Perceivings: The instantaneousness of bad

The author in a Tuareg headdress.

The author in a Tuareg headdress.

By Alan Dean Foster

We live in an age when some folks desperately seek to avoid knowledge.

Indeed, they actively work to escape from its very presence. They’re not hermits. They enjoy the company of others, are perfectly sociable, work normal jobs, and have relatively ordinary daily lives. But they can’t stand, or can’t cope with, or just desperately desire to avoid the flood, the tsunami of information with which our contemporary society is inundated 24-7. There’s even a name for it.

Epistemophobia.

Fear of knowledge. Foremost among these poor souls are the many who refuse to watch television news or read any news-related media such as newspapers (you remember those—an ancient means of communication that utilized ink sprayed on fragments of bleached dead trees), magazines, or worst of all, the Internet. These folks refuse to allow daily news into their daily lives because it’s all so damn depressing, downbeat, and demoralizing. To those suffering from epistemophobia, the world is going to hell in a handbasket and, as far as they’re concerned, they want to encounter as little about it as possible.

But, you know what? Overall, the world is actually in much better shape than it’s ever been. There are no major wars raging between blocks of nations; famine is an occasional instead of daily fact of life in increasingly isolated parts of the world; a great many debilitating diseases have not only been brought under control but have been completely wiped out; people in formerly isolated countries can talk to relatives in the most developed cities; and much more. Popular entertainment is cheap and ubiquitous, we’re well on our way to brokering the existence of a common language (English, if only for purposes of doing business), and cultural and economic isolation is a thing of the past for most of the planetary population.

So, then, why all the angst? Why all the depression, the bemoaning, the constant letters to the editors decrying the current state of morality in the world?

Blame the knowledge revolution.

AMaas_5enses_Aug2013

Illustration by Amanda Maas.

C’mon, ya’ll. Take a good, careful look around you. Things aren’t worse than they were in “the good old days.” The difference now is that in the good old days, if somebody in Milan went on a rampage and stabbed half a dozen fellow citizens, nobody in Chicago ever heard about it. If Count Whackapeon of Upper Depravia arbitrarily decided to slaughter a village or two, folks in Philadelphia remained ignorant of the outcome. And if there were a couple of murders and rapes and a bit of arson on the Barbary Coast in San Francisco, it all passed unnoticed in New York.

The difference now is, every one of those incidents would be fodder for the evening news, sandwiched in between what the Kardashians intend to call their next offspring (I believe South is still available) and why the local professional baseball team’s third-stringer catcher’s batting average has fallen off. Beyond such piffle, you get only the bad news, leavened occasionally by a single feel-good human interest story drawn from one of the other five inhabited continents.

And that’s just television. On top of that, you have the daily ration of radical ratiocination that strives to persuade you that the apocalypse, in one form or another, is just around the corner, and here, today by golly, is proof positive of it. If a bus goes off a cliff in Peru, killing everyone on board, then clearly one should never ride aboard a Peruvian bus. If a village is burned in the Congo, then Africa is plainly off-limits.

On the evening news, Fox News’ “World Minute” has to be my exemplar of this obsession with global morbidity. In 60 seconds you learn, basically, that everything is bad. The world is overwhelmed with death, destruction, and devastation. There is no hope, no chance for improvement, and you might as well pack it all in because life tomorrow will never be as good as it was yesterday.

Then they try to sell you a Disneyworld vacation. Or hemorrhoid medicine.

I feel for the epistemephobiacs. I really do. But it’s a treatable phobia. The same technology that enables a farmer in the Punjab to learn that there’s a drought in Iowa also allows him to adjust the price of his harvest accordingly. Whoever wins their local talent contest becomes an instant feel-good story.

There’s ample good news out there, and it’s just as readily available as the bad news. The difference is that in contemporary media, good news doesn’t sell as many sleep aids, or cars, or carpets.

Don’t become an epistemephobiac. There’s wheat among the chaff, even if media prefers to bombard you with the chaff. Knowledge empowers; it shouldn’t inhibit.

I assure you that there’s no need to hide from a world that’s actually better in nearly every way than it used to be — if only for the existence of indoor plumbing and aspirin. You just have to be your own filter, technology-wise.

Don’t be afraid to research your own news. There’s actually far more good stuff than bad out there.

*****

Alan Dean Foster is author of more than 120 books, visitor to more than 100 countries, and still frustrated by the human species. Follow him at AlanDeanFoster.Com.

Amanda Maas is a visual arts student at Prescott College with a focus in illustration. She’s also a minion at The Art Store, in Prescott.

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