Tags: Alain de Botton | news | economy | financial crisis

Author de Botton Explains How to Use the Media

By    |   Thursday, 27 March 2014 08:13 AM

Alain de Botton, founder of The School of Life, spoke at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on his book The News: A User’s Manual. De Botton is also the author of How Proust Can Change Your Life and Religion for Atheists.

This writer can testify personally to the life-changing potential of Proust. As an undergrad faced with a requirement to take a course in foreign literature in translation, the first book in French literature was Proust’s Swann’s Way, and the instructor had a penchant for giving hair-fact tests.

This student found the book pointless or failed to get the point, and this view was re-enforced by a simultaneous review of SW in The New York Times Book Review that said something like, “This book was 800 pages long, but it could just as easily been 80 or 8,000.”

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My sentiments exactly. Fortunately, the drop-and-add period was still open, and this student took advantage of the opportunity to drop French lit and substitute Russian lit, thus avoiding an annoying syllabus and instructor and opening the wonderful world of great Russian novels.

As for Religion for Atheists, this writer met fellow objectivists in college for whom atheism seemed to have been elevated or reduced to the status of a religion, with nonbelievers marked for shame.

This writer disagrees with most of de Botton’s ideas. The virtues of the presentations are that he has evidently thought deeply about the subject, the presentation is entertaining, and the viewer can choose which ideas to accept and reject.

De Botton celebrated was he sees as the role of the press in the 18th century as an agency for informing a flourishing democracy. However, he lamented that over time readers had become “confused and supine,” quoting Hegel for the idea that the news had taken on the role of religion.

The author presented himself as an optimist and a utopian, which seems to this reader as a dangerous combination that can lead on a grand scale to movements like the Great Leap Forward and on a somewhat lesser scale to Orwellian programs like Obamacare and quantitative easing.

De Botton sees the arch of the news as broken, having abandoned its leadership role in society for one of merely recycling the same 32 stories throughout an endless news cycle.

However, the author seems to contribute to this by contending that celebrity and glamour create value by offering role models for a needy public. He is at his best when he rejects the message from the Mainstream Media that the public should be reassured as to the capital standing of TBTF (too big to fail) banks.

He also ridicules what he calls the “Watergate paradigm,” which holds that disasters like the financial crisis will be solved once the perpetrators are brought to justice. He realizes that the crisis is systemic in nature and will not be fixed by shuffling some people.

For this writer, de Botton offers an important lesson for readers regardless of whether they agree with most of his ideas or not. It is that writers should not shrink from the duty and opportunity they have to lead and to communicate to readers what they think about the events of the day.

(Archived video can be found here. The author’s website can be found here.)

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Author Alain de Botton looks at the way the news media shapes the way we think about politics, tragedy, crime, and celebrity. De Botton argues that we are bombarded with so much news and information today that people can't really focus on any of it.
Alain de Botton,news,economy,financial crisis
Thursday, 27 March 2014 08:13 AM
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