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Why Bother Being Informed?

My barber told me she was happy living out in the country. She said she didn’t have to worry about all this political business or have to figure out which side made the most sense.

Like a lot of people, she ignores the news. She is tired at the end of the day from just working, trying to figure out how to get the bills paid and food on the table.

Many college professors will tell you the opposite: you have to read all the books in fine detail and study issues to really understand them. That makes sense if your whole life revolves around, say, the biology of plants. But most people just want to know their tomatoes will come up if they water them.

Smart people live between that country barber and the biology professor. They don’t have the time or interest for great detail, but they make sure they know a little bit about what is going on around them. They know that external things affect their lives. For instance, people who didn’t follow the news about Coronavirus might have ended up deathly sick before they even knew why. If they lived in Texas and didn’t know there were problems with the power grid, they might not have known enough to shut off their water and save flooding their homes. Or wouldn’t know that others had already bought up everything in the local supermarket. It makes sense to have a reasonable level of contemporary knowledge for your own benefit.

Knowing a bit about the world around you is also good for the country, good for democracy. It’s pretty easy to fool people who don’t know better. They’ll take the word of smooth talkers just because they are. People with no knowledge of politics, government or business are easy to fool. But give the brain even a little bit of knowledge, a little ammunition to work with, and it will do its job. Staying informed allows the brain to make smart choices.

Democracies are built upon individuals. Government is created from “the will of the people”— a fancy way of saying every citizen gets a vote. If many of those citizens are uninformed, they won’t know the honest folks from the liars. They won’t know the facts from the fakes. They won’t be able to make good choices. They’ll pick bad people who will use power to make them or their friends rich. Those people will control many of the external factors that affect everyone’s lives.

Being informed isn’t the same as being educated. My father had to quit school in the 5th grade to go to work in the mines and help support his family. He never got an education, but he followed the news his whole life, kept himself informed, and was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He made good choices. People relied on his good judgement.

It came from him staying informed. He was always tired at the end of the day but he still watched the news while he rested. He got two things done at the same time. And no one ever fooled him.

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