They say ignorance is bliss and I’m starting to believe it. For a journ-alist by trade, this is a humiliating volte face. I always thought knowledge was power, that forewarned was forearmed. I based my career on sticking my nose into as many people’s business as I could in the belief that the truth would set us free. But I am starting to wonder.
When the news is so terrifying, watching it or reading all about it was always going to be torture. But social media and the ravenous Twitter beast has made the situation a million times worse.
For if hysteria has not set in naturally by the time you’ve looked at Sky News or Mail Online as you butter your toast in the morning, then it surely will by the time you’ve checked your Facebook and Twitter accounts and allowed everyone you know and dozens more you don’t to wind you up into a frenzy of panic and indignation.
This is the medium we exist in. I know that. Donald Trump’s election, like Brexit, put those of us who like to disagree with the cosy consensus in a difficult position. Supporting both, I felt as if I was wading into an ever-growing tide of online hys-teria rushing back at me.
At times, it felt as though I would be drowned in the tidal wave of bile and hatred. But I persisted in belligerently arguing my way through both events because I genuinely believed what I was saying.
However, when millions of people around the world refused to accept the result of the US Presidential election I think I just sort of gave up. Something in me snapped. Or rather collapsed. I couldn’t face any of it. At the beginning of the year, I simply stopped watching the news. I know it sounds odd. But I felt I didn’t have the strength to argue any more. It was as if I had become allergic. I had developed a news intolerance.
And so by the time Lent began, whether purposefully or not, I had hit upon a very interesting form of self-denial. I had given up knowing anything. Anything big, I mean. I decided to keep it up, maintaining an almost phobic attitude to news channels. I stopped buying papers. If I looked online I read only the showbiz. I became a lot happier almost instantly.
Of course, the news bled into my consciousness. Every night, my opinionated other half would bring it home. But this was a nice way to get it, because he had already worried himself sick about it, and so I got a potted, digested, already-reacted to version.
More importantly, I noticed that by the time he brought the news home, it had moved on so far that very often the opposite was the case. Pretty much everything that was true that morning was largely utterly irrelevant by the evening. In which case, it really hadn’t been worth worrying about.
As Lent drew to a close, it occurred to me that, just as one might indulge in a Paschal gorging on Easter eggs after abstinence from chocolate, I really ought to look at the news. So while other Catholics were cracking open the Rioja or the Fruit and Nut, I treated myself to Mail Online. One look was enough. Within seconds I was on Facebook fulminating about the fact that we were teetering on the brink of war with Russia, most of the Middle East and North Korea.
After a period of blissful ignorance, it was too much to bear. A wise woman once gave me some advice for times when one is feeling overwhelmed: “Go and tidy your sock drawer.” It always works.
Similarly, the only way to survive the constant daily upheaval in our understanding of the world and the ever shifting parameters of geopolitics might be to ignore it, and to concentrate on what is directly in front of our noses.
When major world powers can go to the brink of war with each other and back several times a day, there seems to be very little point knowing any of the details. And even less point trying to change it. And less still shouting about it.
It is this sense of powerlessness, I presume, that is feeding the ever deepening disconnect between politicians and the electorate. The only way one can live is to do the best one can within the confines of one’s everyday life. But that is not necessarily a failure. It can be deeply empowering, and spiritual. What will be, will be.
To be as happy as one can within the confines of the infinitely small part of the world, relatively speaking, that one can influence, is not a bad philosophy.
Melissa Kite is a writer for the Spectator