Reading the Eternities, Part 1: Baby Steps

Read not the Times. Read the Eternities”

— Henry David Thoreau (1817-62)

Like the majority of Americans, I’m trying to deal with PTSD — Post Trump Stress Disorder. Tweet by tweet, the things we believed to be true yesterday about constitutional government, or even President Trump’s position on Israeli settlements, turn out not to be true today.

TV comedians who tape their shows at 6:00 PM are afraid everything they say will be irrelevant by the time the show airs at 11:00 PM.

Even Republicans suffer from PTSD. The worst cases are the poor people who work for the President. Every day, it seems, they have to explain some new statement  — or explain it away. Sean Spicer’s  shell-shocked and Kellyanne Conway’s shellacked faces look like I feel.

So, OK, let’s put as good a spin on this as we can. A new administration is just finding its feet. An action-oriented President doesn’t spend a lot of time consulting and deliberating. He tweets whatever he is thinking. Driven more by pragmatism than ideology, he can be a bit unpredictable. The guy is a dynamo. It’s hard for anyone to keep up. Except . . .

The stress comes from not knowing what is true. We are told one thing one day and another thing the next day. Often we are told that what we thought we heard the first day wasn’t what was said and our believing it shows just how dishonest we really are.

In contrast to tonight’s tweets, which may or may not be true tomorrow, much of what Henry David Thoreau wrote more than 150 years ago remains true, including the two sentences at the top of this page.

They are short enough to be a tweet and the President would probably agree with the first sentence, “Read not the Times”.

The President, and most of us, would have no clue what Thoreau means by “Read the Eternities.”

I’ve been reading Thoreau and thinking about the difference between the messages he delivers and those we receive from our news media and politicians. Very little of what they say will remain true 150 years from now, or even six months from now, or next week, for that matter.

That observation leads me to the first step most of us need to take.

To paraphrase Thoreau:

“Read not the Tweets. Read the Times.”

Several years ago, I read this advice from Daniel Boorstin, a historian and former Librarian of Congress:

“It is better to read a newspaper account of an event than to watch it on TV.

It is better to read a weekly newsmagazine than to read a daily paper.

It is better to read a book about an event than to read a magazine”.

He was right because the more time that elapses after an event, the more considered is the reporting.

  • Time corrects initial misinformation and the mistaken conclusions that people jumped to.
  • Time helps us see individual events as part of a larger pattern.
  • Time helps us learn from those events before their lessons are wiped out by the next news cycle and we make the same mistakes over and over again.

So, to begin, read not the Tweets, read the Times. And we will talk about what Thoreau meant by “reading the eternities” soon,

6 thoughts on “Reading the Eternities, Part 1: Baby Steps

  1. When I first read that passage from Thoreau in college–I remember something about ‘you read about one train wreck, you’ve read about them all’–I thought it was cold-hearted. But you begin to realize that your following every little factoid in the news is not only a waste of time, but harmful to your psyche. (I keep doing it anyway, though.)

    1. Yes, and the word “train wreck” in that quote could be a metaphor for much of the political news that keeps us clicking these days. If only the media would agree to mention Trump’s name only when he says and does things that are boringly, but importantly, responsible, maybe the smartest man in the world would start working for us.

  2. Good writing, good points, Rog. Some days I want to stay away fro the iPad or iPhone all together…. but so far haven’t managed it.
    Miss you guys.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *