- / -
The 20th century saw a multitude of studies and commentaries on values. It is ranked as one of the bloodiest centuries of all times. Nations continue to engage in extreme violence in the defence of values -- and are prepared to make use of pre-emptive nuclear strikes to that end. Nevertheless, appreciative inquiry into values and discussion of their nature remains a very "safe" and respectable topic. Appealing to values is a standard process in which all authorities engage -- frequently as a means of disguising agendas in conflict with those values and avoiding exploration of differences in values labelled by the same words.
The subtext of any values discourse tends to imply that "if only everyone would agree with our preferred set of values then all would be well". The corollary is then "if you are not with us in this, you are necessarily against us" and therefore part of the problem. The possibility is not considered that if we do not understand how we are part of the problem we cannot understand the nature of the solution required.
The challenge explored here is whether it is possible to break out of the trap of what might be framed as the "values game". This may be especially important in response to the seemingly unmanageable crises of the global knowledge society of the anthropocene era. Given the elusive nature of values, the question addressed here is whether individuals and groups can engage with and embody values more effectively as a means of engaging with these crises -- which strategically are essentially crises of values. This applies especially to those strategic crises relating to the environment -- currently epitomized by the value conflicts regarding "climate change".
The initial context for the following exploration was the instigation by the author in 1972 of the Human Values Project that formed part of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (online since 2000). This work, briefly summarized below, highlighted a range of issues -- notably the strategic implications for any transition from a knowledge society to a wisdom society (see Documents relating to Human Values and Wisdom).
No distinction is made here between "ethics", "morals" and "values", the argument focuses more generally on the latter as including the former. Of particular importance now appears to be the recognition of the limitations of the typical descriptive focus on values and their significance -- avoiding consideration of both the challenge of tokenism and the manner in which people might better comprehend and engage with configurations of values in enabling more appropriate navigation of emergent psycho-social complexity.
Following clarification of these issues, the question explored is how people and groups can comprehend and engage with configurations of values -- by which elusive sets of values might be "held" -- as argued in the subsequent paper (Coherent Value Frameworks: pillar-ization, polarization and polyhedral frames of reference, 2008). The issue of "topology" is highlighted to contrast this approach with the universal tendency to present sets of values as a checklist, organized simplistically and asystemically. There is then little consideration for the mnemonic factors that reinforce and sustain engagement with them -- and appropriate use of them as a strategic vehicle relevant to a global knowledge society challenged by the "political will to change".
This challenge of engagement is the focus of a subsequent paper (Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008). The latter document contains the References for all three. The argument of all three is summarized in a final paper (Embodying Values Dynamically: integrating sets of polarized static values through indicative metaphor, 2008). The exploration was undertaken as a contribution to a Panel on Ethics and Policies for Sustainable Futures (Hyderabad, 2008) of the World Academy of Art and Science.
It is readily assumed that it is obvious what values are and that it is therefore a simple matter to understand them. In engaging in further discussion of values, and despite responsibility over decades for a "values" project (discussed below), a preliminary confession is in order. It is quite unclear to the writer what "values" "are" in "reality".
Despite the extensive literature on what values are, this recognition seems to be in accord with that of others. For example:
It was in this spirit that it appeared appropriate to explore values as "strange attractors" in psycho-social systems, in the light of the subtler understanding of the complexity sciences (Human Values as Strange Attractors: coevolution of classes of governance principles, 1993). As such they could be understood as phenomena beyond the typical definitional game-playing with which exploration of values is most frequently associated. Values are not conventional conceptual objects. Any assumption that they can be so treated disconnects whatever they are from the manner in which they function in psycho-social systems -- and above all from the process whereby people engage with them.
As cited in that study, Walter Truett Anderson (Reality: Isn't what it used to be, 1990) reviewed the challenge as follows:
The conservative indictment is correct, and yet the strategy that logically follows from it -- to rebuild consensus, to get a core of standard values and beliefs in place in every American mind -- is doomed to fail. To see that you only need to look at the variety of things being offered by people who are in favour of some such consensus building (p. 4).
