It was sometime in the early 1950’s. While I was with my mother, Mrs. Crocco, a neighbor, started up a conversation. “Did you see Lucy today. It was SO FUNNY. Oh, you should have seen it!” No, mother had not watched I Love Lucy. Despite living in the biggest house in the neighborhood, we had no TV. It was against my father’s deeply held principles, though not against mother’s. For several years, I… and I suppose she… felt left out of many common experiences. All the housewives, who were all at home back then, watched Lucy. All the kids watched Hopalong Cassidy and The Mickey Mouse Club. Eventually, we got a TV and then we saw and heard what everyone else saw and heard.
First, there were only two channels, then three. There were four when PBS joined the lineup. After 11:30 p.m. there was only a test pattern on every channel. When I was a freshman in high school, we were all assigned to watch the CBS Evening News so we would understand current events. It was the same news that was on NBC with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, and on ABC with whomever. The news was the news; we all learned the facts about what was going on. There were no alternate facts back then. The networks had large news departments that competed to get the real facts, just the facts.
This made for a community. We all heard or watched the same news. We watched the same shows, knew the same jokes. There was one TV in the house, and families watched shows together. It probably sounds boring today, but it wasn’t. It was wonderful. Americans, at least middle-class ones, had a lot in common and appreciated a lot in common. This all struck me with the death of Mary Tyler Moore on January 25. She was in two top-rated shows… the Dick van Dyke Show and then her very own show. Almost everyone watched them.
It’s different today. Very different.
A couple of years ago, I was giving a talk on Islam, a touchy subject today for sure. At least one person attending expressed their incredulity. “But that’s not what we hear on Fox News.” If you watch CNN and then watch Fox News, you’d think the broadcasts were from two different planets, or at least were giving the news from two different days widely separated in time. Of course, you can watch many other networks or channels and either tune news out, or else watch funny news, financial news, fish news or just odd news. Today news is show biz, so we have alternate news with alternate facts. That’s not just different; it is dangerous.
Today, we Americans are not learning together what is happening; we are not learning facts, at least not all the facts. Our news is selectively cherry-picked. We are exposed to infomercials masquerading as news. And so it is no surprise we don’t agree on much anymore. People will die and kill for their opinions based on some partiality. But an objective observer has to ask, as Pontius Pilate did, “What is truth?”
The political arena now appears to be just another form of competitive sport like the NFL. Working together for the common good is no longer the goal, but winning for the team is. And what is the common good? As I mentioned last week, it is a fundamental pillar of Catholic Social Teaching. This is our faith.
By common good is to be understood as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential elements. First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person… Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on. Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1906-9.
Certainly part of the common good is a common knowledge of our history, of past facts, and our problems, a common education of the facts. As the philosopher George Santayana affirmed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it… Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” Knowledge helps produce another pillar of Catholic Social Teaching… solidarity, “which presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled by negotiation.” CCC 1940
Ted Knight, Mary Tyler Moore’s co-star on her show, who played the pompous newscaster, presciently stated, “There are ogres and black beasts out there; you have to be constantly on guard.”
If only we could agree on what those ogres and beasts are. Are we guarding against them or creating them? As Jesus so rightly said, “The Truth will set you free.” John 8:32