Any journalist should hesitate before saying this, but news can be bad for you. You don’t have to agree with the analyst who reckons “news is to the mind what sugar is to the body” to see that reading of horror and foreboding hour by hour, day after day, can sap the soul.
This week ended with a double dose, administered within the space of a few hours: Israel’s ground incursion into Gaza and, more shocking because entirely unexpected, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.
So in Gaza we look at the wildly lopsided death tolls – nearly 300 Palestinians and two Israelis killed these past nine days.
The different responses these events stir in those of us who are distant, and the strategies we devise to cope with them, say much about our behaviour as consumers of news. But they also go some way to determining our reaction as citizens, as constituent members of the amorphous body we call public, or even world, opinion.
As I write, 18 of the 20 most-read articles on the Guardian website are about MH17. The entry into Gaza by Israeli forces stands at number 21. It’s not hard to fathom why the Malaysian jet strikes the louder chord. As the preacher might put it, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Stated baldly, most of us will never live in Gaza, but we know it could have been us boarding that plane in Amsterdam.
Which is why there is a morbid fascination with tales of the passenger who changed flights at the last minute, thereby cheating death, or with the crew member who made the opposite move, hastily switching to MH17 at the final moment, taking a decision that would have seemed so trivial at the time but which cost him his life. When we read about the debris – the holiday guidebooks strewn over the Ukrainian countryside, the man found next to an iPhone, the boy with his seatbelt still on – our imaginations put us on that flight. Of course we have sympathy for the victims and their families. But our fear is for ourselves.
It’s quite true that if the US truly decided that Israel’s 47-year occupation of Palestinian territory was no longer acceptable, that would bring change.
The reports from Gaza stir a different feeling. When we read the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont describe the sights he saw driving around the strip on Friday morning – three Palestinian siblings killed by an Israeli artillery shell that crashed into their bedroom, a father putting the remains of his two-year-old son into a plastic shopping bag – we are shaken by a different kind of horror. It is compassion for another human being, someone in a situation utterly different to ours. We don’t worry that this might happen to us, as we now might when we contemplate an international flight over a war zone. Our reaction is directed not inward, but outward. More
There is an interesting article by Chris Hedges entitled It's NOT going to be OK on the current economic disparity which, he believes could lead to a drastic decline in democracy as states respond to social protests. The question I ask is what can be done to slow or erradicate this process? Editor