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Why Are We in Afghanistan? And Other Pressing Questions

Bill Press had a discussion on the “war” in Afghanistan on his radio show this morning. I put the word “war” in quotation marks because it remains difficult for me to decide whether this is an actual war or another incursion/occupation based on our idea of promoting democracy around the world—even in places that aren’t receptive to it. His point was: Where is the media coverage? Where is the information about the war that we can actually use? Why is the media moving from one event/disaster/news story to another, once again without giving the American public anything to hang our hat on?

Point taken.

I, for one, am finally and perhaps irrevocably suffering from information, or perhaps lack of information, overload. An earthquake here, another there; the huge oil spill in the Gulf, health care, a Supreme Court fight, upcoming elections, Iraq, Afghanistan, jobs, the continue recession and housing crisis….it all seems to seamlessly (if problematically) meld into one unending story of doom and destruction.

No wonder the American public is suffering from a collective Attention Deficit Disorder. The media, in its inimitable fashion, perpetuates it, and it takes a stronger woman than I to both deflect and absorb all I should deflect and absorb.

Some of us are just hunkering down and working on our gardens. There is something Zen-like about pulling weeds and planting flowers and vegetables, even as we struggle with debt and foreclosure and joblessness and a sort of existential despair that seems never-ending. And why not? No matter how often we spin the dials of our radios, flip the channels of our televisions, turn the pages of our newspapers and magazines, and jump from internet site to internet site, the chances that we will really A) find anything we can actually use to either inform us or make us feel more in control and B)feel anything like we have a handle on the issues of the day becomes slimmer and slimmer.

Even those of us who truly wish to keep up find that the work of keeping up is more work than we can possibly handle.

Some of us resign ourselves to just shutting down completely, turning off all sources of “information” save for celebrity rehab and plastic surgery stories, meta posts on writing sites, or bad reality television. Some of us even eschew those assaults on our consciousness. A scattered few spend their time trying to meditate their way out of the abyss that is modern society with its overload of, well, nothing much we can either use or understand.

We know that Afghanistan is a mess we may never fully grasp and that the implications of our sending troops with so little back-up for so very long may well be with us long after our own children, and even our grandchildren, are grown and gone. We know, despite our best efforts, bombs continue to kill people in Iraq, while the European Union struggles with debt that may dwarf our own and important elections in England will have consequences we can’t even really imagine; we remain aware that the tourism and fishing industry along the Gulf is on its way to total destruction. We know that the health care bill is imperfect, at best, and that our Congress seems immobilized. That hundreds of important bills are languishing in the Senate and House and will never see the light of day. We know that the continued infighting between the right and left is heating and heating up, and that hatred and ugliness is so permeating the airwaves and internet that it sometimes seems that civility is a completely lost cause.

And yet, those of us who write and think and wonder and want to make a difference find it hard to just sit back and give up. We search and search for information in which to make informed decisions, even as that “information” makes our blood boil and our heads nearly explode. We wish to remain sanguine but we cannot. Because to stop asking the hard questions, to stop trying to stop evil and misinformation means to lose our place at society’s table—something we are loathe, even as we recognize its ultimate futility—to do.

I doubt any of us would really wish to go back to the age when our news was spoon-fed to us by a limited number of “experts” who kept us abreast of what was really “good” for us. The simpler time was never simple at all. But the explosion that is “information” without context, that is opinion without fact, that has us careening from story to story to story—each with its own limited shelf life—doesn’t seem to offer anything more concrete than ignorance sometimes. In fact, so much ignorance and misinformation is inherent in the information overload that the irony is in escapable. Parsing what is on offer could, if we let it, become a full-time job, something no one I know can really afford. There are still the children to raise, the relationships to nurture, and the laundry to do. Groceries must be purchased, bills must be paid, elderly parents must be attended to, even as we may yearn to retire to a beach (unspoiled, if we can find such a place) with a drink and a novel.

I know I am not alone in wanting both more and less: an impossible quest. How then do we get the information we need to make informed decisions and choices, cut out the distractions posed by Snooki and the Sex and the City ladies, and shoot-em-up movies, and internet snark, and the huge numbers of people who assure us that if we just accept the Christian roots of our nation and turn our lives over to Jesus Christ all will be answered? How do we even reconcile all those conflicting notions and come out even reasonably sane, never mind reasonably informed?

I have no answer, even as I fight my own inclination to just shut down and turn off. There must be a way to process what is necessary and jettison the rest but I,for one, despite my desire to do so, have yet to find it.