Too Much Information
The virtues of living in a news vacuum
I have a friend named Jack who watches the news. He reads the newspaper. He reads news blogs and listens to news radio. He is well-informed. He is hyper-aware. He has his finger on the pulse of the world. He is completely depressed.
“How could you just not watch the news?” he shouts at me. “Don’t you care what’s going on? Don’t you feel the slightest obligation to stay abreast of the issues? Don’t you realize knowledge is power? Don’t you think you have a responsibility to stay informed?”
I don’t. I wonder if the one who came up with the term “Information Age” was being sarcastic, as the information it has come to refer to is not simply a burden and a chorethough that would be bad enoughbut a lie, a distraction. This information that leads to knowledge, it is not information about the nature of man, new theories of existence, fascinating insights into our own tortured human ways that will allow us to become a deeper, more whole species. It’s about mudslides in India, bombs in Sri Lanka, diseases in Africa, child molesters in Florida. Jack drinks heavily, and doesn’t want to talk about it; he maintains destructive relationships with family members who hate him, and doesn’t want to talk about it; he knows which issues were discussed at the G8, and is closely monitoring the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Those things he wants to talk about. He is not the exception. Most people would rather look outward than inward, but it seems to me this Information Age bullshit has cloaked avoidance in virtue and made the distraction an obligation. I went cold turkey five years ago. No newsno television, no magazines, no newspapers, no blogs, no op-eds, not even, sadly, The Onion. I’ve never been happier. This is the headline I hope to see on the Drudge Report one day, the day before the blessed end of the Age of Pseudo-Information, just below Matt’s Flashing Red Light Of Pseudo-Importance: GO ON WITH YOUR LIVES! STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE TRAINWRECK IN BANGLADESHYOU’RE THE TRAINWRECK… YOUR WIFE IS HAVING AN AFFAIR AND YOUR SON HATES YOU… THERE ARE NO ANSWERS HERE… DEVELOPING…
A month ago, I was flying high. I was on cloud nine. I was on top of the world. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and I was getting set to make one last pass on the manuscript I had been working on for almost two years; I would be done with it, finally, in just a couple of days. I went online to email my editor the good news, where I found an email from Jack waiting for me:
Did you hear what’s going on in Israel?
HEZBOLLAH CAPTURES 2 ISRAELI SOLDIERS shouted the headline on Drudge. The words ‘ACT OF WAR’ were hyperlinked above it.
By 10 o’clock that night, I had checked the site another 20 times. By midnight, the U.S. was blaming Iran, Iran was threatening Israel, Israel was calling up reserves and I hadn’t written a single goddamned word.
The first time I ever saw a naked Jewish woman, I was eleven and she was dead. She was somewhere in the Holocaust, sprawled on her back on top of a tall pile of other emaciated corpses; head back, arms like broken antennae, a black tuft of pubic hair rising between her grey legs. A Nazi soldier was using a bulldozer to scoop the bodies up and dump them into a waiting carting truck. I glanced at Eli, and Eli glanced at me, and we quickly looked away.
It was Holocaust Remembrance Day, and we were gathered in the yeshiva auditorium. All morning long we watched explicit newsreel footage and graphic documentaries. Then, lunch. For dessert we were given white sugar cookies with blue frosting, shaped like a Star of David. Afterwards, it was back to the auditorium for more footage: gas chambers, crematoriums, a Nazi pushing an old Jewish woman to the ground and spitting in her face. Three hours later, we were sent home. “Remember the Holocaust,” read the final slide of the day’s presentation. “Never Again.”
Two weeks later, I fell madly in love with Lince Rivera.
“My God,” I thought as I peered out from behind the curtain of my bedroom window, “she’s beautiful.”
She wasn’t. Her forehead was too tall and her eyes too far apart. But she was unlike any woman I had ever seen.
It was Saturday, and Lince was out for her early morning run. She ran every morning, and every morning, since Holocaust Day, I crouched beside my bedroom window, waiting for her to run past, and when she had gone, I closed my eyes, clasped my hands together and prayed:
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam who makes Lince love me, Amen.
We lived on a dead end street named Arrowhead Lane; our house sat at the end, where the street died. As Lince circled around the cul-de-sac and headed back up the street, I silently repeated the prayer I knew God would refuse; my rabbis had already taught me that while the Gates of Heaven are always open for the prayers of God’s Chosen People, one may not ask Him for that which He has prohibitedone may not, for example, ask for permission to steal (the Eighth Commandment) or violate the Sabbath (the Fourth Commandment)so the odds of God answering my prayers for Lince’s attention were a theological Hail Mary. Lince was not only a shiksa, she was also a shvartza. The first fact would anger my mother (the Fifth Commandment); the second would kill her (the Sixth Commandment).
