Theodore Dalrymple Speaks for Me


Among the proofs that we [humans] were not made for happiness but on the contrary often seek out its opposite is the fact that so many of us follow the news closely, though we know it will make us wretched to do so. We pretend that we have a need to be informed and are shocked when we meet someone who hasn’t the faintest idea of what is going on in the world. How can he bear to be so ignorant, how can he be so indifferent? It is our duty as citizens of a democracy to be informed, or to inform ourselves, even at the cost of our own misery; because, of course, news rarely gives us reasons to rejoice.

Economic news is almost always bad. The currency is too strong or too weak, never just right. The interest rate is too high or too low. Inflation is worryingly slow or fast. Natural resources are running out or no longer needed, and all the equipment to obtain them is redundant. Too much is imported and not enough exported, or vice versa. The minimum wage is too generous or too mean or should not exist at all. Shares are overvalued or undervalued, but however they are valued, the next crash is round the corner—though, of course, no exact date can be put upon it, which somehow makes the anxiety all the greater.

Political news, especially in relation to foreign affairs, is yet worse. The leaders of even the best countries are scoundrels, otherwise they wouldn’t be leaders. They are incompetent in everything except self-advancement and self-preservation. They don’t care a fig for the man in the street (of whom one is one). Whoever replaces them, however, will be even worse. Not for nothing did Gibbon tell us that “History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”

The main point:

For the vast majority of those who follow the news, there is nothing they can do about it. They follow the news not because, by doing so, they might make it better, or because they will base any personal decisions on it, but because they are addicted. Somerset Maugham pointed out that great readers often read because they have the equivalent of withdrawal symptoms (in this case, boredom) if their eyes do not fall on print for any length of time, and they would rather read a railway timetable or the label of the ingredients of a prepared food that they have never eaten than nothing at all. “Of that lamentable company am I,” said Maugham—and so am I.

People are addicted to news that has a deleterious psychological effect on them but that they are impotent to affect [emphasis added].

I scan several dozen blogs a day and occasionally dip below a headline on Fox News if the subject interests me. But I am in search only of tidbits of interest (e.g., more examples of governmental malfeasance, more studies that debunk “climate change”, more proof that official reactions to the coronavirus were wrong-headed, more evidence that the election of 2020 was rigged to unseat Trump). In general, I eschew “news” (usually propaganda) about current events for the reason a vampire eschews sunlight: It shrivels my soul.