From Liberty Street: The Flood

John Turner

Deciding how to handle the spate of information that flows over us nowadays gets to be an ever more difficult problem. It comes in such volume and rapidity that it defeats the genuine purpose of information which ought to be that it stimulates our own thoughts. But at a certain point, information begins to deaden and oppress them. It's clear that most of our government figures have long since reached that point and, in truth, passed so far beyond it they have forgotten what thought is -- if they ever knew.

Think of the stories that have regaled us over just the past week.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, blasted the American military for using undue force in his country and proclaimed that, "Reconciliation cannot go hand in hand with operations that violate the rights of citizens in this way."

The Bush administration pushed amendments to a new war crimes act that would take away the criminality of violating the Geneva Convention.

A New York Times editorial said about this attempt: "The administration's contempt for international agreements, Congressional prerogatives and the authority of the courts has undermined the rule of law abroad and at home."

The Associated Press reminded us that half of Americans believe that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq by American forces.

Richard Holbrooke, in a powerful essay in the Washington Post, argued that American actions "have caused an unprecedented decline in America's position in much of the world and are provoking dangerous new anti-American coalitions and encouraging a new generation of terrorists."

Joseph Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic primary in Connecticut and the Vice President said that the people who voted against him were encouraging anti-American terrorists.

A story emerged which said that Condi Rice was infuriated at the President, which Mike Allen of Time Magazine said wasn't quite true but that her emotions do point to the harsh tensions that are building up within the administration.

Ken Mehlman, the Republican chairman, repeatedly refused to endorse the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut.

Karl Rove called Mr. Lieberman and offered him the President's help.

Howard Fineman said of Ned Lamont, the winner in Connecticut, that the Republicans will have a hard time characterizing him as a screwy leftist, but that's nevertheless what they will try to do.

Chris Matthews asked if Republicans can succeed in calling all opponents of the Iraqi war a danger to the country, implying that, maybe, they can't.

Katie Couric was shown often on TV saying that CBS News wants to help viewers know what's really going on, suggesting that in the past that's not what CBS News has wanted to do.

Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's former campaign manager, said he thinks Lieberman will pull out of the race for the Senate, and that if he doesn't, he will lose because he will be seen, even more, as a puppet of the President.

Jeff Danziger published a cartoon, titled "Joe's Comforter," showing Lieberman standing with his backside hurting and the President across from him saying, "Can kiss it and make it better?"

You could write a volume about any one of these items and spend months thinking about it's actual meaning. But, guess what? You won't, because next week there will be new items just as diverting and your attention will be concentrated on them, for, perhaps, a week. And so on. This is not a pattern to bring forth wisdom.

Drowning in journalistic information will neither deepen the mind nor lead to sane assessments of current conditions. If you want to do either, you've got to find a way to step back. Total immersion is craziness. Total withdrawal is irresponsibility.  The right place in between is not easy to find.

At the very least, we have to remind ourselves, often and firmly, that what makes its way into the newspapers and onto TV screens is not all that matters to humans, and is probably not the most important body of knowledge you can consult. Everyone needs to have something else, something that is important beyond question.

I read yesterday, in Johnson's Dictionary, the definition of "abligurition," a word which does not appear in modern versions. It meant, in the eighteenth century, "a prodigal spending on meat and drink." Certainly, we still have prodigal spending on meat and drink, as a glance at the menu of any upper-scale restaurant will prove. But, we no longer have a specific word for it. I, myself, would like to bring it back into use. That would be only one small instance of consulting the past about the follies of the present. People have been thinking about all the problems we face for a long time, and have devised words and thoughts that would help us solve them. But we habitually forget and spend little on remembering.  My best thought about the matter at hand is to honor remembering more than we do. Despite all the blather about the world changing forever, because of an event or an invention, we are facing nothing other people have not faced. And there they are, in their foolishness and wisdom, offering us vital lessons, which almost never make their way into the news.

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