Can We All Get Along? - February 25, 2013

When Rodney King spoke these words, after being manhandled by the L.A. police, he was praised both for his obvious forgiveness and perhaps for his wonderment that the world is full of people who don’t seem able to get along. I am sure that most people sympathized with his desire to have people getting along, because the cost of not getting along is the dog-bites-man story of journalists everywhere and all the time. I don’t remember ever reading an article on the costs of getting along. Here is an attempt.

Take journalists, please!  A journalist may be defined in many ways; one of the most obvious these days is that he is someone who can creatively come up with dozens of ways of avoiding calling a liar a liar and doing so with enough care that he himself will not be subject to being called a liar for not calling a liar a liar. So in America we have politicians who exaggerate, disseminate, obfuscate, embellish, embroider, and inflate, but they don’t lie.

What, then, are the benefits for a journalist to lie about lying? How about . . . getting access, being a team player, getting leaks, having friends in high places, getting invitations, getting raises, having friends among your colleagues, being considered trustworthy (isn’t that a kick in the pants?), the list goes on and on. On the other hand, the chief advantage of calling a liar a liar is having a nice warm feeling about yourself.

Now, what are the disadvantages for those of us who rely on the work of journalists of their lying about lying? Well, how about truth of things? And what are the advantages? You guessed it.

Now some may say, “Isn’t it better to give people the benefit of the doubt in these matters?” But consider this: by giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, we must forego the notion that the other fellow has bad faith. But sometimes he does have bad faith. Without doubt it is not beneficial to anyone to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Doing that means that you need to forego the notion that the other fellow’s word is in bad faith. But sometimes what he says is in bad faith. How will we make important distinctions if “everyone has won, and all must have prizes”?

So the final question comes down to this: What is the cost for getting along? Has tolerance supplanted all the other virtues? (Indeed, for that matter, is tolerance a virtue at all?) I once heard an argument (sadly, from a priest) that the 13th century, the century of St. Thomas, St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Clare,  St. Anthony, St. Louis (King of France), and many more, was not “good” because people were not so tolerant then. Is the cost of getting along to prefer the super-tolerate, but false and degenerate, present?

Can we all get along? Yes, but at what a cost!