4 Feb., 2010
Like just about any other aspect of philosophy, the subject of values has taken a real whipping. Well, I’d like to take this opportunity to set the world straight on values. Much of what I’m about to say must be attributed to Ayn Rand, though hearing herself praised by a Mormon probably has her making about 1800 RPM in her grave.
Let’s take an unusual tack here, and start with a definition of “values.” A good definition will take most of the guesswork out of the rest of the subject. Value can be a verb or a noun. For right now, I’m talking about the noun, as in, “a value.” A value is anything a person takes action to gain or to keep. That’s it. Now there are a million other definitions, but I’ve never heard one that cut to the heart of the matter, and was instantly recognizable as fundamental. This definition, however, demands more discussion than can be put on a bumper sticker.
A lot of folks will try to tell you that X is a value, but Y is not. Baloney. It depends on the person doing the valuing! That’s the first real shocker here: without rational beings thinking and acting on their own volition, there are no values, because there’s no one to value anything. Without people desiring money, it could not be a value. Without people to desire life, it could not be a value. So, first of all, we are not talking about something that exists as an isolated concrete.
Anything can be a value. Socialists always sneer at money, because, knowing nothing about money, they think it is the only thing of value. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve said something about, “my values,” and been attacked for saying money is the most important thing in the world. They honestly believe that “value,” like “Yankee,” is half a word; they think the whole thing is “monetaryvalue.” Anyone who admits to valuing money in the presence of a socialist had better either have his foot in the stirrup or his holster unsnapped.
I’ve also had people say, “I’m not religious, so values aren’t important to me,” or, “I don’t have a family, so I don’t have any values.” How tragic that the Left has been so successful in perverting and twisting such a crucial subject.
A person can be a value. A ball, a book, a model airplane, freedom, a friend, a dog, a house, a car, money, righteousness, family, relationships…. All of these are things that person might act to gain or to keep, so all can be values. Note, I did not say, “…all ARE values!” To say that something IS a value is to imply that it is of value, purely in and of itself, without respect to a human being who is willing to act to gain or to keep it. Now it’s perfectly legitimate to say, ‘That IS one of my values,” because you are a human being, and you are simply stating a fact of your consciousness.
We are individuals, each having his own mind and consciousness, and therefore, each having his own values. Values are things of the mind. “Value” exists only in the mind, and as such, they are intensely personal and individual. It’s possible for a group of people to share values, but it is not possible for the group, itself, to have values, because the group is only a collection of individuals. This is true whether you believe you evolved into what you are, or that you were created by God.
Some folks say, “Oh, he doesn’t have any values, at all.” Baloney. Everybody has values. Some people value things like their children, their freedom, their independence, etc., and other people value things like staying stoned, being stimulated by pornography, or having power over their neighbors. The desirability of something depends on the standard of moral value by which you judge good and bad. Just as you need a standard of value called a ruler to measure the length of something, you need a standard to measure the value of something. If your life as a human being – rational, independent, free, loving, creative, etc – is your greatest value, you will also value things that support that fundamental value. Your life, then becomes your standard of value.
On the other hand, if staying stoned is your greatest value, you will also value things that support that value. Staying stoned becomes the standard by which you measure good or bad, desirable or not desirable.
One of the greatest and most contemptible mockeries of values is the term, “family values. Does it mean things that contribute to a strong and happy family? Does it mean things that guarantee a lot of babies that can be sold on the world market? Does it mean a lot of daughters so the patriarch can have plenty of slaves? I can guarantee there are interpretations of the term “family values” that would gag a buzzard off a gut wagon!
So if anything can be a value, are there good and bad values? Your durned right! To be precise, there are good and bad standards of value. There is only one legitimate, absolutely fundamental standard of value: life, and specifically, life as a human being. Without this, there can be no values, at all; the entire subject could never come up if we were all dead. Life as a human being is the only truly fundamental standard of moral value.
Fundamental. There’s a term you don’t hear very often. It means there’s nothing greater than that one, fundamental thing. When you have a decision, you refer to your standard of moral value. Does course X or course Y support or promote your standard of value? If your standard of moral value is being popular, you will make your decision based on which will make you most popular. But suppose there’s a decision that transcends popularity – perhaps the welfare of a loved one. Your standard of moral value won’t help you answer that question because the matter has nothing to do with popularity.
We must temporarily play “lifeboat,” though I must caution against basing your values on lifeboat ethics. The world is not a lifeboat, ie not every decision must be based on whether you or the other guy dies. As an exercise, though, it can be very instructive to think about decisions in terms of promoting or protecting your life. Deciding if you are going to have the appetizer portion or the whole enchilada will not require you to ask which will contribute most to your life. You pick the one you like most, or feel most in the mood for, and that’s that. But never forget that, ultimately all decisions can be traced to your standard of value. Another way to think about it is that all decisions can be, if you want to work at it, reduced to the lowest common denominator, like a fraction.
(If you look at the things promoted and supported by statists, and think about the standard of value upon which they are based, you can see the “lifeboat ethics” implicit in their values. With them, everything is a matter of somebody dying if we don’t pass this tax law, or that bail out package. They will never offer everyday solutions to things because their philosophy has nothing to do with life. They are anti-life. Being in a lifeboat and having to decide who you’re going to eat is not an everyday situation, so it makes a lousy thing to base your values on! That doesn’t keep liberals from doing it.)
There’s a mess of folks out there with really screwed up standards of value. That’s their right, according to the rational nature of Man, and you can’t morally interfere with it. But you sure don’t have to pal around with ‘em, or trust ‘em behind your back! People whose standard of value is to have power over other people are especially dangerous, which is why proficiency at and possession of arms is a very life-promoting value! (It’s also why all liberals and other statists are universally against our having guns – and against term limits!)
A human being must be free to exercise his rational faculty, from primary senses to the most abstract conceptualization. Out of the rational process will come values. A human being must be free to pursue his values. The pursuit of our own values is one of the greatest glories of humanity; it has produced all of our art, our science, and our happiness. It may not be strictly correct to say that Man is the rational animal, but he is most certainly the animal that lives by rationality; he is a goal-directed animal.
There is what seems to be a horrific contradiction in this: cannot an individual place zero value on rationality? Yes, and in that case, the things he values must always come from others. If he would eat, someone else must value him enough to take action to gain food for him. Someone else must provide, by their own rationality and free will, everything he needs to survive. He becomes a slave to others. It seems odd to think of a thief as a slave, but he is: he lives only so long as his victims have the things he values, so he can steal from them. Similarly, a liar is a slave to the person to whom he has lied, because if that person stops believing him, his crummy little game is up.
No human can live without the mind and the actions directed by it. If one chooses to not use his own mind, he will live as a parasite off those who use theirs. The free exercise of the human mind means the pursuit of goals, which means the pursuit of values. Some people value things that contribute to life, others value things that are harmful to life.