By Frank Wessling
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
That quote from cartoon character Pogo remains as true today as it was in a 1970 poster for Earth Day. Walt Kelly’s creation stood in a debris-filled forest passage as he said it, looking dismayed at the filth left behind by humans.
Pogo doesn’t say it, but we can imagine him wondering how those creatures manage to survive being so careless of their gifts. Can’t they see the beauty? Must they always rush around seeking “progress?” Have they no reverence?
The enemy is still us, in so many ways. We just finished a national political campaign full of sound and fury against politicians and judges, as if the fault for every kind of unhappiness lay in them. The truth is otherwise. It’s in the mirror.
At the same time that votes were being counted last Tuesday, a case of mental and spiritual debris was being argued at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. It was a First Amendment case involving the mindless violence of some video games available for children. California has tried to restrict sale of the most violent games to adults. But the courts have so far not allowed this nanny state effort to take effect.
As has generally been the pattern in our legal history, courts take an expansive view of our liberty to make, sell, and consume virtually any product or service that doesn’t immediately cause physical harm by itself. In the case of video games, makers and sellers are cheering. Parents, not so much. The children who consume these things are excited and learning.
What are they learning? Different people will stand up in a court and say they are learning both good and bad things. The court will side with liberty and allow the bad to grow along with the good, whatever that might be (finger dexterity and eye-hand coordination?).
There is some warrant in the Gospel for proceeding in that way. Jesus tells a story of weeds in the wheat (Mt. 13:24-30) and, since we can’t easily separate the two until harvest, says let them grow together until then.
So the burden is on us to be and do the good we want. If our neighbor wants to plant spiritual and mental weeds, since she’s found a way to make money at it, we can’t put up a wall to protect ourselves from infection until we prove that the weeds are killing us – and that can’t be done until it’s too late. But the enemy isn’t “politics” or the “courts;” it’s our neighbor.
In many cases it can even be ourselves, since those video games mean jobs for the people who make them, just as more gambling means more jobs; more prostitution, more jobs; more prisons, more jobs; more guns, more jobs; more war and rumors of war, more jobs.
Moreover, our neighbors might want the liberty to enjoy what we regard as corruption. Justice Antonin Scalia suggested in the California video game case that all Americans need to appreciate the value of violence in our culture. According to him, some parents would be happy to see their children become comfortable with violence.
“They like gore,” he said. “They may even like violent kids.”
The Supreme Court hasn’t yet ruled on whether states can limit the reach of violent video games. We should not be surprised if it comes down on the side of liberty for our neighbor’s job — or ours — and parenting style — or ours.
As we absorb that message, keep in mind Pogo’s understanding of life. A regime of liberty is a two-edged sword.