I don’t have a TV, but I might watch my neighbors’. I don’t use Facebook, but old friends contact me through my wife’s account.
I am living off your immorality. I renounce, and then leach your indulgence.
Writers on this blog, such as myself, don’t usually have a problem with moralizing everyday actions. Sometimes we think we are hitting a universal principle. Sometimes it’s about a value, like localism, to be counterbalanced against other values. But as moral questions, that is, questions about my spiritual nature, become more complicated, I become increasingly aware of not only the universal concern, of Kantian application; I also feel heavily the weight and balances within my own soul, personally.
Let the man with the “weak conscience” beware, and cut off the hand that sins. On its subjective level, morality is a preservation of spiritual being, which is why I personally make certain decisions about the media in front of me. Low-participation media, including social media, always carries potential problems, for some more than others. However, this is not just a post about Bryan Wandel’s individual decisions. Rather, I am advocating the life of hypocrisy, in which I refuse to own a TV, but watch someone else’s. I move renounce the moral burden, but push it on to someone else. I do not thus validate the decisions of my enablers – they bear the full weight of their moral decisions.
In some decisions regarding the benefit or loss to one’s soul, the moral decision is made in totality, even though a complicated morass of values may make up the whole. In the localism posts here at Humane Pursuits that, I hope, were trying to engage this complicated morality, we could see that values of cost, quality, convenience/time, personal interaction, and taking responsibility for the production process all go into a single sausage that might be purchased.
And the negative values that might be involved (expensive, slave-labor used to produce, tastes bad, etc.) must all accepted when you make that decision. In a sense, there is a kind of guilt incurred. Wendell Berry has noted this when he said that he could not be conscientious as a writer if that writing did not somehow incur a guilt – the coal in his pencil was produced by the strip-mining he writes against. Berry sees that he is living a sometimes-complicated morality, and as far as he feels some of the guilt that he accepts in the actions he justifies – the tension in his soul helps produce a more thoughtful understanding of the whole of what is going on.
When I watch a program, I have to go to my neighbors’ place. That introduces a social element that I probably would have ignored in my own house. Furthermore, I am forced to externalize and justify my own bad habits, which I otherwise might have privatized in my own head, when I just flick the switch on the boob tube without talking to anybody. Nevertheless, I am able to enjoy some of the benefits of television (like watching the Olympics, or catching that “rare moment of truth” sought by a recent Evangelical Outpost article about TV) while other people incur the guilt of actually being a TV owner. That hypocrisy implicates me in the negative value, to some degree. Nevertheless, as I strive to see the value and spiritual elements in my life, I actually become aware of more as I engage in complicated moral activity without renouncing outright.
So if I encourage you to throw out your TV, don’t expect me to leave the room when you turn it on.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.