It happens to everybody. You run into a friend you haven’t seen for a while and the greeting formed as a question is, “How are you? How are you doing?” You may have knowledge of an existing situation with this person relating to health or employment or shaking off an addiction, and your “How are you?” might relate to that. But usually we’re just asking as a way to open a dialogue, and often there’s a default response of “good.”
But we know it’s a default, part of a template of greeting… and seconds after hearing that “good” we are likely to hear a blood-curdling tale involving a harshly delivered pink slip or a traffic accident in which thankfully no lives were lost but “my excellent ’69 Dodge Polara ragtop got creamed.”
Last week Bill Moyers opened his PBS Journal news and commentary show with observations on the recent Democratic debate in Pennsylvania. You may have heard that the ABC-hosted debate was so badly handled that at one point Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos were jeered by the live audience. Moyers was most interested in citing a litany of issues, such as health care, that the debate managed to completely ignore, and he took umbrage with the commercial breaks in the debate. But Moyers found solace in the fact that 10 million people had tuned into the debate, the most of any primary debate so far in the election. Moyers said that 10 million was “good.”
And it is, unless you find it depressing that two and half times that number tune in several times a week to watch a shiny-bright national karaoke contest featuring over-wrought amateur singers, has-been “judges,” and an audience in the studio and at home that appears to have nothing better to do. So Moyers might have been using his own relative “good” and not an all-encompassing American cultural “good.”
A sharper example of defining terms might be the painful observations made about the Iraq war “surge” and whether or not it is “working.” Candidate Obama accurately observes that the White House takes “working” to mean that in some cases the levels of violence and death are down from pre-surge levels. Not to be irritating, but if there were a problem with school buses blowing up because of faulty engineering, would a fix that caused only half of a school bus to blow up prove that the fixes were “working?”
While in America, the Pope met with a handful of victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. According to observers, the Pope “spoke personally” with each victim and then prayed. “It was very positive and very prayerful,” said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, who earlier in the day had given the Pope a notebook with the names of some 1,000 boys and girls who had been abused in the Boston archdiocese alone going back several decades. One thousand in Boston alone. That’s sickening and horrifying, and I’m “positive” that it is sickening and horrifying.
Relative “good” is quite naturally a tool deployed by corporations to smooth out the wrinkles when capitalism generates tremors of change and then has professionals spin the changes to the consumers. Various aspects of the proposed airline mergers have been described as “good” over the last two weeks. The roiling airline industry may ultimately shake-out to something akin to what we experienced decades ago in watching our TV sets: Three big channels with various forms of traveler “rabbit ears” required for a “good” reception. How fewer airlines and thus less competition will result in anything “good” for consumers is a concern. That airlines may soon be able to tortuously tighten our pants by twisting our wallets in the same way oil companies do with gas prices should give us all pause. Two words for the future? “Go Greyhound.”
And speaking of the future, we’ll be hearing more about environmental “action” that’s going to be “good.” Kicking that trend off in high style, soon to never be president of anything ever again George Bush stood in the Rose Garden on April 16 and discussed climate change. Opening with “Climate change involves complicated science…” Bush nailed his definition of “good” early in the speech: “Many are concerned about the effect of climate change policies on our economy. I share these concerns, and I believe they can sensibly be reconciled.”
All the speech lacked was a life-size polar bear ice sculpture melting behind Bush as he explained that the impact of the Kyoto Protocol “would have been to limit our economic growth and to shift American jobs to other countries…” So now you understand that it’s protecting our environment that’s pushing jobs offshore. Okay… good.