FPR big Mark T. Mitchell examines a new Sprint commercial that features the line, “I have a right to be unlimited.” This is really first-rate cultural analysis about the way we think about technology, the human person, and rights. Excerpt:
The ubiquitous use of the language of rights in our social and political culture has paved the way for a claim like we see in this ad. When I have a right to something, I have a justified moral or legal claim on it. To be deprived of a right is to experience a serious harm. We have become accustomed to speaking and thinking in terms of rights, yet we have neglected to give much thought about what a rights claim implies. If I have a right to something, others have a duty to, at the very least, refrain from getting in the way of my realizing that right. They may furthermore have the duty to help ensure that I can enjoy the right. But look how quickly the language of sheer desire slides into the language of rights. In the process, the desire appears to gain a level of moral legitimacy that a burst of appetite lacks.
Third, what exactly do I have a right to? “I have the right to be unlimited.” In our cultural moment, the idea of limits is an offense. Limits suggest that my desires can be thwarted or perhaps even that my desires should be thwarted. But who has a right to do that? By what authority—social, natural, or divine—can my desires be hemmed in, circumvented, and directed?
You really should read the whole thing. It’s short, clear, provocative, and unsettling. And consider well that this 30-second ad almost certainly catechizes more effectively than a priest or pastor who has the attention of people for only a few minutes each week, or a parent who is simply going along to get along.
“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you,” Flannery O’Connor said. Whether you realize it or not, this ad is a big, aggressive shove. If you’re not prepared to shove back, you and your kids are going to get flattened. This ad is the purest expression of the philosophy embedded in our contemporary pop culture, and it is a powerful catechetic. This is what we’re up against.
[H/T: Matthew Cantirino]