations.

We are taught to analyze human relations by breaking them down into their constituent parts. We are taught to look for correspondences and resemblances between the constituents parts. Problems are in principle identifiable; and the solutions to our problems are fundamentally mechanical. A piece is out of place, which needs to be put back in place. We are not taught, however, to follow the many branching trains of thought from a starting point. We do not confront the infinite numbers of ways into a complex system, nor the infinite number of ways out. We are not taught to think of human relations as a complex system like the human body, which can be aided through targeted treatments, but cannot be replaced when the system itself breaks down.

News that is always new is continually forgetting that the world is actually quite old. 

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