Anderson comments on a group of conflicting proposals then continues:
All of these proposals make sense, in a way. Each of them looks good to certain groups of people, particularly those whose values and beliefs are the ones being proposed for the national culture. And I am sure the great majority of Americans have never heard of any of these people, or their books. Humpty-Dumpty is not going to be put back together again. Efforts to do so are ultimately self-defeating, because campaigns to make people choose any particular system of value and belief tend to have the subversive effect of informing people that they are free to choose systems of value and belief. (p. 5).
A preface by Chris Mowles (Values in international development organisations: negotiating non-negotiables, Development in Practice, 18, 1 2008, pp. 5 - 16) to an extensive discussion can be fruitfully quoted at some length because of its frankness regarding these matters in practice:
As a consultant to international NGOs (INGOs), I am often asked by staff and managers to work with values. A number of patterns repeat themselves in the interchanges between us, and there are unspoken assumptions about the role of values in organisational life that I am expected to share. The principal of these is that an organisation can 'have' values, and that they should be fully shared by the employees: the way to undertake strategy, then, is to have a strong vision for the organisation, which is a way of realising the organisation's mission and values; and to find ways of airing this vision so that employees can commit themselves to it. Often I am enjoined to help staff and managers to 'close the gap' in practice between what they aspire to do and what they actually find themselves doing....
Over the past ten years I have been struck by how often values, which are supposed to be a source of organisational solidarity and motivation, end up being cited by managers and staff alike as one of the principal causes of their discontent with each other, or indeed for partner organisations' discontent with INGOs.... How do staff and managers who work in organisations with an overtly moral mission tend to explain and exercise that morality with regard to each other?
Values are... also frequently a source of demoralisation and destructive conflict. This is because the prevailing perceptions of values as instruments of management or as elements in some inchoate mystical whole render the power relationship between staff and managers undiscussable. Values need not be thought of as an instrument of management, and they are above all idealisations. An alternative theory of values is that they are emergent and intensely social phenomena that arise daily between people engaged in a collective enterprise.
If a world leader, such as Margaret Thatcher (Interview, Women's Own magazine, 31 October 1987) can famously assert ... there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families., what then can be said of "values" -- or of the "organization" or "culture" claiming them? As noted by Martin L.W. Hall (Systems Thinking and Human Values: towards understanding the chaos in organizations, 1999) in a commentary: There is really no such thing as an organizational value. It is really the manifestation of personal values in a larger context. To what extent do they then "exist"? Who has ever seen a value? Which declared "universal" values have not been meaningfully experienced by those expected to subscribe to them?
It is of course vital to recognize how a cluster of essentially nebulous values may be implicitly held in ways that do not lend themselves to unambiguous explication. The best example is the indication of "American values" in terms of a "dream" -- as in the "American Dream" (and "I Have a Dream" as presented by Rev. Martin Luther King) -- appropriately recognized as being challenged by the "spectre" of terrorism instigated by those who do not share such beliefs. The dream framing is interestingly challenged by controversy regarding the corresponding possibility of a "European Dream". The challenge for others is in the expectation that they should be "encouraged" to share such nebulous dreams and the associated values. Failure in such "belief" may result in extreme sanctions against "unbelievers". The nebulous nature of such belief highlights the degree to which society is "bedevilled" by the unsayable and the unsaid (Global Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid" From myth-making towards a "wisdom society", 2003).
On the other hand Francisco Parra-Luna (Axiological Systems Theory: a general model of society. tripleC, 2008) argues:
Societal problems can be defined as some kind of axiological disequilibrium since values can be considered to be the raw material, which founds social phenomena. If 'values' is the 'degree of usefulness or suitability of things to satisfy necessities', or to use more sociological terms, if 'value is an element of a shared symbolic system which serves as the criterion for choosing between alternatives for orientation", then, it can be extrapolated that everything, or almost everything in the field of human relations, can be considered as an enormous and complex framework of necessities and interests which can only be satisfied through the achievement of values.
