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What are yours?

What are yours?

Had an interesting response to Tuesday's post from a fellow named Joseph, who argues quite persuasively the "change" in the attitudes of men I noted on Grand Final day was, perhaps, "not an evolution but a regression to a personal, core and enduring common ground of values" ...

Wrote Joseph: "Hope I am doing justice to your article but to summarise it: attitudinal change has occurred through greater tolerance and compassion, which you've described as a form of cultural (and personal) evolution."

"You add we are now part of a world community of thoughts and attitudes as opposed to the smaller communities we used to belong to in yesteryear."

Which is pretty much the gist of what I wrote, however, Joseph had some further thinking on the topic.

"The 'world community of thoughts and attitudes' has the consequence of democratising thoughts and attitudes," he writes.

"It de-personalises thought. Taken to the extreme (which it has through technology and the internet) it inadvertently supports the absurd proposition that all thoughts are equal – when they are not."

"Democracy and equality in thoughts and attitudes is not necessarily a good thing. This is a dangerous assumption – some thoughts and attitudes simply prove themselves (quite objectively) to be superior to others.

"[Democracy and equality in thoughts and attitudes] creates trends in thought for no good reason. They get a momentum of their own. You end up being pounded by a massive attitudinal wave that may have originated with some well-intentioned but misguided act of tolerance," writes Joseph.

This idea of the "democratising thoughts and attitudes" reminded me of a refreshingly wry Heckler piece in The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year by Lynn Van Der Wagen.

"As a teacher with more than 20 years' experience it is increasingly painful to read and listen to opinion in the absence of background knowledge, research or experience," she wrote.

"Past generations paid due regard to the expertise of the teacher and gained intellectual exercise by reading and (gasp) memorising important information."

She argued the "gargantuan rise in the younger generation's confidence in the value of their opinions" was a result of "parents and teachers alike" being "counselled to hold a young person's opinion in the highest regard".

Being someone who's paid for his opinion - this nifty observational jab lanced right through my defences because *newsflash*, I often bang on about subjects in which I have little formal education.

I am thus painfully aware of this weakness in others because I see myself in their obnoxiously ignorant pronoucements.

Some years ago, I was talking to a friend about Ernest Becker's 1973 classic, The Denial of Death, and she out-of-hand dismissed his theory - that humans are subconsciously driven by the fear of dying.

"I'm not scared of death. It's just one man's opinion," she said, neatly ignoring that "the man" was building on the work of towering intellects like Kierkegaard and Sigmund Freud and had won a Pulitzer Prize for his opinion.

She wasn't scared of death, so Becker, Freud and Kierkegaard were wrong. Every thought is equal nowadays, apparently.

Anyway, Joseph attacks this concept, arguing that tolerance of stupid, hare-brained, ill-informed ideas should not be seen as a virtue.

"Tolerance should never be an 'end' but should always be 'a means to an end'. Tolerance for tolerance sake is bad news," he says.

"There is such a prevailing sense out there that to be virtuous or righteous one must be tolerant to the 'needs' of others. We should never tolerate that which is wrong. Tolerance, when trendy, is simply a mindless act of conceding. We need something more fundamental to make those determinations," he writes.

And what is that?


"Values, as the end, selectively use tolerance, as the means to achieving them. Now, although we can obtain/share values from the community at large, they are intrinsically a deeply personal thing. They are fundamental," says Joseph.

"They should always prevail over the diluting, transitory and trendy 'world community of thoughts and attitudes' which you have relied so heavily on in your article as a mechanism for good."

I put to Joseph that "the question man's been asking himself forever, however, is 'what values, if any, are universal?'"

He replied: "I don't think the individual values have to be universal. The universality or common feature of values is they are 'valued' by those that keep them – irrespective of the source.

"Being valued, they are upheld and they endure. They have passed the test of time and have proven to be reliable yardsticks in driving our behaviour.

"By definition, you simply cannot have 'bad' values, for if they were bad, they would not have been retained in the first place. Values do not exist in a vacuum but are practiced.

"If one repeatedly gets a bad result when practicing an 'almost-value', it loses its value and is dropped. Bad 'almost-values' are dropped and good values are retained.

Thus, he argued, what I experienced "in that pub was not an evolution but a regression to a personal, core and enduring common ground of values".

"The shared thoughts of the community at large through technology and larger cities gives us access to more information but is not necessarily making us more informed," he said.

Now, was this just an excuse to cut and paste a whole lot of someone else's thinking into a post to save me writing one?

Sort of, but it's also been occupying my thoughts the last few days and I'd love to hear yours on the subject.

[Joseph, sorry if my editing has altered or misconstrued your argument.]

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

32 comments so far

  • Have a read of this, this clearly backs up Jo in the idea that not all "values" are equal, and we need to stop pretending they are. Not that we should need an article to point this out, its self evident from watching the news daily.

