Ever since the deadly attacks in Paris a couple of weeks ago newspapers have been filled with stories and opinion pieces about terrorism. Is any of it worth reading, though? This kind of topics used to titillate me but now I think I’m transitioning onto a stage where I gradually withdraw from news consumption. For one thing, I think it’s a more mature position to take because as devotees we shouldn’t be spending time on politics and wars but the horrible quality of today’s news helps the withdrawal, too.
Śrīla Prabhupāda wasn’t a news junkie but he was familiar with major developments of the day, especially from his household years. He had views on Hitler, for example, which are now considered controversial but reflect the general knowledge of Indian society of those days. He also had his own theory about the role of Gandhi’s non-violence in winning Indian independence, he insisted it’s the threat from Bose’s army that convinced the British, not Gandhi. Vaṁśidāsa Bābājī, on the other hand, was blissfully unaware of any of those things. Once, during his pilgrimage to Vṛndāvana, he was repeatedly asked about possible outcome of the WWII and Vaṁśīdāsa simply didn’t know there was a war, nor he cared to know about it.
Both approaches are acceptable in our movement. As preachers we need to know stuff so that we can connect with people but as devotees we also have to remain aloof and as detached as possible. Quality of our preaching does not depend on knowledge of worldly affairs and, as I have seen myself, best saṅkīrtana devotees used absolutely trivial ways to unlock people’s hearts, they certainly didn’t need to read newspapers to preach.
For some people news are hard to resist, however. Men are traditionally prone to discussing politics and having strong opinions even if they have absolutely no effect on real life. These days women are catching up fast, too. Politics was also one of the subjects taught to Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, and the Pāṇḍavas were familiar with politics, too. Uddhava, Kṛṣṇa dearmost devotee in Dvārakā, was especially adept at diplomacy. Swimming and wrestling are called vaiṣṇava sports and politics shouldn’t be too far behind, it’s important part of society’s life and if we want to change society for the better it’s unavoidable.
Having said that, the interest in politics has nothing to do with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, it’s spiritually unhealthy but since it’s already there it needs to be engaged and purified. In most cases, for people with no direct political responsibilities, it should probably be abandoned. I’m one of such people, can’t wait to shake it off.
As I said, the quality of today’s news is atrocious. My local paper keeps printing opinion pieces and editorials on the fate of journalism as a profession but then they mindlessly fill their pages with syndicated drivel. The contrarian views found on the internet are even worse, however, and if one wants to find what has actually happened he needs to trawl too many resources to count. It is still humanly possible but I bet for the vast majority of the population it’s not worth the effort anymore. Thinking for oneself is not as easy as it sounds and takes too much time and energy which otherwise could be spend to flicking through instagram images and facebook videos.
Speaking of Facebook – they’ve lately surpassed Youtube for the number of watched videos. It’s not that people watch more videos there, though, it’s just that Facebook puts more of them into people’s timeline and it puts them on autoplay. If people pause for three seconds before they scroll down to the next newsfeed item Facebook counts the video as watched. It’s just tricky accounting.
Speaking of accounting – the whole financial world awaits next month interest hike in the US. It is actually a pretty big thing because interest rates have been near zero since the 2008 crisis. In normal days this fact would undermine the notion of “economic recovery” but these are not normal days, people have been brainwashed to accept outrageous policies and react in the ways opposite to normal. Traditionally, printing money would lead to devaluation of the currency but the way “quantitative easing” was presented to the public, even to the financial world, the opposite has happened – dollar became only stronger. More dollars makes them more valuable, go figure.
They also changed the ways to count unemployed so that it appears that the US economy is in full employment. They don’t talk that labor participation rate, how many people are part of the labor force, is on the level of the seventies when stay at home housewives were still common. Now women are proud of the ability to have careers but the overall employment is still the same.
So they managed to put together some rosy numbers but the public is still not buying it when they look at their own life prospects. Somehow people’s confidence dropped like a brick in the latest surveys, and the government can’t figure out why because everything looks so good on paper, ready for the December interest rate “lift off”, as they say.