It is the cognate of Atheism. In other words just as Atheism is a simple lack of belief in God, avaluism is a lack of belief that things have innate value -- or that value is a fuzzy concept that should be viewed akin to the Logical Positivists, that is a meaningless cipher.... Nobody has ever seen a value -- price tags do not count. They are statements of an existing supposition of value. (No Value, 21st-century Christian Philosopher, 8 November 2004)
In a separate philosophical exchange, Jeremy Pierce (Comment, The Prosblogion, 20 November 2007) argues:
... we might want to distinguish between amoralism and avaluism. The amoralist doesn't think there are any moral truths, but they might think there are truths about what is good. On one plausible interpretation of Nietzsche, that's what he's up to. He doesn't think there are any moral truths, but he denies that he's a nihilist because he thinks it's disastrous to reject the idea of goodness and badness just because you're rejecting morality.
The challenge to comprehension, and the manner in which values are invoked in society, might be highlighted through caricature:
Such arguments raise a variety of "valuable" issues and questions:
In such circumstances, and in contrast with valued property, it might be asked how values can be "possessed" -- especially when it is acknowledged that individuals and groups can be "possessed" by a value. It could then be argued that values are exemplified through embodiment in "exemplars" -- which then enable their verbal articulation in "second hand" declarations of principles. This suggests the value of interrelating some of the above points in the following table.
|Possible forms through which valiues are apprehended|
|.||Possible syntactical form||Locus||Audience
|Manifestation of values||Noun||Verb||Temporal
|Formulaic / Spin||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Recognition / Awards||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Celebration / Enactment||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Property / Possession||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Axiology / Explanation||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Manifesto / Declaration||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Norm / Obligation||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Complaint / Infringement||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Style / Way of being||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Embodiment / Identity||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
|Exemplar / Sacrifice||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.||.|
see value in something ***
The rows in the above table highlight the potential value of distinguishing "adherence" to values in some way. Metaphors to assist in this articulation might include adherence (stickiness) itself or classifications of "hardness". The latter might then be fruitfully contrasted with the "flexibility" typically associated with respect for values.
As noted in Wikipedia, in the case of solids, hardness refers to various properties that give it high resistance to various kinds of shape change when force is applied. Macroscopic hardness is generally characterized by strong intermolecular bonds. Such hardness might then be compared with the rigid values associated with ideological fundamentalism that is indeed characterized by mutually reinforcing bonds between a set of principles.
In the case of solid materials (and potentially with values), behaviour under force is complex, resulting in three distinct scientific definitions of what might be called "hardness" in everyday usage.
An important scale between "hard" and "soft" -- in the case of values -- might be usefully clarified by exploring the other end of the spectrum in the case of solid materials, namely the varieties of "soft matter". The argument being that the values with which people and groups associate in society might in some cases indeed be "soft" rather than "hard" and be valued precisely for that reason -- hence perhaps the exploration of "soft power" initiatives. "Flexibility" itself is a value under some circumstances, where "rigidity" (and other forms of resistance to deformation) are problematic -- a point relevant to the case below for "robust" value sets. In the physical case, soft matter comprises a variety of physical states (such as liquids, colloids, polymers, foams, gels, granular materials) that are easily deformed by thermal stresses or thermal fluctuations -- as with a number of biological materials. It might be argued that value sets may also be deformed when in "heated" contexts.
The physics of soft matter is of interest because it highlights the range of unpredictable behaviours associated with the looser molecular bonding -- suggesting that this might offer a way of thinking about values "flexibly" held. In the physical case this is due to the propensity of soft matter to self-organize into mesoscopic physical structures that are much larger than the microscopic scale (the arrangement of atoms and molecules), and yet are much smaller than the macroscopic (overall) scale of the material. It is precisely such thinking which could be fruitfully brought to bear on value imbued psycho-social structures, their tendency to self-organize, and the nature of their value-based identity.
Of relevance to further reflection, in exploring this metaphor, is the variety of internationally recognized systems of soil classification. These are of interest because one implication of their variety (despite the extremely tangible nature of soil) is as a basis for understanding why there is so little consensus on the intangibles of value classification. Soil is also of interest because of the manner in which various understandings of values use soil as a metaphor (eg rock-like integrity, feet of clay, standing on sand). The behaviour of soils, if only its susceptibility to erosion, is also a rich guide to reflection on values and their propensity for erosion. The value analogues to thixotropic soils and soil liquefaction are especially of interest in reflecting on potential challenges to value foundations imprudently considered "solid".
