If the members of a family sit passively and slothfully for several hours every day before the television screen so that any conversation, any real communion of hearts and minds is effectively excluded, this would seem to be an uncivilized use of the medium. If no zones of family life, even meal-times, are kept free from the intrusion of the outer world, especially the world of gnosticism and escapism, so that each is silently and languidly immersed in his or her own dreams, this is a bad witnessing of the eyes and ears which reduces to an enormous extent the opportunities to be civil, to be considerate of others.
When then has the home to do with being civilized?
It requires no great effort of reflection to answer this question. Civilization started precisely when men became conscious of a need to separate their lives into two worlds, that of an “interior life” of serenity and that of the active “struggle for life” in the outside environment where conflict and hostility are continually to be met.
In North America, we need not go far back into our history to see the genesis of civilization. It was a group of Frenchmen. spurning the divertissements of the reign of Louis XIII, who founded the settlement of Montreal as a new world of Gospel-inspired simplicity and authenticity. The Pilgrim Fathers and other groups of Christian colonists had similar motives for seeking what they themselves called the “new world”. But the real comparison is between the style of life of these early settlers and that of the primitive inhabitants they found on this continent. The Indian tribal life that existed before their coming had little demarcation between the inner world of the family and the outer world of the tribe. The family lived outside as part and parcel of what went on in the world at large. They only retired into a hut or tent to sleep when outside activity was suspended by nightfall.
With the European settlers came the separation into two worlds: the inner, sheltered world of home and hearth and the outer world into which the child must eventually set forth when he “grew up and left home”. When that day came. he had already received some initiation for the world at large in another institution – the school – which was also an interior world but with wider windows on the outside world. and which served as an intermediary stage between the home and the universe. There was also the parish – still wider. So the civilization of life on this continent was extended by larger and larger concentric circles of civility. each with its own interiority and its own resources for deepening the soul and preparing it for the confrontation with the great wide world beyond.
What is now happening to the separation of man's environment into two worlds, hitherto recognized as an essential condition for becoming civilized? For telecommunications enable man, from within his own home, to be omnipresent with his eyes and ears. The outer realm continually invades his inner world. The market place, the political forum, the battlefield, the world of racial violence, the world of sports, the world of entertainment and night clubs, even the underground constantly break into the living room through the window we call the television screen. Hence the separation between the outer and inner worlds is broken down. The home is no longer a sanctuary. Human existence is reverting to a barbaric style of life and the whole world as Marshall McLuhan points out, is becoming a single tribal village.
How can the home continue to be the primal source of civilized behavior in the electronic age? How can it furnish the environment considered indispensable for the growth of the inner life of the mind and spirit and for training in a love capable of self-sacrifice? The child who grows up in the ideal home is regarded as one capable of bringing a quality of devotedness into the world, and making it inhabitable.
The first thing discovered by the newly born infant is itself, through the comforts and discomforts it experiences. It must tend therefore to regard other human beings as caterers to its comfort and removers of its discomfort. It is initially inclined to be an egoist. But as it grows, it learns that there are other children who have needs to be considered and that the love of its parents is a sacrificial love. Thus it is enabled to become considerate of others, that is, to become civil. The experience of honesty and fidelity conferred by normal home-life enables the child to distinguish between what is lovable and hateful, what is beautiful and ugly, what is sincere and insincere, in the bewildering world of all that is printed, filmed, recorded and broadcasted. It acquires a penetrative regard on the outer world so as to see not merely its cruelty, its hedonism and materialism – things that predominate to the superficial regard – but the innocence and kindliness, the patience and fidelity that everywhere abound if only one has eyes to see and ears to hear: “Seek and ye shall find” is the formal promise of Christ. But seeking bespeaks an active, wakeful interest. A child deprived of the values of home-life is deprived of criteria whereby it can discern the values to be found outside the home: if allowed to fall into sloppy, slothful habits of passive and indiscriminate viewing, it shall find nothing.
A house is built with windows for the people inside to look out, not for the outside world to look in. What the marketing and advertising industries call “in-home” media should likewise be regarded as means to look out. The home that is too weak in its inner life to produce virtues and values with which the outer world can be judged is one that cannot provide a civilized outlook on the world. Instead, it has a worldly inlook imposed upon it. All that is materialistic and uncivilized floods in, clamouring to be adopted as the proper view of life and preventing generosity from springing from the intimacy and discretion of family relations. What prevails is a flood that is un-redeemed and hostile to the soul, destructive of family life. The natural relationship between land and sea is such that the waters of the land flow outwards to the sea. If the relationship is reversed. there is catastrophe and the land is submerged. There cannot be a proper equilibrium between the two worlds of immediate and mediated communication unless the relationship be such that it is not a worldly inlook but a civilized outlook which prevails.
Civilized OUTLOOK versus Worldly INLOOK (by Fr. John Mole, 1969)
[John W. Mole, “From Heraclitus to McLuhan,” Christian Communications, April 1969, part II, reprinted in Gary Genesko, Marshall McLuhan: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory, Vol 3., “Renaissance for a Wired World,” Part 2, “Second Comings,” pp. 226-230]