There are good reasons for ignoring the news | David Mitchell

Wealthy American Erik Hagerman has entirely cut himself off from current affairs following the election of Trump. Heres why I support him

Did you hear about the rich American whos cut himself off from all news since Donald Trump was elected? Theres no reason why you should. He wouldnt have done, if it hadnt actually been him. His names Erik Hagerman and he used to be a Nike executive, but now lives on a pig farm and doesnt even farm pigs. He just works on his art and goes for coffee and plays guitar and gives <a href=”https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/style/the-man-who-knew-too-little.html” title=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>interviews to the New York Times. Which presumably he then doesnt read, so the interviewer could have indulged in a rare consequence-free, easy-to-write hatchet job, but didnt.

I dont mean to be snide things I say neutrally just come out like that. Its the rhetorical equivalent of people whose faces resting expressions look deeply sad or intensely cross, so they have to smile to seem normal (which must cumulatively be depressing or irritating, thus retrospectively giving them temperaments to match their looks). Because, as it happens, I support Erik Hagermans life choice.

Then again, Ive got a few nits to pick. For a start, the whole art things a bit lame you can see his stuff online. He just does sort of scrunched things and patterns and, well, fine, but if theres enough rolling news in the world, theres more than enough crap art. Plus, his non-consumption of news media seems to involve a lot of slightly precious business. It smacks of the self-involvement of those who believe their allergies make them interesting.

For example, in order to avoid accidentally hearing any careless talk at the coffee shop he goes to every morning, he wears headphones playing white noise. He says music wont do because stray conversation can creep in between songs. He still watches basketball on TV but on mute so that no contemporary reference sneaks through. And hes given his lifestyle a name, which is annoying even before you hear the name, at which point it gets more annoying.

Hes called it the Blockade. Thats all wrong, and not deliberately, I dont think. A blockade is a siege. Ingress to, or egress from, an entity is prevented by outsiders. What Hagermans doing the entity in the middle trying to prevent ingress from the outside world isnt a blockade, its Trumps immigration policy. Whats more, Hagerman certainly doesnt oppose informational egress from the central entity in his blockade (which is him) because, as I mentioned, he gave an interview to the New York Times. It seems like he wants other peoples attention while simultaneously withholding his own. Watch me ignore stuff! is the pitch.

However, leaving aside my cynicism about how Hagerman advocates his approach, the approach itself is tremendously attractive. The NYT interviewer touched upon criticism it had received in a way that, to me, merely encapsulated its appeal: To avoid current affairs is in some ways a luxury that many people cannot afford. I mean, why not just liken it to a holiday in the Maldives? A lobster dinner? A dishwasher? Yes, not everybody can afford it: for many, ignoring the news is impossible because it affects them directly just as, for many, buying a dishwasher is impossible. But does that mean, if you can, you shouldnt?

Probably. In an ideal world. But youd need to have ignored the news for a very long time to be willing to believe thats what Earth is. Capitalism is pretty horrible, but the various attempts at improving on it have either led to totalitarianism or gradually eroded back into capitalism. Or, in the case of modern China, both.

Obviously, people are much more likely to get slagged off for ignoring current affairs than for buying dishwashers. And thats appropriately capitalistic: keeping up with the news, like buying a dishwasher, involves purchasing stuff. Or, when it doesnt, it involves being sold: allowing the fact that youve looked at something to be marketed to advertisers or worse. Either way, its economic activity. However, ignoring the news doesnt add to the GDP and so, unlike other luxuries that do more tangible harm (eg air travel or golf), it can be widely condemned without commercial risk.

Erik Hagerman himself broadly goes along with this consensus: It makes me a crappy citizen, he says of the Blockade. Its the ostrich head-in-the-sand approach to political outcomes you disagree with. He has been pouring his energies into an ecological project instead hes bought 45 acres of former mine workings that he hopes to develop into a public park and the New York Times interprets this as an atonement.

Over the past few weeks, while not having to find subjects for columns, my own attitude to reading the news has become (to adapt Hagermans unsatisfactory blockade metaphor) a medium-strength raft of sanctions. Ive kept half an eye on events, just in case I suddenly have to stock up on water purification tablets and look for a defensible cave, but no more than half. And Ive loved the comparative calm of it, feel no guilt whatsoever and have no intention of paying for some penitential local swings.

I think Ill always value a vague sense of what seems to be generally going on the alternative would feel like a denial of society. But the way the news reaches us these days, with so much of it either fake or breaking, is worse than ignorance. Its a decontextualised screech that monetises its ability to catch our attention, but takes no responsibility for advancing our understanding or avoiding disproportionate damage to our peace of mind.

Its a barrage of human pain and tragedy, which our brains are not evolved to process without either retreating into a carapace of indifference, or perpetually experiencing the kind of trauma previously reserved for medieval villagers witnessing the Black Death. And its also up-to-the-minute micro-snippets of information about events, the real significance of which will only become evident in many weeks, months or years time; its like trying to assemble a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of Satans face by being given one piece every hour, each one accompanied by a bone-rattling fanfare.

Under capitalism, current affairs are presented like this because it makes economic sense. The media generate money by getting our attention and we grant it most reliably not in response to the accurate, illuminating and proportionate, but to the loud, sensational and frightening. Thats a problem we can only solve by ignoring it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/25/good-reasons-for-ignoring-the-news-david-mitchell-trump-erik-hagerman

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