    Razzl McDazzle
    Date and time
    October 25, 2012, 8:54AM
    • Razzl, can I commend you on the link you posted.
      Good read, and food for thought.

      girl friday
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 10:33AM
  • "By definition, you simply cannot have 'bad' values, for if they were bad, they would not have been retained in the first place. Values do not exist in a vacuum but are practiced."

    No values are subjective and change through time. Think abolition of slavery for a start. Plenty of people justified slavery as self evident. The Taliban has some values I don't agree with...

    Tolerance is important because we can never be 100% sure our values are the only right ones and because our values in the past have been wrong, so we owe other cultures the opportunity to find their own path to better values. Tolerance has limits.

    Date and time
    October 25, 2012, 9:57AM
    • The other important thing about tolerance is that it actually helps you to solidify your belief system and values. If someone spouts a ridiculous opinion on an established value, you can judge and reject that opinion based on reason - and this very process has got you to think about your value and defend it, thus strengthening it.

      So freedom of speech and tolerance are important to maintaining the philosophical rigour supporting your values.

      You may not like what people say and you can certainly judge it and reject it based on reasoned argument. This is not intolerance. Tolerance respects the right to freedom of speech.

      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 4:45PM
  • What about the ancient, age-old values such as racism, violence, persecution, etc? They've been found for thousands of years - surely, that would make them valid?

    Date and time
    October 25, 2012, 10:33AM
    • That's the problem as I see it BOb, those values are valid in that society, so it's self-perpetuating until the cycle is broken somehow...

      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 12:24PM
    • Hi BOb, actually "racism" isn't a value, it's a subjective occurrence. "Violence" is an action perpetrated against another thing (living or not), persecution is a subjective perception. So none of those things you mentioned are "values", they're actions and reactions.

      Racism, as an example, is that of the Israeli's intents of wiping out the Palestinians (or repatriate to places unknown), as Hitler tried to wipe out the Jews in WW2. Violence, again I reference to the above, are the actions of both of those "intents" above. Persecution is the belief of both those of people, ie. those of Jewish faith and Palestinian nationals that they are unwelcome by others in the place in which they reside.

      Values, on the other the other hand, are those things which would have given an instinctive insight to both these people that no matter what fight/defence/manipulation/ coercion they undertook it was not something to be proud of within themselves. They may say that they "had" to do violence to "save" a loved one (and I am NOT belittling anyone who has been placed in the invidious position of having to do so) but the knowledge that they took another life will always be with them . . . . fester through everything they think and do . . . and infect every interaction they have.

      True internal values are the things that make you strive to be a better person at all times. We all fail at some points, but values make you want to be a better person, to make this world we live in a better place for all, not just a place free of "*name the person/people/race of most annoyance here*".

      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 11:33PM
    • @TangoMama: "True internal values are the things that make you strive to be a better person at all times."

      What if your definition of being a "better person" is, in fact, to be racist, or violent? After all, consider there was a period in time when the appropriate response to someone making fun of you would be to stick a handspan of steel through their chest.

      Date and time
      October 29, 2012, 9:28AM
  • I'll be thinking abot this one too.... because I have always believed that everyone deserves to be listened to, but not necessarily heeded or even respected. I often feel inadequate and unqualified to give an opinion but that doesn't seem to stop most people. The worst offenders are the ones who profess fake knowledge and are able to produce all the badly researched 'proof' to push their agenda (Alan Jones come to mind?)

    I am thinking our early formed core values define us, and these are the ones that ultimately we need confirmed to feel truly validated and worthwhile as a person, and I suppose we are attracted to people who reflect those values and thus further strengthen our belief in them. The problem is that if we create a harsh uncompromising fear filled environment, what are the values required to succeed in that place?? Horrible thought

    Date and time
    October 25, 2012, 11:07AM
    • As with any double edged sword, the danger here is that the values retained in an environment where they are subject to a society-wide form of peer review are essentially done so by group-think. Just because over a long enough time frame these invalid, inappropriate, weak or just plan wrong values are discarded does not mean they do no harm in the interim. As Mr Keynes said "in the long run, we are all dead"

      As we have become a more accepting society it is true that we have witnessed increasing instances of thoughts and values worth less than the electrons used to type them gaining prominence, but we have also seen the acceptance as valid the thoughts, feelings and values of minority groups.

      The "values" of societies past would seek to do everything from lock me up to execute me because I'm gay, the acceptance that while yes, the person I love is different to the person that 95% of society love means I am able to live my life as a content individual.

      It only took several hundred years, the loss of countless lives and destruction of an even greater number of people's spirits before the logic of "Bad 'almost-values' are dropped and good values are retained." began to accept my values.

      I am not advocating the prolific, 15 second sound byte, completely un-researched "my ignorance is worth as much as your knowledge" view of the world that is so common. I am simply advocating that people remain tolerant, but apply critical thinking and education to their tolerance.

      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 11:31AM

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