Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The future ain't what it used to be

The evening news seems especially disheartening of late. The airways are full of predictions of worsening unemployment, a crippled economy, the crisis of global warming, and looming hyper-inflation. The future is painted as dark and threatening.

I often wonder if today's human beings are overburdened with thought about the future. There is a place for prudence and reasonable foresight, to be sure; but modern journalism tends to emphasize dire possibilities and extrapolations. The future - and especially fascination with future dangers - seems to be the major product marketed by the news media. It appears that anxiety is even more addictive to the general public than sex.

The mind becomes distracted with scenarios – inflation, deflation, nuclear proliferation, loss of job, loss of health care benefits, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, incontinence. For those of us that brood on worst-case scenarios, the result is often nervous exhaustion.

The first step to recovering one's peace of mind is a moratorium on the evening news, the front page of the newspaper, and the internet. Then I would advocate the following prescription: an invigorating stroll around the neighborhood, followed by relaxing with a good book, with some baroque music playing softly in the background.

One of Bertrand Russell's saucy quotations sums up the matter: "I saw a photograph of a large herd of wild elephants in Central Africa seeing an airplane for the first time, and all in state of wild collective terror... As, however, there were no journalists among them, the terror died down when the airplane was out of sight."