Off-Switch Censorship

During a panel discussion I attended recently on the Iraq war, one of the speakers suggested that a problem with the war was that the extended, real-time coverage was making the war seem like entertainment. Contemplating people glued to their TV screens, the speaker described the war as the ultimate reality show.

Now I’m certain that it is quite possible to watch too much of the war. It’s possible to become insensitive to the horror of war by concentrating on the aspects of it that entertain us and grab our attention, whilst ignoring those aspects that are less pleasing to our senses. It’s also possible to watch too much CSI (guilty!) or Survivor or any other television show. It’s possible also to eat too much food, or drink too much water. As unlikely as it may seem, it’s possible to breathe too much air. Just ask anyone who has hyperventilated (dictionary check!).

Then there are those aspects of life and entertainment that we might rather not see at all. Pornography, however you may define it, excessive violence and horror, teaching or preaching that is mere propaganda rather than food for the mind and spirit.

I’d like to suggest that our main problem in these areas is not one of supply, but rather of demand. Why is it, for example, that providers send offers of pornography to my AOL account, even when there are clear indications that they have scouted my profile? Is it not likely that they do so because there are many people with the same types of claims in their profile who are nonetheless potentially interested in their material? Certainly they are responding to the inherent tendencies of human nature.

I can become extremely angry at the purveyors of this material, along with hundreds of other commercial offers that I do not desire, but this essay is not about spam. Perhaps I’ll vent on that subject another time. Right now I’m interested in those people who have told me they have been sucked in to addictions to material they didn’t want through e-mail, web sites or television programs. We tend to want to block off the means of acquiring these evil things, or things which can become “evil” in their impact simply by excess. Let’s keep these people safe!

But wait! One of the things God has given us is choice. We value freedom of choice. Yet so often our solutions to problems such as I’ve described is to limit someone’s choice or everyone’s choice.

Is there a problem with alcoholism? Let’s shut down all wineries, breweries, liquor stores and saloons.

Is there a problem with watching sex or violence on TV or in the movies? Let’s censor it all.

Have some people lied in print or in other media? Let’s monitor the things that are printed so people will only get the truth. Who will define that?

Are some people overweight? Let’s regulate the food industry so that they will be forced to make better food choices. Everything will be lo-fat, lo-salt, lo-sugar, lo taste . . .

Each of these things tends to reduce our choices. And each ignores the reality of personal responsibility. Each ignores the fact that if we desire to be led astray we will find a way. Each fails to focus on “off-switch censorship.”

Have you received an e-mail that you don’t want to see? Set up your filters. It got through anyway? Hit the delete key. Don’t use the excuse that you just had to see what it was they were sending you. If you don’t want to look, just don’t look!

Are you tempted to an excess of alcohol? Stay away from places where it is served in such a way as to give you an opportunity for that excess. Don’t go near it if you are in danger.

Are you watching too much war coverage? Decide how much you will watch, then do it.

And if your will power isn’t up to this control, don’t blame the people who provide it. If there is no redeeming value in their work, they have their own responsibility. But if they are providing something good in its proper proportions, then they are to be commended, not condemned because someone else lacks self-control.

We are not helpless.