The above table highlights the distinction between values superficially held in some way and those with which identity is intimately and strongly associated. The distinction (and confusion) is also evident in the etymology of "value" in relation to "valour". The question is what is the cognitive and operational significance of values as held courageously and under threat, as opposed to that relating to values which are readily abandoned -- as with the lizard that drops its tail if caught by it? How are values to be "seized" -- carpe valorem, in the spirit of carpe diem?
To the extent that the values of most fundamental significance are those for which an individual or group is prepared to make some sacrifice (distinct from that of the lizard), it is therefore significant to recognize the degree of sacrifice by which such engagement may be put to the test:
Such degrees of engagement are quite distinct from those conventionally associated with formal expressions of adherence to a set of values, whether or not accompanied by pledges and solemn oaths in some collective setting. Such engagement involves more than words, although they may imply an engagement through words in an extraordinary manner. Obvious examples (and counter examples) include:
This "aconceptual" cognitive engagement with values is especially significant in the case of "valour", its relationship to "honour", and the manner in which these are subject to misrepresentation in furtherance of collective agendas (Varieties of Honour and Dishonour: distinguishing intrinsic honour from honourable externalities, 2005; Honour Essential to Psycho-social Integrity: challenge to the nameless of dishonourable leadership, 2005). Of particular interest is the manner in which military forces are rebranded as "peacekeeping forces", irrespective of their commitments -- following rebranding of certain weapon systems as "peacemakers" (Corvair B-36 strategic bomber, LGM-118 Peacekeeper nuclear missile, and the Colt .45 handgun). Value labels thus function as cognitive fig leaves disguising other agendas.
Such considerations point to the manner in which psycho-social construction of reality may be formed and grounded in the engagement with value frameworks. This process will presumably become of increasing significance in the emergent global knowledge society. As a form of cognitive "making" it is appropriate to bear in mind the associative process that may, through the mnemonics of poiesis, constitute a necessary aesthetic precursor to the autopoiesis of emergent psycho-social systems.
These issues relate in various ways to ongoing debates regarding embodied cognition (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy In The Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, 1999; Francisco Varela, et al. The Embodied Mind, 1991)
The above sections raise the issue of how to identify comprehensive sets of values with which individuals and groups might engage in responding to the global problematique through an appropriate resolutique -- to use the Club of Rome terminology. The challenge is that whilst many refer to "values", checklists of "human values" and "family values" are hard to come by, are curiously challenged in their methodology and naming of values, and typically distinguished by what they omit. There is little attention to how values might be appropriately named. Ironically it might be said that for the most popular individual values, "worthy" of the name, there are specific institutes, libraries or comprehensive commentaries (cf Walter Truett Anderson, The Truth about Truth: de-confusing and re-constructing the postmodern world, 1995).
It was in this context that the Human Values Project was instigated in 1972. The project rationale, methodology and results are extensively documented and the data set created has been available online since 2000 -- integrated with other data sets, including the 56,135 problems of the World Problems Project, the 32,695 strategies of the Global Strategies Project, and the 1,407 profiles from the Human Development Project. The following is therefore a slightly edited summary of the actual work done rather than the rationale behind it. It is an extract from Introductory Comments on Programme on Human Values and Wisdom (1993).
The kind of information available on values is so diffuse and unstructured that it is fair to say that there are no lists of values with which the international community identifies, whether partially or completely. There are texts which reflect values, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but these do not identify values as such. There are no guidelines for naming values, and other than obvious values such as "peace", "justice" and "liberty", few appear to have been named -- as is the challenge with species and astronomical features.
For this reason the opposite approach was used, namely an effort was made to generate a complete set of potential values by identifying a comprehensive set of value-charged words which could be assumed to reflect the full range of values. Again the question arises as to whether these value words do effectively indicate distinct values. Here the difficulty is extreme because of the fluidity of language and the variety of connotations associated with any particular word. The procedure used was however designed to make this confusion explicit, integrating it into the methodology, without attempting to resolve (at that level) the issues which emerge. The very ambiguity (as measured by the number of associations to the word) was used as an indication of its pervasive implictness. The procedure has the merit of not discriminating in favour or against any particular values as a result of emphasis on fashionable values.
