I often find myself facing a problem when staring at the page of apps on my phone, and it is one that centers on a red button labeled “BBC News.” I’ve been regularly reading the global news put out for free by the British Broadcasting Company since my junior year of high school, with the hope of becoming more informed about the political and economic dynamics of the world that I am growing up in. What I wasn’t expecting however, was a sense of pessimism that slowly came over me as the headlines reflected a world were life is described best by the famous phrase coined by Thomas Hobbes four hundred years ago: “nasty, brutish, and short.”
As Americans we often do not feel the aftershocks of global catastrophes and upsets here at home. Even when it comes to our own domestic news and politics, the general population is at times astoundingly under informed. Our general public has a history of ignorance in which we have failed to understand cultures we go to war with, drugs we continue to demonize, countries we embargo and shun, or even the inner workings of our own government.
This isn’t to say that Americans are uninformed as a whole. However, Americans are stigmatized as more ignorant than our peers in other countries. Jon Stewart recently aired a report on how India’s youth voter turnout rates are much higher than those in the U.S. Politics and world issues are often shunned from conversation in the U.S., and I have been wondering why that might be.
Life in America is fantastic by global standards. Yet to read the news each day, and learn of government corruption and global conflict, seems like an exercise in masochism as opposed to simply going on with your day. Why would we choose to poison our morning by reading the worst things that are happening around the globe? It reinforces a feeling of hopelessness in a broken global system that always seems to be on the brink of catastrophe.
Sometimes one needs a break from the news. Rather than waking up each morning and reading up on such topics as how Ebola is seemingly unstoppable and about to expand to pandemic, I take a break from the news and try to enjoy my day a bit more. I feel that Americans often feel uncomfortable discussing the state of the world, simply because it depresses us, and as such, we want nothing to do with it. Why would young people want to vote when the system seems irreparably broken? Even someone whose news-watching extends no further than the occasional episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report is still left with a sour taste in his or her mouth regarding the state of the world. Yet, to combat this bitterness, I feel we must grit and bear the mental weight of understanding the world in which we reside.
We should read the news, not only because it is the responsibility of a citizen of any nation with a free press, but also to better understand those issues that depress us, even if the seemingly hopeless nature of the world is often what keeps people away. Yet understanding is what I believe will lead to change. If Americans do more to understand their own government, and the world in which that government is representing them, than we might be more inclined to exercise that tiny semblance of control we possess in our ability to vote. Though it often seems that corporate interests have more of a say in government than we do, if the American people banded together and told the government that corporations are not actually people, then maybe we could turn back the tide. Maybe, with a bit of hope in the system, we might eliminate corruption and lobbying. Perhaps we could fix some of the domestic and foreign problems that we have mindlessly left Congress to babble over and do nothing. Better still, with progress on our own shores, perhaps the rest of the world might respect us a little more, not for the power of our military, but for the strength of our leadership as a democracy. Despite all the mistakes we have made as a people, perhaps it isn’t too late to change the trajectory of our nation, and the world that we lead with waning authority. Why not lead by example? We won’t always be leaders in the world, but maybe at least, we could establish a precedent of change for the betterment of the human race. That process starts with understanding. So maybe instead of thinking how the news depresses us, we should think on it as our right to know what is happening, and through our knowledge have the power to change it.