I have been thinking about the general concept of “values” since the moral majority and the religious right brought the issue of values from religion into politics. The word “values” is a catch all word that describes something that the can be nebulously described as “a good thing we can all agree on.” But, what a society or culture finds value in is not a clear and uniform idea that should be allowed to be thrown around unquestioned.
In fact, even the ideas that we might be able to produce off the top of our heads which embody the grand examples of “values” turn out not to be so cut and dry when we think of them in detail. We all value quite a number of things, but the priority in which we value them turns out to be even more important than the fact that we value them. We value our lives and we value our children’s lives. But, what priority do we put on those two values when we are asked to choose between the two?
If we examine the current political bifurcation the religious right will tell us that the issue is in the culture wars. The culture wars are about “values.” And, the religious right will tell us that one important value is life. The religious right proceeds to focus on the issue of abortion, as the center of the war on life as a value.
But, the truth of the matter is life is not the issue. The argument is not about whether one side of the argument values life, and the other side of the argument does not value life. No, everyone and their dog values life. In fact, many people on the left may be found who value life above and beyond many of those on the right. There are vegetarians on the left who value all animal life. There are anti-war protestors that value the lives of our military and the lives of the enemy that they are shooting at. The real truth is that life is not a debatable issue, we all value life in general. The real question turns out to be - who’s life do we value more than whom else’s life?
Similarly, on the left there are people who worry about our environment. The environment is valued by these people. But, if one was to ask the question - Do you think that we should preserve our environment? - we wouldn’t find many people who would answer no to that question. The environment provides us with the resources that we need to live at all. But, many people find it easy to put a price on the environment. Cheap energy and cheap labor saving devices and cheap entertainment are the price we pay, and many people believe that the price is worth the cost.
The issue of “values” is not really about what we value, but it is about the priority of our values. And, we will never change each other’s minds if we continue to argue about who’s values are important and who’s values are unimportant. Instead we need to discuss and order our priorities.
In a way, this is what we do when we make the laws. We make exceptions for some, which in effect gives these people higher priority. We rule in the case of people’s right effecting other people’s rights and the ruling gives us the priority of the law, and the priority of those values.
For example, when the law determines that the right to walk around naked outside is overruled by the right of someone not to inadvertently see someone walk around naked outside we value lack of nudity over free expression. Our societal values are reflected in our laws.
The reality of the situation is that many of the priorities that the previous generations have written into our laws no longer reflect our current priorities. We no longer have a higher priority on virginity than the well being of our sisters and nieces. We still value waiting until the time is right. But, we no longer think that a woman should be stoned to death for being raped. We now value the woman’s life above her virginity.
The priority of our values is an old question that was being asked by the holy man of ancient history. Perhaps this is why Jesus was sure to proclaim the love of God above all other laws. Jesus was already sorting the values by priority. He said love of God was number 1, and love of your neighbor was number two. Of course we aren’t all Christian nor do we all believe in any particular God at all. So, it is quite obvious that our culture can not have the same priority of values as Jesus told us too.
Thing about values is that we can have values that we all agree upon and we can also have individual values that we can place in our personal order. And, as long as our personal values don’t conflict with the values of society, then we will get along just fine. But, when we change our personal priorities with the societal priorities, then we are in trouble. We can change the value of the priorities that are not written in law, but we can not change the laws unless we go through the law making process.
An easy example of this is the priority we place on work. In some societies it is believed that work is something that needs to be done for society to function properly. In some societies, if you make it to work and put in some time, then you will be paid for what you do, but life is more important than work in general. If a worker were to wake up at noon eat lunch and make it to work by 2:00 PM they would be treated differently in the two societies. That worker might likely find himself fired if he lived in society one, while it could be just a regular work day in society two. When a worker from society two moves to society one, he is bound to take his personal priority system and discover the harsh reality of the new society.
The point that I am trying to make with this post is that the priority of our values is the key to making our society function. But, most of us never discuss this important aspect of our culture. Perhaps this lack of discussion is due to our assumption that we all share similar orders of priority in our values. Perhaps the lack of discussion is due to the complex nature of this task. Perhaps we never really think about the order of our own priorities in enough detail. Or, perhaps we just hijack someone else’s priority list and we don’t bother to consider any other priority, because our personal feelings, wants and desires are filled into the blank slate when we feel the urge. The priority of our values have been given to us through many different and most likely random channels. We understand the priority of our values from our parents, our teachers, our leaders and our preachers. But we also set the priorities of our values from our experience, our friends and our desires. Very few of us ever take the time and effort to compare different values and debate their priorities.
Maybe if we as a community began to discuss our priorities of our values and justify our ordering we could come to a consensus on were these priorities lie within our society. Maybe if we justify our positions we could learn where stumbling blocks and problems block the way. Maybe if we could get the major values defined and ordered we could understand where other priorities should be placed and our perspective would be increased.
Just to get the ball rolling I’ll offer my first stab at this:
1) The survival of our planet.
We all live on this planet, and if it were gone, or destroyed we would not have any place else to live.
2) The survival of life.
Life needs the planet, the planet can evolve life again.
3) The survival of our society.
I would like to use society in a global term, which would include all of the nations of the world. I would sacrifice the survival of our society to allow the planet to survive, because maybe society could once again evolve, but only if the planet still existed.
4) The security of our local region.
The priority of our local region of the planet is more important than the survival of a region that my friends, relatives, family and neighbors don’t occupy. I would sacrifice someone else’s region to save the entire society or planet if I needed to make a choice. The security of other regions often results in security of our own region.
5) The survival of our regional local life - People, plants and animals.
We need life to grow the food we eat, to form the society.
6) The survival of agriculture.
How else could we sustain our society?
7) The survival of my personal culture
8) The survival of other cultures
Go ahead, fill in the blanks, there are lots of them….
Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."
Cross Posted @ Bring It On