On March 11, the New York Times featured a story about Ohioan Erik Hagerman’s decision, shortly after the 2016 election, to turn off and drop out of consuming any news or media.
It means that Hagerman, who lives alone on a pig farm in Glouster, located in southeastern Ohio, knows nothing of Charlottesville, or Parkland, or Robert Mueller and Stormy Daniels, or even who’s running for governor in his own state.
A former executive with Nike, Hagerman told the Times that he even watches Cleveland Cavaliers games with the sound off. Given their current soap opera, it isn’t the worst idea anyone’s ever had.
He said he’s never felt more emotionally healthy in his life.
On paper at least, turning off and dropping out sounds perfectly understandable. Trying to absorb the amount of news produced these days is like trying to take a sip from a fire hose. Add to that accusations and cross-accusations of slanted, deep-state, nefarious, false coverage, and you have the perfect recipe for endless acrimony and division.
But the entire reason America exists is because ordinary people thought they could do a better job of governing themselves than a king.
That can’t be done without a vigilance rooted in knowledge and information.
Feeding the beast
Thinking that America will somehow magically stay on course without our participation is like driving on a freeway while blindfolded: Sure, you’ll get somewhere, but you won’t like where you end up.
At bare minimum, the myriad benefits of American citizenship require that we try to stay informed as to what our government is doing on our behalf.
People masquerading as public servants pull enough stunts while we’re watching.
Imagine if we weren’t.
Hagerman isn’t entirely wrong in thinking that news has gotten more toxic. Too much of it is driven by fear, a lack of understanding that you need history in order to appreciate how we got to where we are, a need to feed a 24-hour yawning news hole, and trying to keep up with technology that enables anyone to share raw and unfiltered events in real time; the tragic, the infuriating and the stunning.
Incidents that once would have taken days to hear about now can be witnessed live, in all their gory glory. Every assault on the senses lessens our capacity to be shocked, even as it increases our fear and distrust.
Leave it to Beaver
So, Hagerman is right in that sometimes, it’s all too much, that filling your entire days and nights with news is bound to warp your sense of the world and the people in it.
Yet, we still cannot abdicate our responsibility as citizens in a system entirely dependent on our participation.
Maybe Hagerman can afford to switch off the news. But it isn’t a luxury most of us can. Americans who are concerned about immigration, injustice, poverty and Russian interference with our elections can’t afford to hope that Vladimir Putin will see the light and keep his eyes on his own paper, or that Kim Jung Un will grow up and get himself a clue — and a new barber.
We can’t afford to leave it up to Beaver, or Congress, or the president, or even city council to know what we want, not without our input.
Even as we speak, we’re seeing what happens when vigilance is allowed to wane, as in the current case of Cambridge Analytica’s alleged heist of personal information from Facebook.
Ronald Reagan was right when he said “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”
We can’t preserve, protect and defend ourselves if nobody knows nothin’ about nothin’.
— Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP