Being perfectly informed isn’t feasible, but not following any news should prohibit you from discussions on current events.
We all have that one friend, or 20, who proudly abstains from any sort of political discussion because they just can’t muster up the time and energy to actively follow the news. If you are someone who likes to think of themselves as informed — and since you’re flipping through an obscure college newspaper, it’s safe to assume that you are — you probably want to smack these people upside the head when you hear such nonsense. But if you were looking for this piece to be a validation of your righteous indignation, you’ve got another thing coming. I’m here to tell you that your oh-so-ignorant friends may have a point.
At this point, you should be frantically checking to see that you are in fact in the commentary section and not “The State-Run Media.” I’ll give you a second to be sure … all good? Yes, this is a writer from an actual news publication telling you that following current events is overrated. Or if you would prefer to restate it this way, failure to do so is not some grave moral sin. It’s simply a personal choice that every individual is entitled to make.
I don’t mean that in a platitudinous sense either! Obviously, nobody is out there suggesting that we create a law requiring citizens to spend X amount of time reading newspapers or watching CNN, so I think just about everyone agrees that you can’t force a person to pay attention. But what I mean is something a step further: that there is nothing inherently wrong with it. A person telling you that they don’t follow politics should be just as acceptable as saying you don’t like sports, movies, weightlifting, etc. To suggest otherwise doesn’t make you more enlightened. It just means you have a higher opinion of yourself than you probably deserve.
If you feel attacked by that last statement, don’t! It probably applies to about 99.99 percent of the world’s population, and it’s something that we are all susceptible to. The truth of the matter? None of us have any idea what’s going on. Sure there are degrees of ignorance, I’m not denying that! The Civil War buff who has read 10 books on the subject knows a hell of a lot more than the guy who skimmed four paragraphs in his APUSH textbook. But if you ever catch yourself thinking you know all there is to know about something, stop. You don’t. With all the potential information that exists and the countless unique perspectives of which we remain oblivious, we are all hilariously ignorant. Even the best informed of us are only looking through a miniscule window at any particular issue.
Furthermore, people have to be free to pursue whatever they are personally interested in (obviously within the bounds of the law), and if that’s not keeping up with the news, so be it. It doesn’t necessarily make a person an irresponsible citizen to not be super informed — it’s simply a matter of preference. This may seem antithetical idea to that Jeffersonian ideal of a well-informed electorate, but again, those who would cast aspersions on the ignorant should make sure their own houses are in order first. How do you decide which topics are most deserving of one’s attention? When people speak of being well-informed with regard to politics, they are almost always referring to knowing the goings-on at a national level. Yet in their everyday lives, US citizens are indisputably more affected by state and local politics. Why don’t people care about the latter? Well, there is only so much time in a day, and you have to budget your time with what you choose to care about. City council elections aren’t as sexy, or as publicized, as presidential ones, so naturally, they don’t possess as devoted a following.
Still, you might be saying, paying attention to national and global news is at least something. Even if Donald Trump’s tweets aren’t super impactful in our everyday lives, they still matter on some level. The only problem with that is everything is important on some level! Take sports, for example. Does it make an ounce of material difference in your life if your favorite team wins or loses on any particular night? Unless you’re gambling on it, no. But we still care because on an emotional level, we feel a legit connection to these teams, one that gives us a kick of dopamine if they perform well and a bout of misery if they don’t. For millions of people, this sensation really does mean more than the doldrums of politics do. Who are we in the media to tell them otherwise?
There is a caveat to all this, and it’s one that all the news-shunners out there probably don’t want to hear. Up to this point, they’ve probably been nodding along happily, content to keep looking the other way when it comes to topics like gun control, abortion or immigration. But here’s the rub: if you don’t follow what’s going on in the world, then you’ve got no business talking to anybody else about it. This is where the issue of responsibility comes into play. Should you choose to be a more active participant in our democracy, you should at the very least have the common courtesy to develop an informed opinion so as not to sully the dialogue. It’s worth repeating that there are degrees of ignorance. And not judging others for their individual interests is not the same thing as agreeing that everyone’s opinion is equally valid, regardless of their involvement.