The purpose of this programme was to register a complete range of values with which people identify, to which they are attracted or which they may reject as abhorrent. The even more elusive notion of "wisdom" may be usefully considered as the art of dealing with value dilemmas and complementary values, especially as a set.
The programme resulted in the identification of 2,270 value "complexes" for the 1991 edition of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (linked by 14,463 cross-references). This information is divided into four parts:
These are summarized as follows:
|Selection of Constructive and Destructive
(from complete tables)
|Constructive value words (Section VC)||Destructive value words (Section VD)|
(selection of Section VP from complete table)
|Value polarity||VC||VD||TOT.||%||Value polarity||VC||VD||TOT.||%|
|Value types (Section VT)
Clusters of value polarities. Cluster type names are only indicative. Clusters value polarities (with others omitted from it). See commentary. These words are used as a basis for relating values to world problems (destructive values) and organizational strategies (constructive values) in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. An analysis of the original data corresponding to each cell is presented elsewhere (in Figure 5 and Figure 6).
|FOCUS IN CONTEXT||CERTAINTY||INTRINSIC CONSTRAINT||NECESSITY||EXTERNAL CONSTRAINT|
|Value type "categories"
(Section VT, clustering value polarities).
Presented in order of the total number of cross-references to constructive and destructive value words (Sections VC and VD). See commentary.
None of the entries contain "descriptions" of the value(s) implied, although multiple connotations are indicated and cross-referenced. In most cases such descriptions would be superfluous -- or require a treatise, itself controversial. The words in Section VC reflect values which tend to be accepted without questioning. Those in Section VD reflect values which would "normally" tend to be rejected without questioning. The emphasis is placed on using the cross-references to indicate the range of connotations of particular value words. The entries on value polarities, Section VP, do however list proverbs, aphorisms or quotations selected to illustrate the dynamic counter-intuitive relationship between supposedly constructive and destructive values.
These aphorisms endeavour to draw on popular wisdom or insight to demonstrate the negative consequences and limitations of blind adherence to constructive values or to demonstrate the positive consequences and creative opportunity of judicious action in the light of destructive values. They point to the existence of a more fundamental and challenging dynamic than that implied, for example, by peace-at-all-costs and total rejection of conflict.
Whilst it had been hoped to develop lists of values from documents of international bodies, no adequate lists of values were located, even within the intergovernmental agencies (such as UNESCO) specifically concerned with human values, and despite numerous reports and meetings on "values" in recent years. The values referred to are very seldom named, although the commonest may be cited as examples. The list presented has therefore been elaborated as an experiment based on the selection and interrelationship of constructive and destructive value words.
This exploration of values is of special interest in relation to the World Problems Project of the Encyclopedia. Many problems are named in international debate using a destructive value word (e.g. insufficient, unrealistic, unjust, inappropriate). Problems defined in this way imply the existence of some corresponding value whose expression is infringed by the problem -- a question under systematic investigation for later work on the Encyclopedia (see Problem naming). Such values may or may not be noted in defining the purposes underlying remedial action in response to the problem, although often they form part of the wording of any rallying slogan in support of strategies profiled in the Global Strategies Project (see Strategy naming).
The set of constructive and destructive value words does indicate a way of coming to grips with the range of problems which existing language renders perceivable and nameable. They also indicate possible dimensions of human development. This section is of course limited at this stage by the biases inherent in Roget's Thesaurus and the English language. It does however create a framework which could enable these limitations to be transcended. Further possibilities are discussed in the subsequent papers (Coherent Value Frameworks: pillar-ization, polarization and polyhedral frames of reference, 2008; Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008). The latter document contains the References for all three.
|In Quest of Engaging Values|
|"If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
Maybe it is because he hears the sound of a different drummer, Let him
keep pace with the beat he hears, However measured or far away".
(Henry David Thoreau)
For further updates on this site, subscribe here