I couldn’t help myself, though. All the parts of the women in synagogue seemed to point to the groundtheir breasts, their bottoms, even their backs hunched over, their bodies seemingly eager to begin their inexorable descent to the grave. Lince’s parts pointed straight into the airdefiant, alive. She had muscles where I didn’t even know muscles could be, on her thighs, her shoulders, her back. The women around me didn’t have muscles. They had grocery bags, and worries, and burdens, and thin blue veins of exhaustion that snaked up the backs of their thick, pale legs. In Bais Torah, I had seen short and squat. In the Holocaust, I had seen grey and emaciated. And here, running past my window every morning, was Door Number Three. Was there a Nazi in all the SS who would dare to push her to the ground? Would he live to tell if he spat in her face? I wanted her to pick me up, throw me over her shoulder and take me for a run.
It didn’t help matters when, a few days later, Rabbi Glatzer told us that the Jews had caused the Holocaust by assimilating. As it says in Numbers 23:9: “Behold it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” Rabbi Glatzer told us that the goyim hate the Jews, and God protects us from their hatred; but if He sees us not dwelling in solitudesees us wearing their clothing and watching their television and marrying their womenthen God turns His face and lets the goyim persecute us. It was that simple.
“Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam who makes Lince love me, Amen,” I prayed the next morning as Lince ran by. “And Baruch Atah Adonai,” I added, “Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam who doesn’t make another Holocaust because of me, Amen.”
In the one short month since Jack’s first e-mail, Mel Gibson had blamed Jews for all the wars in history, Israel was getting hit by 200 rockets a day, Iran was working with North Korea on a long-range missile, swastikas had been painted on Jewish shops in Rome, people had already forgotten the shooter at the Jewish Community Center in Seattle, and, at rallies all over the world, people were holding up signs saying “We Are All Hezbollah.”
A friend emailed from London, asking how the memoir was going. I told her that every time I have to change something or rework a section, God tries to stop me by causing war in Israel and anti-Semitism in Europe, so I feel bad about saying anything honest or critical about the Jewish fucking people.
Good one, Lord.
“The Jews have been through worse times,” she said.
Perhaps. But I hadn’t personally caused those times.
I met Jack for a drink. I told him I couldn’t finish the book, that I was feeling guilty for writing something critical of Jews when it seemed we were a week or so away from Holocaust Two: The Muslims Strike Back. I told him about Rabbi Glatzer, and how Jews caused the Holocaust, and that while I didn’t think the war in Lebanon was my fault, it might be, you know, my fault. After all, I wasn’t just assimilating; I was criticizingin publicthe people I had come from. That was ultra-assimilating. That was carrying a pig into the Holy of Holies. That was marrying a Nazi on Yom Kippur day with a prosciutto appetizer and pig-stuffed lobster for lunch.
“Did you hear about that Hitler restaurant in Mumbai?” asked Jack.
I went to my office the next morning, didn’t work on the manuscript, smoked some pot, walked around town, went back to my office, didn’t work on the manuscript, smoked a little more pot and went home.
“How’s the manuscript?” asked my wife.
“I thought you were almost done,” she said.
“Did you hear about that Hitler restaurant in Mumbai?” I asked her.
A few days later, we finished dinner, climbed into bed, and, after checking Haaretz.com, JerusalemPost.com, CNN.com, TNR.com, Andrew Sullivan, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Guardian, The Independent, Little Green Footballs , Huffington, Kos, FOX, and having a cup of coffee, I checked out Drudge one last time:
MIDEAST CEASE-FIRE GOES INTO EFFECT, shouted the headline.
It’s been two weeks now without news. I’m back on the non-information wagon. I’m stone cold out of the loop. I’ve never been happier. When the cease-fire ends, I don’t want to know. The memoir is called Foreskin’s Lament, and just yesterday, I sent it in to my editor. It needs work, but I’ve got a little time before the next Holocaust. A week, I figure, maybe two. This morning I received another email from Jack.
“Re: Iran,” read the subject line.
I was about to click ‘Open,’ clicked ‘Spam’ instead, and went, apprehensively, back to work.
Amid instructions on making paper dolls came Grandmother’s plea for my salvation