Events in Ferguson reveal a better way to read the news, giving you more free time!

Summary:  Why do we read the news? To see the answer look at the revelations of Edward Snowden and the events in Ferguson, and our response. The answer will give you that most precious of gifts, free time. The answer points to a path to a better America, should we choose to take it. This is the firstof today’s two posts.

“Newspapers are being read all around. The point is not, of course, to glean new information, but rather to coax the mind out of its sleep-induced introspective temper.”

— Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)


Data man
The multimedia well-informed American

Why do we read the news? What do we gain in exchange for our time and (for those who pay) money?  Some people read to become informed in an academic sense (love of knowledge), but the rest do so for three other reasons. First, sharing in the news flow is society in action, a dance. Today that means gradually accepting the New America — bringing our vision of the world in synch with the real world to minimize the clash in our minds between the New America arising on the ruins of the old — and our understanding of what America should be (i.e., cognitive dissonance).

That explains why so much of the “news” is old. News often reaches the front page only when we’re ready to accept it (how many headlines have surprised you?). Rampant use of force by police (including deadly force), NSA surveillance, militarization of police — all these stories appeared sporadically in the news for years with little fanfare. The time for public action was when they were new. Now these have become established parts of the system; now we accept them; now journalists explicitly talk about them with the ease of long familiarity (see the posts at the end under “The System Worked”).

News plays a second role for us. Much of what we read is “herding” (or “nudging”). Our elites selectively feed us “news” (stories) to build support for their new programs.  Bomber Gap, Missile Gap, Tonkin Gulf attack, Saddam’s nukes & support of Al Qaeda, the big role of Afghanistan in 9/11,  Yemen as “the greatest external threat facing the U.S. homeland in terms of terrorism“, the rape epidemic on colleges — manufactured news gives us many of our headlines.

This works because we have become weak and fearful. These provides a lever with which our elites can easily manipulate us.  {Personal note: I’ve read the Wall Street Journal for over 30 years; it’s become largely a conveyor best for press releases from the powerful to us.}

Third, the news provides entertainment (like WWF, but less fun). We hiss the bad guys, despair when they win. We feel righteous thrills at victories of the good.  We feel involved, just as when watching Monday Night Football, or booing the umpire at the stadium on Saturday.

The news media have skillfully adapted to our evolution from citizens to subjects. You can too, and gain free time!

Looking to the future of news and America


New means to deliver the news
A new & better means to deliver the news

Today we read the news as spectators. We thrill at the news about Ferguson and the NSA, but nothing changes since we do nothing with the news. The Right prospers because they better understand us, as we see in their series of faux scandals (Fast and Furious, Benghazi Benghazi BENGHAZI). Since we don’t act on the news, why not just manufacture it? In a tribal society like ours, people believe whatever their tribal authorities say. It’s just entertainment, a cover for the exercise of power behind the scenes.

America will change when we read the news as intel to inspire and guide our actions. For such a people journalists become essential agents. Until then we’re going to act on the news, why bother reading it? Resist the clickbait. Stick to the sports page, and news relevant to your business and family. Why do you care about Iraq or Ferguson? It doesn’t affect your vote, since the two political parties have similar policies — and most of the few who vote are fixed partisans. Instead use that time to read about our history and the philosophy that powered it. Talk to your family and friends. Look at the clouds and stars.

The future holds unlimited possibilities. Perhaps America will get the people the Founders hoped for, citizens involved in the political process (local or national). The news media will see this new audience and provide the news they want. Journalists will write for people who act on the information they provide. That future can begin any day; it starts with the decisions each of us make as individuals.

The free press is the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people’s soul, the embodiment of a people’s faith in itself, the eloquent link that connects the individual with the state and the world, the embodied culture that transforms material struggles into intellectual struggles and idealizes their crude material form. It is a people’s frank confession to itself, and the redeeming power of confession is well known. It is the spiritual mirror in which a people can see itself, and self-examination is the first condition of wisdom. It is the spirit of the state, which can be delivered into every cottage, cheaper than coal gas. It is all-sided, ubiquitous, omniscient.

— Karl Marx, Debates on Freedom of the Press (1842)


Posts about the news

(a)  See all posts about:

  1. Information & disinformation; the new media & the old
  2. Reforming America: steps to political change

(b)  Tips for finding useful news with minimal time

  1. A time-saving tip when reading the daily news
  2. Suggestions for your daily info diet. You are what you read!
  3. Economics can help understand events in America and the world. Here’s where to find those answers., 16 February 2010
  4. Are you reading the new journalism, or do you still wear the blinders of the old?, 7 July 2013
  5. Finding insights in the seas of information & misinformation, 24 June 2014
  6. Events in Ferguson reveal a better way to read the news, giving you more free time!, 26 November 2014





7 thoughts on “Events in Ferguson reveal a better way to read the news, giving you more free time!”

    1. Mark,

      Thanks you for the link. It is always interesting to see how these big trends play out in the trenches.

      Note that the news media has lost control of distribution, and so manufacturing the news. That they now share that with government and NGO’s (e.g., associations, “think tanks” and other advocacy groups) — but retain dominance over first-person reporting.

      Despite hopes, it’s not clear that this has empowered individuals. Organization and funding remain the key to power in shaping the news, as usual.

      See the links at the end for more on these matters.

  1. Infotainment serves to agitate a population over and about nothing an individual can do anything about. For the individual, in response, since one can do nothing about nothing, one does nothing (except being agitated about nothing and anything). For society, the result is decay since stagnation (at least) would only be possible if people were doing at least something other than being agitated about nothing they can do anything about. As time goes on, we get nothing and complain about it. The response (you guessed it) is more nothing. Rinse repeat decay.


    Through molecular agitation of its internal gases (an apt metaphor), a balloon expands. The gas particles are now (statistically) farther apart. There is more entropy. Is a larger volume beneficial?

    1. SRL,

      “Infotainment serves to agitate a population over and about nothing an individual can do anything about.”

      Preemptive surrender is the opiate of the American sheeple. The Founders’ machinery lies there, potentially decisive yet unused. Saying we can do nothing when we haven’t even tried is the excuse of subjects, showing their fitness for the role. It’s the great circle of life.

    2. I agree. Except infotainment is more akin to an amphetamine than an opiate. It melts the brain. The damage is permanent.

      As a concrete example, I recall during the DC Sniper’s reign of terror, my doctor’s receptionist telling me (after watching incessant coverage) that she was terrified and afraid to go outside. We live in Seattle. There was absolutely zero chance of being targeted, and less than a zero chance of doing anything about it. Yet, here she was, almost paralyzed by fear.

      Turn off the set; it does wonders. Worry about something you can do something about, like demilitarizing your local police force…

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