An essay on values, worldviews, and current events
Imagine something disturbing happens in your neighborhood. Let’s say kids throwing rocks at one another or vandalizing mailboxes. Most of us will walk outside, gather in front of our homes and talk about the issue sensibly because we know we share a common experience and some level of shared responsibility. We see each other come and go daily, and our children play together so we must not bury our heads in the sand in a shameful or cowardly act of denial or avoidance.
Magnify the issues from a very local, micro level to a national, macro level, and the ability to act shamefully without accountability presents itself. Here our personal values (rather than shared values) are allowed to drive the discussion. But what happens when we can no longer find the common ground to even know that we are discussing the same issue anymore?
Two events are occupying the headlines and most thinking folk’s minds this week: gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, and the “fiscal cliff” the US government is heading towards.
Today, the National Rifle Association finally held a press conference where they finally gave a response to the events of Newtown, proposing armed police officers at every school could have prevented the shootings. The NRA spokesman said “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He somehow forgot to point out there was a uniformed police officer on campus at Columbine in 1999.
How did the press report these statements from the powerful gun lobby? Over at Fox News, they thoughtfully (ahem) considered the option suggested by the NRA.
Leading with the NRA’s proposal, down below on the same page, it looks like the Republicans are waiting on Obama to address the fiscal cliff. Meanwhile, over at the Huffington Post, the NRA’s proposal was seen much differently.
The Huffington Post addresses the Right’s fiscal cliff shortcomings further “below the fold.”
I am assuming you can see the subtle differences in their respective views of gun control. And with the fiscal cliff negotiations, the way in which the left and right interpret the actions of one another is as different as night and day.
Why do these two see the world in such completely different ways? The answer is easy: values. Values inform our decisions and influence the way we see things, our “worldview”.
In a course I took at the University of Houston earlier this year, Andy Hines presented an insightful outline of alternative perspectives. (Hines is the author of “ConsumerShift: How Changing Values Are Reshaping the Consumer Landscape.”) In the presentation he gave an overview of how values can be defined and how they shift over time.
In my opinion, Fox News would seem to represent “traditional” values, and the Huffington Post would represent “post modern” values. These are the same values that you and I hold ourselves, but don’t always realize it in ourselves, nor in others. We tend to think that people around us share our values at some level.
But how close are we? Someone in the traditional column may use their discretionary income to make a donation to their local church, or think it wise to buy a hand gun to provide their family a feeling of security. Their neighbor next door might use their money to attend a yoga retreat in the Caribbean or redecorate their home according to Feng Shui principles.
And each neighbor would think the other one was completely
fucking crazy wasting their money.
This became painfully evident to me this week in an online discussion with a friend regarding gun control and the 2nd Amendment. Jon and I are both the same age and race, both have kids, both have MBA degrees from Georgetown, and are both entrepreneurs. Of course we would agree on how to read the 2nd Amendment.
Nope. Not even close. We couldn’t read the 2nd Amendment and agree on the definitions of the words in those few short sentences. It turns out that Jon and I hold completely different values. And those values shape our worldview.
To complicate things further, even sharing the same language doesn’t mean we are communicating the same ideas. Ludwig Wittgenstein made a compelling argument that language alone is not a system of communication. In addition to language, we must use gestures, facial expressions, eye movements, limb movement and the tone of our voice to “indicate the affections of the soul.” And even then, that is only an approximation of what we are trying to communicate.
In Jon’s worldview, people first act in their own self-interest and life has meaning, direction and purpose with predetermined outcomes. In my worldview, I believe people want to get along and feel accepted in a caring community, and we should live fully and responsibly with flexibility and spontaneity as the highest priorities.
How do we work together to figure out gun control and government spending? Maybe we should step back from arguing the sanity of assault rifles being sold at WalMart and the concept that lowering tax rates would somehow increase tax revenue. Because we will never agree. Maybe instead, we should start at the beginning. Agree that we need to care for those who need us. Agree that when love isn’t perfect, we can learn to forgive one another. Agree that teaching our children to have character is far more important than having a unique personality (e.g. Kardhasian syndrome).
And from those shared values, reassemble the world around us. We would then be able to reconsider the role of government spending, and the purpose of guns in our lives.
Before I go, let’s check back in with Fox News and the Huffington Post and see the world through their eyes again. Maybe they have moved closer to a shared worldview in the last hour or so…
The President is going on vacation, and will apparently be turning his phone off and not checking email. Come on Huffington Post, please shed some liberal light on this turn of events!
I guess the Huffington Post hasn’t finished their expose on the President’s vacation plans yet.