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In Defence of Reality



I was thinking about what to write today for ‘Today’. I am working on eight pieces for other ‘destinations’ and am enjoying that. But the purpose of my website’s ‘Today’ is to spawn a piece that comes to me on that day, spontaneously. That has worked and it’s fun.

But today all I could think of was what I don’t want to write about. Which was a lot: Covid, Jan 6, Putin (and other madmen in charge of the world), inflation, terrorism, sex trafficking, climate change, abortion, ….


Then I realised that was it. I want to write about how much I don’t want to write about certain things. And why.


This goes back. I have a private, one-person, campaignless campaign against the stance that no good news is news. Not front page news. Only bad news is front page news. Sure good news counts when someone gets a Nobel Prize, but how often is that? And yes, good news is headlines when a war ends after 20 years (but quickly it becomes about how badly it ended), or when a national revered team wins against a national enemy team (but only after nearly a century of trying).


There are a few more, but precious few. Go ahead. Dig into media archives and see if you can find eight days in a row when any news source presented good news first. FIRST. ‘Above the fold’. Eight. In a row.


The reason for this is simple and everybody knows it. Good news doesn’t sell. In fact, most of us won’t subscribe even to the best ‘good news’ sites such as: Not enough groan and grrr and OMG and told-you-so.


Good news doesn’t sell because (and this is the alarming point) humans crave bad news. Apparently we want to be furious and afraid, and we will pay to get that way. First thing. Everyday. (That whole phenomenon deserves about eight pieces in itself just to cover the basics.)


So, fundamentally good news is boring. And we won’t pay to be bored.


What makes me furious and afraid is the pervasive assumption that reality consists of only the bad. The good part of reality doesn’t count as reality. And that is stupid. It is ignorant. As in it ignores the truth that reality consists of both the good and the bad. In fact, there is more good in reality than bad. I did a calculation once and found that out.


So I think news needs to face reality and present it truly. Otherwise, it should stop calling itself ‘the news’ and just call itself ‘the world’s outstanding soul-battering, emotionally manipulative obfuscator of reality and seller of distortion’.


if it were up to me, the good news would come first for quite a few articles, and only then the bad. In addition to being more real that way, it would allow the reader to think better about the bad news following. Humans think best in a ratio of approximately 5:1 positive points to negative. Someone else did a calculation and found that out.


But it isn’t up to me (sadly, so much isn’t), but I can link you to a twenty-minute New Yorker version of it. It is an attempt to present the good reality first. They struggle a bit, but it is encouraging:


One more thing: the philosopher Nassim Taleb is one of two philosophers who warn people against watching or reading the news. Taleb says that the news makes us stupid. Specifically he said to Christopher Lydon, 2017, ’Supplying [people] with news reduces [their] understanding of the world.’


The other is Rutger Bregman in his masterpiece, HumanKind, starting on page 391: ‘One of the biggest sources of distance these days is the news. Watching the evening news may leave you feeling more attuned to reality, but the truth is that it skews your view of the world.’




That’s what I wanted to say. Today.


I love to analyse.

I also love to notice. And to ponder. They seem inseparable. A kind of Trinity. I notice; I ponder; I analyse. And I sing.

So I was bewildered this morning when, captive of Kathleen Jamie’s book, Findings, a rapturous paean about spectacular birds, I read this:

This is what I want to learn: to notice, but not to analyse. To still the part of the brain that’s yammering, ‘My god, what’s that? A stork, a crane, an ibis? – don’t be silly, it’s just a weird heron.’ Sometimes we have to hush the frantic inner voice that says, ‘Don’t be stupid,’ and learn again to look, to listen. You can do the organising and redrafting, the diagnosing and identifying later, but right now, just be open to it, see how it’s tilting nervously into the wind, try to see the colour, the unchancy shape – hold it in your head, bring it home intact.[1]

Not to analyse? Is that a worthy thing to learn? Is it possible that truly to notice, truly to ponder, I must not analyse? And truly to analyse I must not analyse? At least until I ‘get home’?

I balked. Then braved. Then bowed.

That’s what the vexing experts have been telling me for years, the Thích Nhất Hạnhs, the let-go-let-god cognoscenti, the Friends, Christopher: be first; first be. A sacred chiasmus.

I want to learn this. I do. Maybe the way is delicate. Maybe it’s not even one day at a time. Maybe it’s one second and only then one more, then charily a full minute, of just being-with before figuring-out. Maybe it is not disengagement as I fear. It is not piecemeal, or shoddy. It is not waiting either. It is climbing fully inside and perusing and smiling and wondering. Wondering is all right. Even peering. Even discerning. That distinction, though, is fine; filigree.

Now I see. The sweet centre of analysis, the juicy, heavenly thing it is to me, depends on its coming later. It needs first to be safe. To be home. Its very completion into being needs the being first.

I’ll try. I have a better chance now.

That of course is the irony. To prevent prematurity of analysis we have to analyse it. And to analyse it, we have first to notice it, ponder it, be in it. Escher would love the cubist infinity of this, wouldn’t he?

[1]Kathleen Jamie, Findings, Sort Of Books, London, 2005, p. 42


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