Posts Tagged ‘Values’

Values embedded in language

March 16, 2019

The most fundamental value there is, is the distinction between “good” and “bad”. It is a characteristic of every individual. For humans this value surely originated from long before we were anatomically modern humans. Within the world of living things, and whether the individual living thing is aware of the value or not, all that aids survival is “good” and all that does not is “bad”.

The fundamental value scale of goodness therefore precedes language. Awareness of the value scale may need consciousness, but what is “good” or “bad” applies to every living thing whether it is conscious or not. Language, of course, is a means of “quantifying” thought. It is language which allows the past and the future and the abstract and the unreal to be described.

Language has allowed us to describe many other value scales. Each scale seems to be independent though it is clear that many of the scales are related. (Length can be related to weight and thickness, beauty can be related to cleverness or to complexity, …….). I cannot find any value scale though, which does not always map – even if sometimes indirectly – to the value scale of goodness.

It is as if “good” and “bad” are embedded in the framework of language, such that every other value scale we may describe always leaves a shadow on the scale of “good” and “bad”. It is therefore we tend to associate certain values with others and, I suspect, it is because of their underlying projection onto the good-bad scale. Beauty is good, noise is bad. Sweet is good, bitter is bad. Tall is good, short is bad. Thin is good and fat is bad. Certain combinations of values feel “right” and others feel very “wrong”. “Tall, slim and beautiful” feels right, but “short, fat and beautiful” is discordant in composition.

Logic and – it would seem – fundamental valuations of good and bad are embedded in language. They make up the framework for language and non-compliance with the inbuilt logic or the values creates discomfort and a discordance.



Religions have no values – people do

September 5, 2015

I wish all organised religions were obsolete and I am hopeful that eventually they will be. I find it obscene that children are brainwashed into “religious beliefs” and that organised religions presume to impose their orthodoxies onto others. A belief cannot exist in the space of knowledge. All religions are merely “belief systems” which live in the space of ignorance and it irritates me that religions compete on the grounds of “my ignorance being superior to yours”. An individual can well have religious beliefs and I see nothing wrong with that. What I dislike is that a group imposes a “belief” – which is nothing but an ignorance – on an individual. That is my definition of brain-washing. “What I don’t know is better than what you don’t know”.

Values are created from an informed judgement by a thinking person. Is it good, is it bad? What is beautiful, or admirable, or ethical, or not, are all judgements made by individuals after a cognitive process. They do not come out of group-think. I would suggest that an individual’s value comes first and the values of a group can only be built up as a composite of the many different individual values in the group. A “group value” once created can be imposed on an individual as “a rule to be obeyed”, but that does not make it his value. A value requires a cognitive process, and as long we don’t have ESP the cognitive process is an individual property.

Values are – and can only be – those of individuals – not of religions. Religions kill infidels or unbelievers alike by exploiting those of their followers who give little value to human life. Religions make rules. These rules are not values. Values, as a cognitive property, are inherent in thinking individuals. Unthinking individuals follow a lazy path and adopt – or are coerced into adopting – religious rules to be their “values”. Or they accept the imposition of somebody else’s values because they are too lazy to think through their own. It is the same with governments. They make rules. These rules are not values.

I cannot see that there is any such thing as “Christian values” or “Muslim values”. I can see the values (or absence of values) exploited by the hierarchies of organised religions. Were Nazi values also Christian values as they claimed to be? Were they Christian values on display in Northern Ireland? or in Bosnia? Is anti-semitism a fundamental Christian value? Or were they Muslim values which led to all the predatory grooming of young girls in Rotherham? Or Muslim values which gives the barbarism of the IS? Catholics versus Protestants is not so different to Shia versus Sunni.

In the current displacement of Syrian and other refugees – from countries destabilised and bombed to ruins by the EU and the US in the name of democracy – there is much talk of “European values”. Without the destruction of Iraq and Libya and attempted nation building in Syria by the EU, there would be no IS and few Syrian refugees.  “European values” are being used to both argue for and against providing help to the refugees created to a large degree by US and European actions. These supposed ” European values” are used both by the left to prop up their moralising and by the nationalist right to paint alarmist pictures. The right likes to see the issue as an epic battle between “Christian values” and Muslim values”. It is also worth noting that in Europe today, it is Germany – not the UK – which is perceived by refugees as the land to seek sanctuary in. But there is no such well-defined thing as “European values”. Values across Europe are not homogeneous. They are a mishmash of values ranging from sanctimonious humanism at one end through to virulent xenophobia at the other.

