Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Good Values, Bad Values, No Values?

If, for example, your country has a public health system that ensures that everyone who needs treatment receives it, without payment, it helps instil the belief that it is normal to care for strangers, and abnormal and wrong to neglect them. If you live in a country where people are left to die, this embeds the idea that you have no responsibility towards the poor and weak. The existence of these traits is supported by a vast body of experimental and observational research, of which Labour and the US Democrats appear determined to know nothing.
We are not born with our core values: they are strongly shaped by our social environment. These values can be placed on a spectrum between extrinsic and intrinsic. People towards the intrinsic end have high levels of self-acceptance, strong bonds of intimacy and a powerful desire to help others. People at the other end are drawn to external signifiers, such as fame, financial success and attractiveness. They seek praise and rewards from others.
Research across 70 countries suggests that intrinsic values are strongly associated with an understanding of others, tolerance, appreciation, cooperation and empathy. Those with strong extrinsic values tend to have lower empathy, a stronger attraction towards power, hierarchy and inequality, greater prejudice towards outsiders, and less concern for global justice and the natural world. These clusters exist in opposition to each other: as one set of values strengthens, the other weakens.
They tend to report higher levels of stress, anxiety, anger, envy, dissatisfaction and depression than those at the intrinsic end. Societies in which extrinsic goals are widely adopted are more unequal and uncooperative than those with deep intrinsic values. In one experiment, people with strong extrinsic values who were given a resource to share soon exhausted it (unlike a group with strong intrinsic values), as they all sought to take more than their due.
As extrinsic values are strongly associated with conservative politics, it's in the interests of conservative parties and conservative media to cultivate these values. There are three basic methods. The first is to generate a sense of threat. Experiments reported in the journal Motivation and Emotion suggest that when people feel threatened or insecure, they gravitate towards extrinsic goals. Perceived dangers – such as the threat of crime, terrorism, deficits, inflation or immigration – trigger a short-term survival response, in which you protect your own interests and forget other people's.
do read the whole thing, a really key contribution to the values debate. He makes the excellent point that if taxation if repeatedly portrayed as a burden, people will come to resent it and see it as a bad thing - taxation is one way in which we act as our brother and sisters keeper, one way in which we are bound together as a community and nation.

update: for a different but helpful perspective, try British Values do not Exist, which argues that we should be talking about British institutions (sovereign parliament, rule of law, monarchy etc.). Actually, not that different - the piece above is to some degree about how our institutions work (public health, the rule of law etc.) and how they shape, and are shaped by society. Values don't exist in a vacuum.

(and also see yesterdays post on what sort of values bring the best out of us)

1 comment:

  1. ...if taxation if repeatedly portrayed as a burden, people will come to resent it and see it as a bad thing - taxation is one way in which we act as our brother and sisters keeper, one way in which we are bound together as a community and nation....

    An excellent point and one that shows a big difference between American politics (particularly the Christian Right) and the British Right of Centre politcs: the former being vehemently anti-taxation. Yet ironically, of course, it is in the heartlands of the American Christian Right (the Bible Belt and mid-west) that we see the highest rates of the very social ‘problems’ that are supposed to be ameliorated by high levels of Christian belief and practice and (in the American Religious Right rhetoric) a punitive welfare system: the US as a whole and the Bible Belt in particular (where social and political liberalism is an anathema) leads the Western world in rates of teen pregnancy, divorce, serial marriage (oddly most prevalent among the ‘Born Agains’), single parent families, violent crime, murder, gap between rich and poor, ill-health, obesity, incarceration of its citizens etc.

    Clearly in a nation such as the US, where around 40% of the population regularly attend church – this rises to over 60% in Bible Belt states – and up to 75% in some counties within these states; compared to around 8-12% (depending on where you get your figures) in the UK, just having a bit more ‘God’ in society doesn’t seem to come up with the goods when it comes to social wholesomeness. Indeed, looking at the world as a whole, you’re more likely to find low rates of divorce, teen pregnancy, violent crime etc. in the secular, liberal democracies of Northern Europe (esp. the Scandinavian model) – now there’s irony!

    The modern welfare state where taxation has allowed us to become our ‘brother and sisters’ keeper’ has far better fulfilled Bible morality (e.g. Exodus 22:22 , Deut 10:18, 14:29, 24:17, 24:19 etc., Isaiah 1:17, 1:23, 10:2, Jeremiah 22:3, Ezekiel 22:7, Zechariah7:10, Malachi 3:5) than reliance on ‘Christian charity’ demonstrates the complexity of such thinking – that a more ‘Christian’ society, would be a more wholesome society: there is little evidence from either the present or the past to support this thesis. Tho’ obviously there have been religious philanthropists and reformers who have done great works – however it should be remembered that the vast bulk of these were Non-Conformists, an interesting point in itself – and the society they were ‘reforming’ was Christian at the time – so why were such notions of social justice and charity a ‘natural’ product of such a society, where the Bible was well known and the churches a good deal fuller than they are today?

    So hurrah for taxation and the redistribution of wealth and the safety net this provides us, is what I say! As we can see from the American example, ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ don’t necessarily come up with the goods of either Biblical morality or a more wholesome society.