I like to think of myself as having certain good qualities. I may not be cool, but perhaps I have other compensatory virtues.
One such thing I strive to be is Well-Informed. I read news and analysis obsessively, though admittedly (with some relief) less now that the election is over. (This means I check my usual sites only four or five times a day, rather than several dozen.) My Twitter feed is jam-packed with political nerdishness. I know who Taegan Goddard is. And I listen to a ton of NPR.
Knowing about the world seems to me to be its own reward. Wouldn’t you want to know as much about life, the universe and everything as you can?
Turns out, no. Not in my case.
A few weeks back, there was a report during my morning commute about the ivory trade and elephant poaching in Africa. It is apparently quite a persistent problem, and the governmental agencies charged with protecting vulnerable elephant populations are riddled with corruption and/or ineptitude.
I switched the station.
First of all, the report made me terribly sad. The idea of an endangered species getting slowly destroyed by human greed and desire for a luxury item is simply heartbreaking. But beyond that, the report was a reminder of my powerlessness to do anything about it. Humility and realism demand I accept that even the most dedicated effort on my part is almost certain to fail in making any appreciable difference in the problem. So it felt pointless to sit there feeling increasingly sad and impotent, and thus I changed the station.
Did I fail in some small but important way? Do we have a duty to face all truths that present themselves to us, even those about which we can do nothing? Is willful ignorance ever an acceptable approach to hard reality? Or are we allowed to turn our eyes away? Where do we draw the line? I can preen about being a “high information voter” to my heart’s content, but clearly I have limits to what information I care to take in. Are these limits just a failure of moral courage, or is there ever a place for them?