I find that values are independent of religion but a supposed connection is hijacked by political parties to suit themselves. The nationalist right still believes they are on a Crusade. The IS does the same in their pursuit of jihad. But the reality is as the Hungarian Prime Minister puts into words. It is what is thought by virtually all right wing nationalist parties in Europe and their supporters (and that includes UK, Sweden, Germany, Austria, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Greece among others).

IB Times:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned that the growing Muslim influx is threatening Europe’s “Christian roots”. Defending Hungary’s response to the migrant crisis, Orban said his country did not want to admit large numbers of Muslims.

Writing an opinion piece in Germany’s Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, the Hungarian prime minister said: “Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots. Or is it not already and in itself alarming that Europe’s Christian culture is barely in a position to uphold Europe’s own Christian values? …. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”

The issue of the day – and for the next few years – in Europe is the inflow of foreigners (refugees, asylum seekers, guest workers, and other immigrants) in to countries where otherwise population would decline. (And therefore for the next decade it is going to be the issue of “immigration” which will dominate all European elections). The paradox I see is that Europe needs to get its population to stop declining. The “native European” birth rate is not going to increase and therefore immigration must increase. And at the same time so will the xenophobia – at least for another decade or two.

Neither governments or religions have – or can have – values. People do. And when it comes to Christians versus Muslims, I wish “a plague on both your houses”. When organised religions finally do become obsolete, it will not eliminate the murderous inclinations of many humans. But it will remove one excuse used to justify the hate and the barbarism.

“That is not who we are” – Barack Obama. Oh Yes it is!

December 10, 2014

I heard Barack Obama trying to make the best of the CIA torture report released by the Senate yesterday. “One of the things that sets us apart from other countries is that when we make mistakes, we admit them. ……… brutal, and as I’ve said before, constituted torture, in my mind. And that’s not who we are.

But of course it is “who we are”. Certainly admitting a self-judged, wrong-doing – after the event – is also part of “who we are”. But the fact of the wrong-doing remains part of the behaviour which constitutes “who we are”. It does not vanish with a subsequent apology.

While behaviour includes what one says, what one does always overrides if the two are in conflict. So, while the US is certainly to be commended on admitting some wrong-doings after the event, it is also quite clear that that behaviour is – at times – quite acceptable. “American Values” clearly do allow torture under certain conditions. Abu Ghraib and My Lai are part of the reality of the behaviour of the US military. Such behaviour is what they are, notwithstanding that the behaviour was later declared to be “wrong”. Those values are ingrained and it is almost certain that some “torture”and some mistreatment of detainees is ongoing right now, to be apologised for later – if revealed. I conclude that torture itself is not against American Values. The Value could actually be formulated thus:

Torture is wrong but permitted, as a last resort, in special circumstances and must be apologised for if later revealed.

The map of all the countries who were complicit – actively or passively – with CIA’s torture program includes most of the countries who speak loudest and most sanctimoniously about human rights. Add to this all the other countries (Russia, China, India, South American countries, …. ) who also use torture in some form, and I come to the conclusion that there is not a single country today where some form of torture (physical as well as mental) is not at least tolerated under some specific conditions. Nobody claims that torture is a “good thing”, but every country also accepts that it can be justified. The concept of “absolute human rights” is fundamentally flawed. The “human rights” that any society is prepared to bestow upon those within or without that society is dynamic and variable.

Currently “what humans are”, all around the world, includes the use of torture – knowing that it is “wrong” – under certain conditions when deemed absolutely necessary.

There are no absolute values either, just as there are no absolute human rights. How should we judge the behaviour of an ISIS executioner with that of a CIA torturer? An ISIS executioner carries out his bloody beheadings in the belief that he is doing “right” in accordance with his values. A CIA torturer carries out his miserable activities knowing that it is “wrong” but that it is in a “good” cause and justified by his values.

