When I was teaching, some years ago, I challenged a student to defend the question: “Why should I watch the news? It’s stupid.” In fairness to the student, I didn’t stop to ask if she’d recently been watching Fox News.
The response to my challenge was, sadly, typically teenaged; along the lines of “It’s all just about a load of places and people I’ve never heard of, who cares?” If only Reuters was able to keep track on who Tiff had got off with last week at a party and whether Ronni’s new leggings were the real thing or a cheap knock off from Tesco.
The news is, of course, stupid in many respects. The defence of the question that I’d have been prepared to accept runs thus:
The news is always reporting on stuff that everyone thinks is important because they don’t realise that it’s stupid. Like the economy and religion.
Actually, they’re both pretty similar. Full of circular logic and fiercely repressive of anyone that questions dogma.
Take religion (please…): the news in the UK over the last week has been chock full of stories, debate and opinion pieces about whether women should be allowed to be bishops. Both sides have cited much careful prayer and meditation in their argument. Still, though, no consensus emerged. This would seem to indicate one of three options: a) that the deity to whom they’re praying is a figment of their imaginations or b) that if (presumably, from the vote, He) is real, he’s either massively indecisive or somewhat sexist or c) that not one member of the church has sufficient faith to get a convincing answer from God and so the whole lot of them should be sacked.
Personally, I’m all for women in the clergy at every level for two main reasons: women are already used to wearing hats that make them look ridiculous and if they do seduce choirboys it won’t be nearly so traumatic – in fact church choir membership could soar.
By definition, the majority of religions must be wrong. The logical, sensible thing, in trying to determine if one of them is right, is to ask which features of wrongness does it share with others. Circular logic, dogmatically unanswerable questions, a complete lack of empirical evidence? I’d say those are tell-tale signs. It’s interesting, though, that in so many countries, religious education is a compulsory component of education and yet the teaching of logic – in particular, logical fallacies, is not.
Religion is stupid.
But religion is important. Our laws, our calendar, our language, our education and the way that we think, our moral reasoning, are all massively influenced by religion.
The economy is stupid.
The economy is important. Ask anyone. Ask voters. Ask anyone who’s just received a bill that’s made their sphincter twitch. Ask anyone who just lost their stupid job.
Have a look at Positive Money. They’re questioning dogma. Don’t get me wrong: I’m pretty sure that they’ve made a few errors along the way too, it’s quite easy to start pulling at the threads of some of those arguments but not anything like as easy as it is to see that the economic system that we have now isn’t making more than a tiny minority of people happier, healthier, freer or better in any way that springs instantly to mind. You can go to the New Economics Foundation for a more cautious, nuanced and less controversial view if you like.
But the world at present, regardless of local deity of choice, worships Mammon. Our daily lives revolve around the manipulation of money – usually for the benefit of people other than ourselves unless you happen to be the CEO of a large, satanic mill or other species of modern day robber baron.
Any politician who dares to question the dogma of economic growth is quickly pushed from mainstream debate and, even though it’s clear to anyone with the intelligence to read a news article with a degree of critical analysis that degree of media influence is directly proportional to wealth, we don’t look far for our news an opinions and when we do, we’re easily distracted by shiny trinkets or the online court jester that is the www.
We are the lotus eaters; gladly seduced by the convenience and comfort of our modern lives. In that respect, we’re like the uneducated serfs of the past, beholden to the church as the sole providers of wisdom and succour; unquestioning and abject. Except unlike them we have the answers in the corners of our ramshackle hovels. We’re just too idle to care.
In that respect, we’re all stupid. But we’re all convinced that we’re important.
We get the news, the economy and, for that matter, the clergy that we deserve. That’s both problem and solution – if we try to make them better, we’ll get better. If we settle and just moan about it, we’ll have plenty to moan about.
Next week: my tips for who’ll win this year’s “Celebrity ballroom-antique-wallaby bollock eating-on ice” on ITV 6.