Yesterday morning I was reading an essay in the NY Times online called “The Questions to Ask Before World War III.” It was a very serious piece by Stephen Wertheim, a scholar of U.S. foreign policy, who argued that, while even a few years ago, “it was still possible to expect a benign geopolitical future . . . the United States now faces the real and regular prospect of fighting adversaries strong enough to do Americans immense harm.”

As I read, I felt goosebumps rising on my arms. Wertheim’s analysis was comprehensive and quite ominous. You might even call it terrifying. Still, I scrolled on, my anxiety mounting . . . when what should appear before my eyes but a giant image of Tom Cruise.

There he stood, in all his ageless glory, staring at me with his famous glint, before a gleaming fighter jet, against a dazzling backdrop of golden sunlit clouds. “Top Gun: Maverick,” read the text. “Experience it again December 2.”

Y’all, I just had to laugh. Clearly, the imminent possibility of World War III isn’t funny, but the shamelessness of American advertising tickles me to no end.

Don’t get me wrong – I love advertising! I make a living thanks to advertising! And I am completely sincere when I say that I have nothing but amused affection for heavy-handed product placement.

Besides, these days I’ll take comic relief where ever I can find it. I wish Tom Cruise would bust in on my news reading more often.

Speaking of which . . .  Am I the only one who feels like the quest to stay on top of national and world news is starting to bring diminishing returns? Not only is it absolutely impossible – with so much happening, all the time – but more and more often, it serves only to enhance my sense of frustration and powerlessness.

I’ve always known I had no control over national and international affairs, but I once thought I might have a little influence over the way we talk about those affairs – at least here in my own community. But lately, I feel like even that conversation – that thing we call “the discourse” – is beyond my ken.

I rarely join in discussions on Facebook anymore. I see them happening, and I’m hardly even tempted. My own FB page is a ghost of its former self.  I still occasionally post “memories” or nature photography, but that’s about it. When I think of the robust salon I once hosted there – with friends of different political persuasions and backgrounds – it saddens me. But such forums are hardly possible anymore, especially if one wishes to maintain one’s sanity and spiritual equilibrium.

My life is much more peaceful without those conversations, but I don’t kid myself for a minute that the end of dialogue is a good thing. Not for a community, and not for a world. And that’s what I believe we have reached now: The End of Dialogue.

“But Margaret,” you may ask, “How could we be at the end of dialogue when so many voices are making so much noise about so many things, day in and day out?”

Well, there’s a difference between dialogue and noise. A big one. We are living in a modern-day Tower of Babel, speaking way too many languages, talking at each other and past each other, but seldom to each other. It’s exhausting and fruitless.

And so, my friends, I am slowly but surely going silent. On the big issues, anyway. For now, at least.

Fortunately, I have the privilege of publishing two local newspapers, where we cover the “small issues” of great importance to the community where I actually live.

Remember when that’s what “community” meant? It wasn’t so long ago that the word referred to a group of people who shared a general vicinity, instead a set of beliefs or predilections or DNA markers.

I think we were actually better off with that definition – when a “community” was made up of many different types of people, sharing the same space. The same place.

I mostly blame social media for the new definition of “community,” which sorts us into simplistic categories, strips us of our quirky uniqueness as individuals, encourages us to double down on our group differences, and blinds us to our common humanity.

In short, I think the new definition of “community” has eroded our actual communities, as traditionally defined, making it harder for neighbors to communicate, understand each other, and live together in harmony.

Even so, the Beaufort community is still a pretty great place – a true community in the original sense of the word – and it’s a joy to bring you the news that affects all of us here in our own little neck of the woods.

For instance . . .

The Beaufort High Eagles just won their first State Championship!

Habitat for Humanity raised almost $40,000 during its annual Turkey Trot!

The City has named three finalists for City Manager!

The Beaufort Art Association has scattered full-size painted Nutcrackers all over town!

The Conroy Center is hosting a panel discussion about book challenges and bans!

USCB received an enormous grant to help develop teachers!

There is good news here in Beaufort, people. Lots of good news that you can actually get your brain around and digest. You’ll find it here in the pages of Lowcountry Weekly – and in The Island News, where we also bring you the occasional bad news. We even have old-fashioned Letters to the Editor there, where members of various “communities” – as newly defined – can speak their truth to the “community” where they live, instead of preaching to their respective choirs on social media. This seems an important distinction.

So if you’re anything like me – overwhelmed by national news, cowed by “the discourse,” feeling frustrated, powerless and estranged from a country that no longer feels like a community – I highly recommend shifting your focus to all things local. There’s nothing you can do about the coming of World War III, but you might have some serious influence on the Beaufort County School District’s book-challenge issue . . . as discussed right here in this paper, on page 5.

Local news, baby. That’s where it’s at.

How’s that for some shameless American advertising?