Paul Greenberg

Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it.

-HAL, the onboard computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey"

To rephrase Wordsworth slightly, the news is too much with us, and listening and watching we lay waste our powers.

Click your way through the channels in the sleepless hours of the early morning, and soon they all begin to merge into one meaningless blur of voices and visions until, with one final click, the sound and fury signifying nothing ceases.

Ah, respite.

Sane silence.

We are no longer part of Marshall McLuhan's global village, that is, the worldwide mob.

"The desire not to be impinged upon, to be left to oneself, has been a mark of high civilization both on the part of individuals and communities." -Isaiah Berlin.

The dark night of the soul, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, that sage of the Jazz Age, always comes at 3 o'clock in the morning. In our time, television makes the dark hour even darker - in the brightest way. Just as the Internet, that marvel of our over-informed age, provides us with an infinite wealth of information and an absolute dearth of judgment.

The news seduces us into thinking it is new, when often enough it is but a remake. The roles may be played by different actors, but the plot lines scarcely vary. It's as if Ecclesiastes were the news anchor: "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall beŠ." Until you feel you're caught in a house of mirrors forever replaying the past and calling it BREAKING NEWS.

Free speech is as free as ever at Columbia University, where a mob shouted down a presentation by the Minutemen, who propose to stop illegal immigration by patrolling the Mexican border. Or by building a wall - as if there were no such things as ladders, tunnels, wire cutters, rust and decay.

Or maybe by deporting 13 million people, and that estimate may be on the low side. (That great sucking sound you'd hear would be the American economy crashing.)

The best response to bad ideas is better ones. Instead, "Shut up," the mob explains. So much for the notion that a university ought to be a place of free inquiry. That idea was pretty much done in by the Spirit of the Sixties, when the ultimate arbiter of intellectual exchange on campus became whoever could shout loudest.

The rowdy scene at Columbia U. inspired a certain nostalagia in some of us. It was like watching the rebirth of a plague, or the return of 40-year locusts right on schedule. It restores one's faith in natural cycles, or at least history's pendulum. Things may not make sense, but at least they make patterns.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.