Conveying Authority by Watching

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I highly recommend this article, by Katherine Winans, entitled Baboon Logic. Contrary to the title, it's not a scientific article on our primate cousins, but it makes a very good point for news junkies and government critics like me. Excerpt:

I stopped believing in the government soon after I paid attention to the things it said. I saw the government's word, and then I saw that it was a lie. Period. Enough for me. I saw the state bomb Yugoslavia with munitions dripping with radioactivity, under the pretense of humanitarian good, to a tune hummed by the American taxpayer. Paying attention let me see the lie.

So I turned into a news junkie. I ate it up. I scoured. Ask me about body counts. Ask me about numbers of settlements, dates, who moved in and how much they were paid. I can tell you what a WMD is, who has them, when they got them, how many, who knew, what they've been used for, who hasn't used them, why we care about them, who spent money to make caring seem not to matter. I keep track. Compile lists. Cruise sites. Burn hours. I've burned a lot of hours. I paid attention, because the attention seemed to matter, and I'm not willing to let what's gone on keep going on. Not while I'm still around. I still care.

And yet [...] I begin to wonder what all this attention does for me, or for anyone else. My time and my life are eaten by this obsession to expose the lie. And in every instant that I chit chat about what Bush said or did or didn't do, who pays Perle and how the state undermines the principles it seeks to uphold, at all times I seem to be enforcing this idea that the state matters, that the state has authority, because I'm willing to devote so much of my time to giving it the evil eye.

[...] There must be a different way. And it must have to do with how we live. Our private lives. To whom we grant authority. Where we place our focus. What we make important.

A good point, that. I myself have spent untold hours scouring the news (reputable and not-so-much) trying to piece together a reliable picture of what exactly the government is up to. Yet what good has it done or will it do, in the end? I fear not much. I think she's got a point that it might be better to concentrate more on the smaller picture where we truly have a choice as to what kind of life we live. Granted, it's worth keeping a critical eye on current events, but perhaps it's not worth devoting our lives and our time to worrying about every little detail of things we have so little direct power over. Mainly, it's important, I think, not to get psychologically wrapped up in finding all the holes in the world - because the world will always have flaws, and we need to be able to live our own lives despite these flaws.

Like Winans, I've recently thrown out my television and stopped reading the local news paper (which is mostly junk anyway, and subject to the whims of a few editors, whereas the net offers diverse media outlets through linking and blogging to sources just as reliable as the local paper's). She's reminded me of the need for balance (e.g. spending less time surfing the net for news of attacks on civil liberties). Really, what she reminded me most though isn't a need to change my behavior, but a need to change my attitude, my way of thinking about the situation. It's one thing to be informed and take a stand against a corrupt government. It's another to dedicate huge amounts of one's time to worrying and ranting about it obsessively, because in the end, that screws up our perception of the relative importance of national or international matters versus our own lives, in the here and now.

Originally Written: 08-14-03
Last Updated: 11-14-03