On the Common Good

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Common good is at the center of any and all relationships involving two or more people. Although organizations embrace common good when developing a mission statement, putting it into action is easier said than done.

As a concept, common good may be easy to define as the benefit of society as a whole, but developing a meaning in today’s complex society would be difficult. After all, common good engages philosophy, morality, economics, culture, politics, religion, and more while having different meanings to different people and different groups. Even the Preamble to the US Constitution states, “… promote the general Welfare and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Is this statement same as common good?

Democracy depends on governance for the common good, but what that entails today may be a complex story in itself. Personally, I don’t have much confidence in elected officials being able to agree on a definition, let alone other aspects that would follow. However, common good is a concept that is so foundational, failure to agree is like trying to construct a building without a strong foundation.

To engage and implement common good, people must agree on the common facts. Even with agreement, disagreement on how to get to the common good is understandable – actually very likely because the different ways exist on achieving the common good. In the US, although Democrats and Republicans may agree on a common good, they may have fundamental differences on how to get there – and that’s fine.

However, declaring and accepting fake news fundamentally prevents agreement on the common facts – so doing for the common good would not only be highly improbable – but probably impossible.

If democracy is about the common good, then democracy must have reasonably well-informed citizens. Unfortunately, society includes those to whom truth is the enemy – the fools and liars who are misinformed and underinformed – let alone those who use a partisan lens to selectively filter the facts.

Life today is about information and fast access to it. The problem isn’t information’s availability or the mainstream media – not even the biased nature of well-known media personalities and outlets who feed red meat to their hungry flock.

A problem is the biased nature of a large slice of the public that selectively determines their preferred news source based on one that provides a message to hear – a message aligning with their predetermined view of the world.

A problem is when listeners determine immediate judgment on a legitimate news report because they have to protect their personal interests.

A problem is that given a fast and open information system, good journalism can give way to favoring expediency over accuracy.

A problem is that too many accept reports from obscure outlets as reliable because the story supports the preferred narrative the person desires.

A problem is that the truth is no longer a high priority.

All of these problems come together to prevent people from agreeing on the common facts – therefore no hope for acting for the common good. Perhaps that’s the greatest dangers to democracy.

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39 thoughts on “On the Common Good

  1. I’m not even sure Democrats and Republicans agree on a common good. We’re so polarized now that they seem to define even that differently.

    You make so many great points here, Frank. I’m glad you mentioned the fast and open information system, because I think you’re right about good journalism: it sometimes (many times?) gets passed over by the need to be first.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure what large slice of the public selectively determines their preferred news source because I’m not privy to that data and/or information. With a population of over 300 million, I don’t know where all citizens are getting their sources–our country is diverse with diverse opinions. That’s a good thing.

    What is troubling is that journalism is doing that–summing up sensitive and complicated info into a tagline, soundbyte or a snippet of something to the point where it has an “Enquirer-like” feel to it. The movie, The Insider, has a message of how news was “dictated,” for lack of a better word, in one instance and that was wayyyy back then.

    I believe that most people want some common sense and calm source of where to get news. I believe most of us want some relief–we’re wondering what is going on. What’s happened to good taste, decorum, respect? Late night comedians are now political commentators and their words have weight to many. Or sources to get “news” are funny, quippy and quick with great graphics (!).

    With our 24/7 news and everyone wanting to get the “story” and in doing so, what seems to be the most important thing — ratings, we (collectively) are losing sight of the true point of journalism–to present facts in a non-biased manner. We didn’t get here overnight. It’s not one side’s fault or the other. Until we all come together and accept THAT as fact, own our own accountability in it and (maybe lazy acceptance of it–?), nothing will change.

    Common good is just that–the common good for all, accepting that I may have a different opinion than you (I and you being universal) and being okay with that — without fear of being publicly ridiculed for stating one’s beliefs.

    Good points here, Frank and a very relevant post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Brigitte,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. To keep it short, I provide these points. (1) The media is naturally biased as soon as the edit. The recent State of the Union is a great example.
      (2) Fox News is (by far) the leading cable news outlet. Not that every one there is biased, but the network as a whole has a biased slant. (3) Given numerous news feeds, a person unquestionably directs to themselves slants that feed their point of view. (4) The morning news shows provide great stats … Good Morning America leads the way, and it focuses on a lot of fluff. On the cable side, Fox & Friends is tops (and they are quite biased) … and one of the more newsy shows (CBS This Morning) is low on ratings. (5) The numbers of listeners to conservative talk radio (as Rush Limbaugh) are staggering … and that’s not news (6) Evening shows like Hannity, Carlson, Maddow, and others are not news … and many see them as news.

      All adding up to not agreeing on common facts that don’t lead to solving for the common good. As someone else stated, it more important to be right than it is to get it right.

      Like

  3. Excellent piece of writing, Frank!

    How did we get to this place where people are gifted more information than ever before and yet, they seem less informed as to what really matters most?

    Sadly it seems, everything today is about choosing sides. The middle ground has gone all scorched earth.

