What’s Really Happening Around the World?

Photo by Neil Webb on Unsplash

I’ve been following the news about the protests in Iran, mostly because police brutality is a subject I’m interested in and write about regularly. But it’s been hard to discern exactly what’s going on there because of the breathless way that American news commentators have talked about them. One phrase that’s continually thrown around is that these are “the largest protests since the Green Movement in 2009.”

But what does that mean? How large were the protests in 2009? These kinds of comparisons without context don’t help me to understand the situation at all. And I feel that I constantly have to be on guard against the tendency of American observers to overstate the impact of dissenters and the weakness of the ruling class in places like Iran and elsewhere. If the predictions about the internal stability of Iran are to be believed, then the Islamic Republic should have fallen a hundred times since 1979.

I feel the same way about the war between Ukraine and Russia. Here, American commentators have been even less reserved than they are about the protests in Iran. According to them, the Ukrainians have delivered a massive strategic defeat to the Russian Army, and are recovering hundreds of kilometers of territory in the process. Again though, I have no idea how big Ukraine is, where that territory is being seized, and how much that actually matters in the course of a conflict that will probably last for years.

I’m not asking for objective analysis of world events, because that’s impossible. Everyone has an agenda, and that’s one reason that I prefer listening to podcasts instead of the regular news. In the podcasts, the hosts and guests wear their agendas on their sleeves, so it’s easy to be skeptical about their claims since there’s no pretense to objectivity. But the language and sentiments shared by the talking heads are often so overblown that it distorts the very point trying to be made. I’m left listening to sweeping statements that have no grounding in context or meaning. Something very good or very bad is happening, depending on the perspective I’m listening to.

Worst of all, when I do turn to traditional news, I find that the same guests who exaggerate on podcasts are the guests and analysts on television and in written news. They dial back the rhetoric, but their push is the same. I just want to understand what’s happening around the world, and I often walk away from the news feeling more adrift than educated.

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