December 2022

I thought it was important to know what is going on in the world, so I would start every day by reading the news. A bowl of granola and a nice hot mug of information. Knowledge is power after all, and who doesn't want to be powerful? Of course, you can't just read the news once a day. News is live. It's happening in real time, so you need to check in every few hours at least. When news arrives it's "breaking". An unstoppable destructive wave that sweeps away whatever dared to previously be considered important for a precious few rotations of the Earth. The vast majority of news is either objectively bad, for example wars or natural disasters, or just vaguely depressing. Scientists claim that the universe does in fact contain good news, but they're yet to build a particle accelerator big enough to prove it.

Level one of reading the news is knowing what is happening in the world. This is a good start as it separates you from the un-informed masses. Some people will stay at level one forever, just content with knowing that stuff is happening. Happy to slip off their shoes and dip their feet in the cool waters of current affairs, but no plans to get their hair wet. To progress to level two you have to ask a dangerous question - "why?". Why is this happening? What's the back-story, the history, the root cause? Playing level two is like a Choose your own Adventure book but using Wikipedia. You can also play level two using YouTube but then you instantly become a radicalised conspiracy theorist and you lose the game.

If you have a genuine interest in a topic, or it affects you in some way, then it's reasonable to know a bit about it. If it's related to your job or profession you might even be an expert on the topic. But you can't be an expert on everything. You can't know everything. It's too much. It will just consume you, occupying every waking thought and distracting you from the things that are real and right in front of you. Yes, it's important to know what is happening in the world, it's just not more important than what is happening to you, or around you, at this very moment. You also have to be careful not to confuse information with knowledge, or assume the former will always lead to the latter. To convert information into knowledge and ultimately wisdom, the brain needs to be in a position to assimilate it and process it properly. If you throw too much stuff at your brain when it's not ready for it, it still has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is the black hole.

The last couple of years have been pretty tough for me, and over this time I've become increasingly aware of the black hole that sits in my brain. As long as you stay far away from it and it remains small, it's harmless. But get too close and it starts to to pull you in. The more it pulls in the bigger it gets and the stronger it's pull becomes. There have been some moments where I have felt dangerously close to my black hole, but I have always been able to pull myself away. It's a hard sensation to describe, something like trying to walk up on the down escalator. What I've only realised recently is that I have been pouring huge amounts of raw material into my black hole, feeding it's growth. That's right… the news.

The news is generally bad, and bad news is dense and heavy. Black holes love big heavy things. Yum yum. Good news on the other hand is light and makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. If there was an equal amount of good news and bad news maybe it would cancel itself out like anti-matter and matter annihilating each other on contact, but as previously established, the existence of good news is only theoretical. So there is just bad news, and loads and loads of it. An endless stream of misery and worry being poured directly into your brain.

I realise of course that I am not the first person to make a connection between spending too much time being concerned with things that don't affect you and bad feels. I'm reminded of the Father John Misty lyric from the 2015 song Holy Shit:

It's important to stay informed
The commentary to comment on
Oh, and no one ever really knows you and life is brief
So I've heard, but what's that gotta do with this black hole in me?

When we consider the briefness of our lives and the fact that even those closest to us can only know us so well, who gives a parrots beak about what someone we don't know thinks about something that doesn't affect us. This also isn't a 21st century modern-world thing, Thomas Gray, the 18th century poet wrote about how people are condemned to "the tender of another's pain, the unfeeling for our own" and how "thought would destroy their paradise". The poem ends with the often quoted line "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise".

And so, at least for a while, I'm going to try ignorance. I've stopped reading the news. I don't know what's going on anymore and it's quite lovely. My black hole is receding, shrinking, weakening. I look out the window into the garden and see the morning frost on the grass, the lonely fat pigeon perched on the edge of a bare branch. The sky is blue, the air is cold, it's a Thursday, it's December, the dog wants his breakfast. These are todays top stories.

Like many people I hope one day to feel wise, but maybe an important step towards that elusive wisdom is being able to just let stuff pass you by. To be comfortable not knowing things, not having the answers. To live blissfully in a thoughtless paradise.