I suppose they will both be gathered to the bosoms of their angry gods in their respective heavens.

“for your own good” is the most arrogant phrase there is

July 10, 2011

The height of arrogance is when I am told by someone else that I should do something or not do something “for your own good”.

Be it a doctor or a lawyer or an environmental campaigner or a civil servant or a politician or a government,  the phrase raises my hackles.

It presumes too much.

It does not convince.

It is dictatorial.

It imposes one person’s values on someone else.

It is a denial of the subject’s most deep-seated and fundamental value of deciding what constitutes “good”.

I am inclined to think that the most fundamental human characteristic is that

any – and every – human can determine what is “good”

The needs of others and surrounding society and definitions of basic human rights can circumscribe this but cannot – by diktat – take away this fundamental value which is I think integral to being an individual. By corollary any entity which cannot decide what is good and then distinguish between “good” and “bad” does not then qualify for the label “human individual”.

This leads me to paraphrase Descartes’

“cogito ergo sum” (I thinktherefore I am)  

to be instead:

I decide what is “good” and can distinguish that which is “bad”.

Therefore I am.

Behaviour, law and ethics: A practical view

September 3, 2010
Le Penseur, Musée Rodin, Paris

Image via Wikipedia

Whether in scientific endeavour, the business world or in politics we see daily scandals where behaviour is considered lacking in integrity or in ethics. In recent days we have had the Hausergate scandal, the Commonwealth Games corruption scandals, the money-down-the-drain in Iraq scandals and the HP procurement scandal.

For clarity in my own mind I reason as follows:

My values lead to my behaviour.

Values are comparative standards or norms and they calibrate and motivate my behaviour but in themselves they have no inherent goodness or badness. My values are my behavioural standards. They allow me to make comparisons (faster, better, pleasing, irritating, bearable, acceptable, good, just, right ….).

Behaviour may be lawful or unlawful or ethical or unethical.

Laws are what the society I operate in, or wish to operate in, uses to define what is unacceptable behaviour. But lawful behaviour does not address whether it is ethical or unethical (though that may be implied). Where law is silent, behaviour is, by default, lawful but may still be either ethical or unethical.

My ethics tell me what behaviour is correct and desirable behaviour. This may or may not be consistent with the ethics of the society surrounding me which specifies what that society considers the right and proper and desirable behaviour. Ethical values and ethical behaviour thus represents a sub-set of all the values I may have and all the consequent behaviour they might lead to. Ethical behaviour is not necessarily lawful. Unlike the limits set by law, behaviour does not become ethical by default if ethics are silent. Behaviour which is not unethical is not therefore necessarily ethical.

Ethical values and moral values are almost synonymous. The only difference I can find is that what I consider ethical codes or values rely more on logic or a rationale and less on faith. And I take faith or belief to be that which exists in the space of the “unknown unknowns” where ” I don’t know what I don’t know”. Faith or belief then allows formulating the answer (and even the question) in the absence of evidence. But both ethical codes and moral codes specify  right and proper and desirable behaviour. Behaviour that is not unethical or immoral does not by default become ethical or moral.

In practice therefore;

  1. My values lead to my behaviour,
  2. Laws tell me what I ought not to do,
  3. Ethics tell me what I ought to do.

Many corporations and organisations and enterprises take the easy way out and adopt so-called ethical codes which are merely  a set of rules (codes of law). But this is merely relying on what not to do and is an abdication of the responsibility to come to a view on what is the right and proper thing to do. The right and proper behaviour must – I think – include a conscious choice from the various options available of what can be done and cannot be merely an exclusion of unacceptable or undesirable behaviour.

A child first accepts its parents view of what is right or wrong. As it grows it brings in and integrates what others consider right or wrong. Eventually a mature thinking individual develops his own views of what is right or wrong and integrates that with the views of the surrounding society. In this sense, most corporations and other organisations are still in their infancy and are content to rely only on what law excludes as being unacceptable. This in turn leads to a minimalist ethical code where anything which is not explicitly unlawful is perfectly OK.

Hence Enron and Satyam and Siemens and British Aerospace and …………

It is the having of an ethical code that matters.

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