Commentary on Excerpt H
Excerpt H pursues a question that Dave had raised earlier: Would Frank have minded if Laura had done to him what he had done to Laura? Now Frank asserts that, if Laura had taped him under similar circumstances, he "would not be pissed." This appeal to what Frank apparently takes to be the Golden Rule is followed by another complaint: that he, Frank, is being treated "as if I'm a stranger." Both arguments can be interpreted as pleas for leniency. In asserting that he would not be pissed, Frank is implying also that he meant no harm to Laura; also, perhaps, that Laura had a right to be upset but not to be "pissed." In complaining of being treated as if he were a stranger, Frank may also be suggesting that he feels unduly ostracized by the group, and that he wants to be judged sympathetically, as one ought to treat a good friend. The conversation then turns to the meaning of the Golden Rule.
To their credit, the conversants become sensitized to the vagaries of the Golden Rule, but Frank's improvement upon Dave's dual interpretations of the precept still does not get at an even more basic problem of interpretation that both needed to wrestle with. Even assuming Frank's correction, and the desirability of applying the rule, the question remains, what exactly has Frank "done"? Frank might well say that he impulsively taped Laura so as to secure a confidential recording that they could both use. Laura's description would probably make reference to his having knowingly deceived her so as to exploit the advantage gained by taping her unawares. Of course, neither of these is a neutral description, but then, as White notes, it is hard to imagine what a neutral description of a morally freighted act could possibly be. It is thus possible in cases of this sort for both sides to agree in principle on the same general rule, yet to apply the rule in very different ways. Moreover, there is no court of last resort that the disputants can turn to in these cases. What they do have are the resources of friendship and of language and of the possibilities for further dialogue. These they do attempt to exploit in the continuing conversation.