T. S. Eliot's politics are always a rather thorny matter. What are we to think of the politics of the man who once declared himself "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion"? Bracketing the larger political questions, I thought I'd share the following passage, excerpted from Eliot's January 1937 commentary in The Criterion, in which Eliot comments on the sense of information overload created by the press (including, of course, broadcast radio) of the late 1930s. "[W]e are all the time exposed to the Press," Eliot notes, "and to 'news' shot at us in various forms." This sense of being overwhelmed by media-acceleration is as old as media itself. Eliot's response, though, struck me as suitably interesting to share: in an age of information, Eliot suggests, actively cultivate skepticism. With its reference to the "small minority" of people who actually "think," this passage, on first reading, seems to smack of elitism. But behind this apparent hubris, as throughout Eliot's work, is a deep skepticism about exactly how much one can know. I offer it here without further comment. Reviewing Jane Soames's The English Press, Eliot notes that:
Miss Soames also has a good deal to say about the condition of the Press in general, and the corresponding condition of the Public. There is very little in the book that is actually news to people who think. But even the people who think, and that is a small minority, are only thinking for a part of the time; and we are all the time exposed to the Press, and to 'news' shot at us in various forms: so we need a constant reminder of how little we know, and how garbled that little is. We need a constant reminder, too, of how little we remember, and therefore of how little we learn from experience. No honest man can pretend that he is ever free from irrational influences, or that he has any complete prophylactic against the infection of shouting with the mob, except the equally undesirable habit of automatically shouting against it.
T. S. Eliot, "Commentary," in The Criterion 16, no. 63 (Jan. 1937): 292.