“No news is good news,” as the old saying goes. Sadly, the opposite is true nowadays. Almost all the headline news is bad news, very bad news.
We’re constantly being bombarded with news about the horrific war in Ukraine, the soaring costs of living, the continuing Covid pandemic and the calamitous threat of climate change.
Those who regularly read or tune into quality news services in Portugal or elsewhere in the Western world can expect for the most part reliable, up-to-date information.
Unlike the propaganda and disinformation dished out by the state-controlled media in Russia, even reliable information in the West can be hard to manage. More and more people are suffering from bad news fatigue.
Older folks will tell you they have lived in “the good times”, meaning between the Second World War and what many fear may soon become the Third. But the way things are going is especially troubling for the young.
A major survey conducted among 16 to 25-year-olds found that nearly 60% of 10,000 respondents in 10 countries said they felt afraid, sad, anxious, angry or powerless about climate change, mainly because of inadequate government measures to avoid a climate catastrophe.
In Portugal, 65% of respondents said they were very worried or extremely worried, one of the highest percentages in the countries surveyed worldwide.
One way for all age groups to dodge the negative impact of bad news is by resorting to wilful blindness. Switching off the TV and radio, not reading newspapers and having little or nothing to do with true or fake news on the internet can provide relief.
Wilful blindness has its merits but also its disadvantages. Burying one’s head in the sand may be okay for a while, but the importance of accessing new information should not be underestimated.
Ignorance can be a temporary shelter, but ignorance is not bliss. It may ensure a degree of happiness for a while but not for long.
The notion that “ignorance is bliss” was first raised by the 18th century English poet Thomas Gray who wrote: “Ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise.” He went on to suggest that ignorance is more about not encumbering one’s mind unnecessarily rather than being apathetic about knowledge.
Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century certainly did not believe in being “lazy minded”. He once recalled: “I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way.”
To the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), “the good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” As an ardent atheist, he had his own version of the 10 commandments. Here they are:
- Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
- Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
- Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
- When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
- Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
- Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do, the opinions will suppress you.
- Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
- Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
- Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
- Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
So, having taken all this in, perhaps it’s a good idea to check a quality news source at least once a day or so, but not to overdo it.
Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt