The acceptance of dishonesty February 21, 2010Posted by Tomboktu in Ethics, Ireland, Irish Politics, Judiciary, media, Sport.
RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany (on Radio 1) is listed as entertainment by the station. The worst emotion you might expect the programme to raise is nostalgic sadness for times now passed. This morning’s programme [I don't know how long this link will last], however, contained an essay that produced in me frustration at the acceptance of dishonesty in our society.
The essay was by the John O’Donnell telling about his participation in the Irish Times’ Debate competition [as the paper dubs it] in 1979. In his essay [at the 44 min mark in the webcast], he says:
I learned just how inventive speakers could be. In the out-of-town semi-final, one team spewed out an impressive array of statistics from a survey which they claimed had been carried out by two researchers named Termin and Tyler. All the statistics supported the team’s argument on the motion that women’s liberation did not mean equality. The duo duly roared on into the final. Only later did we discover that Termin and Tyler were the names of two shoe shops our heroes had driven by as the drove through the town of Naas en route to the venue.
I am not surprised that some competitors in the debating competition would pull strokes. All competitive sports have cheats: competitors who take performance-enhancing drugs in physical sports like athletics or cycling, or somebody who assaults a wife’s competitor, as famously happened in skating. However, would a sports writer or former competitor expect to get away with describing those tactics as “inventiveness” or refer to the outcome as “duly” roaring into the final? The only way I could see it being acceptable is if it were clearly with sarcasm or irony. [As the sport discussed in the Sunday Miscellany essay is debating, I probably don't need to tell this morning's contributor that 'duly' is defined as: "adv properly; fitly; at the proper time" (The Chambers Dictionary, New Ninth Edition; 2003).]
Two things sadden and irritate me about this morning’s broadcast. The first is that nobody in RTÉ said rewording of that part of the essay would be needed to make it less accepting of the cheating. The second is the arena in which that cheating occurred and what that tells us about problems elsewhere in our society. Many of the winners of the Irish Times Debate competition go on told key roles in our institutions: in the legal system, medical establishment, in broadcasting. If participants like this morning’s essayist recount without criticism that cheating has occurred in the speeches delivered by competitors, should we be surprised that speeches made in other fora, such as the Dáil by a government minister, contain assertions that are, as Professor Karl Whelan put it recently,“well (… looking for polite term for it) not correct”?