Why I No Longer Read the News

“Hello, dear.” I recognize subtones of melancholia in my grandmother’s voice.

“Hi.”

“Have you heard the news?” 

“No, what happened?” I instantly panic; what have I missed? Are we on the brink of the third world war, a nuclear crisis, a coup? Have recent protests turned deadly, the ice caps finally melted, and low-lying islands flooded ?

“Today, they confirmed 50 cases more than yesterday, bringing the total to 1124.”

“Oh.”

“What do you mean OH?!!!”

- End conversation - 

Yes, a simple, unimpressed, passive Oh. Accompanied by a looong sigh. Luckily I was sitting in my Scottish dorm room, miles away from my grandmother’s living room; otherwise, she would scold me for rolling my eyes. Not once, but twice. 

I believe the conversation took place sometime towards the end of October, just when they announced the beginning of the second lockdown in Slovenia, my home country, as a response to daily reports of Covid-19 cases exceeding 1000. Funny, for a country with only two million people who are literally bound to their homes, that seems quite a lot. It is no wonder that the conspiracy theories started!

Alas, that is why I stopped reading the news, with a few exceptions. I still scroll through The Guardian and read Al-Jazeera. But, I have decided to adopt Jason Brennan’s (Against Democracy, 2016) idea of rational irrationality; he advocates that it is instrumentally rational for a person to be epistemically irrational. He limits his ideas to the sphere of politics, but I applied it to the Covid pandemic.

Allow me to elaborate: the expected cost of learning the information needed to reach a sound conclusion does not compare to the expected benefits of possessing it. What good does it do to know the precise number of cases if, by the next day, they change again (and not for the better, but for the worse)? I got tired. So I stopped following the pandemic. The numbers. The restrictions. With governments changing them every three days, it is hard to even know where to walk. Who to walk with. To walk or not to walk? I know the stores are closed. Food and drinks take-away only. No parties. No in-person teaching. And that suffices. 

In Brennan’s view, this allows me to completely ignore the reports and instead focus on the news that interests me. At the time of the conversation, Poland had just passed the abortion law. Did my grandma talk about that? No. She focused instead on the meaningless numbers and the US presidential campaign. True, the American government dictates the happenings in the rest of the world. However, for my socio-geographical region, the injustices in Poland and Hungary are far more relevant, because our right-wing leader, Janez Janša, considers them exemplary countries, meaning he can easily enforce oppressive laws claiming that if it works in Poland, it will work for us as well. We are, nevertheless, Slavs, brothers, one and the same. And so he will pass a new decree, banning free speech, for example. Still, the citizens will not notice because the first ten pages (out of 12) of the local newspaper were shouting random covid statistics. The small rectangular script on page twelve, where the decree was noted, was completely overlooked. 

Maybe it is too extreme to say that I no longer read the news. Perhaps a more appropriate title would be “Why I Ignore the News” - why I employ selective reading. And honestly, I suggest you do the same. Listen to Brennan: do what interests you. You shall see me reading about the protests in Myanmar, Ottolenghi’s new recipe collection in The Guardian, or lists of the best movies of 2020, rather than “The problem with X vaccine, pt. 1768543”.