    Great thoughts and writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good post, Frank. In order to have positive discourse, there has to be a reliable set of facts on which all can agree. Today’s news environment is so fractured such set of facts are impossible. Communication is impossible under these conditions.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Four splats from your well-written and thought provoking post: (1) “Common good is at the center of any and all relationships involving two or more people.” (2) “Democracy depends on governance for the common good, but what that entails today may be a complex story in itself.” (3) “Democrats and Republicans may agree on a common good, they may have fundamental differences on how to get there – and that’s fine.” (4) That you never mentioned the dreaded term “common sense.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tim,
    Thanks for sharing the key points you identified …. and absolutely common good and common sense are very different – although they may share some common ground. Meanwhile, much of politics may lie in your third point – and many don’t realize that … especially the partisans.

    Like

  7. Even the concept of Common Good becomes harder and harder to define, much less agree upon. One group will insist that building a wall is for the common good while another group will insist upon the same for universal healthcare. One group says the removal of sanctuary cities improves our safety; another group says it does just the opposite. …and so on.

    I still prefer prepared written text over extemporaneous writing or speaking. It gives the speaker at least a moment to consider what is about to be stated. The taking heads on TV who now just shout over each other and the quick writers (that includes me) on Facebook, twitter and even WordPress with thoughtless, half-baked responses confirm my preference.

    One last thought: I now assume that every member of congress and all other elected officials work towards their next election, putting personal good (re-election) over common good. Sometimes the two overlap but I am now using this premise whenever I hear a congressman speak.

    Liked by 1 person

    • C-A-L,
      There is no doubt that fast social media responses muddle the common good. Besides, odds are good that the person is reacting to a snippet or abstract of the situation. As I like to say, generations are just that … but generalizing a generalization of an abstract to horrible because the more one generalizes, the further and further away from the truth one goes.

      Yes, members of Congress are in constant fundraising mode. Whereas you mention need to advance the personal good, I add that it is the advancement of the party – that’s is, party-first trumps common good.

      Regarding you opening statement, I disagree because safety is for the common good, but both parties may have different ways of attaining the common good. Of course, examining each of them more closely may provide answers to “the actual way” behind their stance, which could be more about something other than the common good.

      Like

  8. Very well said and a thoughtful piece to keep as a reminder that we are not all looking at even the same set of concerns. I’d suppose among my friends that if we had to prioritize the top three issues of the day that are most troubling to us, we wouldn’t even agree on which three held more urgency. I’m truly struggling with a feeling that I’m going to slip off into the abyss of hopelessness, but I’m doing what I can to stay tuned in enough to make sure my voice and opinion is heard in my own small circles of influence. One reason I’m not able to blog as much as I once did is because I’m reading from so many different sources. I will listen to people with differing opinions, but of late, I’m having a problem finding sources I feel aren’t as biased as I probably am in the opposite direction. I can’t find the middle any more. This is the first time in my life when I think cynicism is winning. Not a good realization! (I need a beach walk!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debra,
      Several thoughts why friends couldn’t discuss – let alone determine – the top 3 issues – 1) Failing to understand the big picture of the question – For instance, immigration is the issue – not should we build or not build a wall. 2) People are so wrapped up in the preferential rhetoric, they couldn’t stay focused on the task at hand. The discussion would need a moderator to place people into a cone of silence when they get off topic.

      I know you don’t want to sink into the abyss. A couple of suggestions (in no order).

      1) Try to avoid the CNN interviews that have one person from each side at the same time. They don’t listen to each other and one talks over the other. That’s a lot of rhetorical noise.

      2) The Sunday morning shows are pretty good – my preference is Meet the Press. Their group discussion is civil and interesting.

      3) I have XM Radio in the car – and one of my favorite stations is POTUS – Politics in the United States. It’s very balanced! Mike Smerconish is fabulous! So are Steele and Unger … and others!!! Balanced! Informative!

      4) I like columnists Kathleen Parker, Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, and a few others … therefore I stay away from the partisan columnists most of the time.

      5) While realizing he’s doing political commentary, I need Stephen Colbert to make me laugh at the situation.

      6) If a partisan asks me a question, I may answer with, “You don’t want to know” … and may even add “and I don’t want to know your thoughts”. ….. I may preface with “I’m the most independent moderate you know, so I don’t have a dog in the fight.”

      Just a few thoughts trying to help a friend.

      Like

  9. Sigh, I agree. The problem would be somewhat alleviated if the world was not as over populated as it is. There’s no elbow room for the mind, or the common good anymore. I’ve said that to a few people, and have had some odd reactions.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I read a newspaper’s front page article, years ago, that was a case for vegetarianism. It calculated that it took one acre of arable land per year to feed a vegetarian. Due to conversion of vegetation into meat, it took 5 acres of land to feed 1 meat eating person per year.
        Based on how much arable land there was on the planet at that time, it calculated that the planet could support 3 billion people if all were vegetarians. It was already too, late to take advantage of that idea, as there were already more than 3 billion people.
        Now we have less arable land, and 9 billion people. No wonder Monsanto is allowed to flourish, as are factory farms. Even at that, many still starve.
        However, I was already a vegetarian at that point. No logical argument persuaded me. I love animals, I could never kill one, unless it was to put it out of dire pain and misery. I just can’t eat flesh. My heart won’t allow me.
        If this comment is too, political, and you need to delete it, I understand.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: On a Yearly Transition – A Frank Angle

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