This week I’d like to step out of the world of writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror and address the fact that I currently live in the COVID-19 “hot zone” of Seattle; mailed in my mail in ballot a week before the person I voted for (Elizabeth Warren) dropped out of the race, leaving that vote meaningless; and have brushed up against other news stories including people seeing their life’s work trashed by internet mobs in a descent past due process and into a straight and uninterrupted path from allegation to conviction. It’s definitely feeling, here in the second week of March 2020, like things are teetering on the brink of complete collapse into barbarism.

But let’s break that down, starting with the feeling these and other current events are engendering in me.

Aldous Huxley wrote, in The Perennial Philosophy:

Agitation over happenings which we are powerless to modify, either because they have not yet occurred, or else are occurring at an inaccessible distance from us, achieves nothing beyond the inoculation of here and now with the remote or anticipated evil that is the object of our distress. Listening four or five times a day to newscasters and commentators, reading the morning papers and all the weeklies and monthlies—nowadays, this is described as ‘taking an intelligent interest in politics’; St John of the Cross would have called it indulgence in idle curiosity and the cultivation of disquietude for disquietude’s sake.

That’s not a book I would otherwise tend to find solace in, being in general an apology for religions I’m not a party to, but if he can be in general agreement with Bertrand Russell, someone I do tend to be more philosophically aligned with, who said in his 1951 speech “To Face Danger Without Hysteria”:

Mass hysteria is a phenomenon not confined to human beings; it may be seen in any gregarious species. I once saw a photograph of a large herd of wild elephants in Central Africa seeing an aeroplane for the first time, and all in a state of wild collective terror. The elephant, at most times, is a calm and sagacious beast, but this unprecedented phenomenon of a noisy, unknown animal in the sky had thrown the whole herd completely off its balance. Each separate animal was terrified, and its terror communicated itself to the others, causing a vast multiplication of panic. As, however, there were no journalists among them, the terror died down when the aeroplane was out of sight.

…I think we may be onto something here.

COVID-19 is real, and real people have really died. A small fraction of the population is in actual danger, and I’m happy to participate in reasonable measures to help them avoid contact with this virus. That’s actually pretty easy for me, personally, since I work from home and my car is broken so I’m effectively self-quarantined. Still, this is not the Black Death, and this is not the fourteenth century.

I do feel that Elizabeth Warren would make a competent, empathic, reasonable, and progressive president, so I voted for her in the primary. The fact that she’s dropped out has not, however, sent this country into a death spiral. I’ll hope Bernie Sanders can pull it out so I won’t have to be forced to vote for Joe Biden, but if I am, like I was forced to vote for Hilary Clinton and John Kerry before him, I’ll dutifully cast my “not-the-other-guy” vote and we’ll stagger on as a nation. The other thing? Let’s face it, banned books always sell better than books everybody thinks are swell. All that business will either just blow away or eventually descend into lawsuits and criminal trials and in any case a young generation will eventually mature enough to be as embarrassed by their youthful indulgences as I can sometimes be about mine. Because punk rock will live forever, death to yuppies.

What sends me into a hyperbolic psychological death spiral is exposure not to the corona virus, the presidential campaigns, or cancel culture but the wildly uncontrolled non-stop mainstream media and social media hand wringing, doomsaying, and the willful, aggressive ignorance wound up in it.

I write and edit (primarily) fiction, so can happily ply my trade forever without a minute by minute transcript of the day’s events, filtered through a myriad of competing agendas. I can, have, and will continue to stay away from the “news,” full stop. If, in the last couple weeks I’ve strayed from that True Path, it’s only proved to me how smart I was to turn my back on it when I did, years ago.

Maybe all this chatter and yelling and screaming and dressing down and speculation does something for you. I hope not, but you do you.

Just leave me out of it.


—Philip Athans

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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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3 Responses to WHY I AVOID THE NEWS

  1. mjtedin says:

    The media has an economic incentive to get you to read their articles or watch their video. How do you get people to pay attention? Drama. The more dramatic the news, the more likely people are to watch. They love the two-person political races. Even when one person is a shoe-in to win, they will make it sound like a nose-to-nose horse race.

  2. JL Nash says:

    wow – a voice of calm in a time unreason – thank you

  3. Dawn Ross says:

    I stopped watching the news a long time ago. It’s just too darn depressing to keep tabs on things I have no control over. And it doesn’t help that the media is biased and loves to oversensationalize. My parents are avid news watchers and it explains why they are such pessimists. They told me once that Obama ruined this country. What? How? I can see how some of his decisions may have caused hardships for a small portion of the population, but come on. Ruin the entire country? He certainly didn’t ruin their life. They live in a nice house, they have enough money to pay her bills and put food on your table, they have four “mostly” well-rounded children, they have seven healthy grandchildren, and though their health is not optimal it’s not bad considering their age and unhealthy lifestyle. I’m not a fan of Trump either, but I would never be so overdramatic as to say he ruined the country. If I were a pessimist, I’d say this country was messed up long before Obama or Trump. But I’m not. I’m an optimist and I stay this way by not letting myself get carried away by the media.

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