I don’t know what will happen but they can’t postpone it any longer because not lifting rates would undermine confidence of financial markets in the US ability to manage their economy. If financial markets suddenly realize that US authorities are completely out of touch with the reality and have no idea what’s going in the real world then we’ll have another meltdown similar to the discovery of toxic loans back in 2008. Some pundits are already hedging themselves just in case there’s another crisis so they’d get their names in the news as the ones who predicted it.
My biggest disappointment, however, has been the coverage of the “war on ISIS”. It makes an absolute mockery of the affair. French have been cheering their homegrown jihadis when they went to fight for democracy in Syria for years, long before ISIS was a thing. Then it backfired on them spectacularly but all the media wants us to believe is that it’s all ISIS’ fault, as if there is no terrorism outside of that organization.
Russia is not fighting ISIS, media tells us, they are not pulling their weight, they should join the coalition. Obama chimed in with similarly dismissive attitude, too. What nobody explains, however, is why after only one month of non-bombing ISIS the terrorists responded by blowing up a Russian airplane. Somehow after over a year of being bombed by sixty countries it’s Russia they decided to retaliate against. Or maybe that plane was blown up by “moderate” Syrian rebels who, by all media accounts, bore the brunt of Russian onslaught.
Then, of course, there is the story of a Russian SU-24 bomber shot down by a Turkish F16. Russians intruded into Turkish airspace, Turkey claims. Maybe so, but Turkey itself intrudes into Greek airspace THOUSANDS times a year. Russians were also playing up Turkey’s response to downing of their own plane in Syria just a couple of years ago – it wasn’t justified, Turkey cried then. Western media, however, didn’t cover this aspect at all, as far as I can tell.
Perhaps the ugliest part of this story is shooting the pilot as he was parachuting down from a burning airplane. This is specifically prohibited by Geneva convention as a war crime and it was Russians who replayed US State Department comment that rebels killed this pilot in “self-defense”. Turkey said that Russians were attacking moderate rebels in the area but there’s nothing moderate about shooting a defenseless pilot, even ISIS doesn’t do that. To be fair, the rebels who captured the wounded pilot did want to try him and then burn him in a cage, just as ISIS did to a captured Jordanian pilot earlier, but then they decided to simply kill him. In some aspects ISIS looks even more civilized than these “moderates”. Oh, and the leader of this group turned out to be not only a Turkish citizen but a son of a Turkish politician. You won’t find this in syndicated news either.
Somehow things are changing, however slowly. Our Tulsi Gabbard have been campaigning against this travesty of justice that Washington presents as American policy on Syria. Turkish support for ISIS is going to be curtailed, too. Last I heard the US demands that Turkey closed the part of the border which is used to travel to ISIS held territories, and that would include the oil trade and delivery of aid supplies, too. Turkey last week imprisoned two journalists who found weapons being transported under the guise of humanitarian aid. Haven’t seen it in my newspaper either but this news is quite popular elsewhere, pretty much a common knowledge now.
And then there are American elections. What was reported in my local paper is puzzlement expressed by various fact checkers that politicians do not seem to care about lying at all, and when caught they, instead of apologizing, keep insisting on the same lie without any shame. They completely separate themselves from reality, facts don’t matter, it’s the impressions made on people that make all the difference.
Lastly, Ukraine got in the news, too. On Sunday they had elections in Mariupol, a place where pro-Russian separatists advance halted a year ago but sporadic fighting and mutual shelling there never stopped since. Embarrassingly for Ukraine, 66% of the population voted for the candidates from the former president’s party (which was legally dissolved iirc) – pretty much against Maidan revolution and for separatism. In today’s Washington Post there’s also an article about substandard equipment supplied by the US to Ukrainian army as military aid – they’ve got Humvees from the 80s and bulletproof vests that Americans themselves dropped a decade ago. As one official explained it – we’ve got no use for this stuff ourselves so we sent it to Ukraine. Such support, so commitment.
Perhaps I’m missing something important but I believe these examples are enough to demonstrate my point that following the news is a giant waste of time, unless you are prepared to invest this time to find what’s really going on in the world. Why would we need to know this, however? The mere fact that the media shamelessly manipulates the public opinion should be enough to turn away from the whole thing in disgust, and I’m not talking about conspiracy nuts who knew this fact all along but about general population who, I sense, is about to give up, too. Traditionally this means that preaching should receive a boost. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.