All We Need to Do to Avoid Watching the Current Madness on the Evening News Is Change the Channel to Something Inane and Fatuous. But Now’s No Time for Consoling Fictions.

Watching the evening news these days is almost more than I can stomach, maybe even bear. Probably you too. I feel diminished almost to the point of questioning my ability to stay sane and at the same time continue to stay abreast of current events as I watch footage of Lebanese ambulances strafed and set afire by Israeli warplanes and screaming Israeli children terrorized by the sounds of air raid sirens and Hezbollah rockets.

It sent me reaching for my copy of geographer Yi-fu Tuan’s remarkable book, Landscapes of Fear. I have never forgotten his closing observations after two hundred pages of recounting of humanity’s often painful journey to these postmodern moments. It will take a bit of space but here are Professor Tuan’s final thoughts on the topic:

[The] critical mind unweighted by tradition deprives modern man and woman of many beliefs that once gave comfort. Human beings are fragile, their sojourn on earth is subject to chance. Accidents, not suffering, are our most authentic memento mori, says Iris Murdock. They remind us of our contingency. Anytime, my dear and familiar ways and life itself can be terminated by something totally unexpected and horrible—a fortuitous concurrence of events. I walk along the sidewalk whistling a tune; a flowerpot slips off the windowsill and falls on my head, killing me or reducing me to a vegetable. Human beings have always been aware of this element of fortuitousness, and have sought to guard against it with beliefs and devices that are as pathetic as they are ingenious, ranging from rabbit’s foot to astrology. The critical person, who finds no haven in such beliefs, must learn to live in statistical uncertainty. As to death itself, it is well known that most people cannot face it except under the wraps of consoling fiction. We know the rewards of seeing clearly and well. The cost is the possibility of despair. Yet, such is the human paradox that even the refusal to be consoled by false images can become a source of comfort and strength.

And so we must continue to watch the evening news, lest we begin to see less clearly and well and be robbed of the opportunity to find comfort and strength in all that is there to see.

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