Friday, November 4, 2011

My Values, Your Values, Our Values

What values do we share? Think on it for a minute.

Certainly, we could all agree that each of us, each human being, has an inherent right to be ourselves, to have our own thoughts, and our individual liberty... right? It was a guiding principle behind the founding of the nation.

Certainly, we could agree that, given the above, the right to that liberty should not be infringed upon by others, as individuals, organizations, or government. Again, another founding principle.

Given those things, and the moral history of human culture, there can be no argument that a human individual, secure in personal liberty, endowed with inherent rights, should be free of fear of malice or murder, correct?

Most importantly, given that every person is thus endowed with rights and liberties, does that not also mean that each is as precious as another, deserving of respect and decency to the same degree?

But wait...

From wherever you or I choose to draw our values, let it be said that each of us is justified in choosing what we feel is best for us. The society we choose to live in and how we participate in that society, says as much about our moral character and beliefs as anything. The individual is endowed with their own liberty and that liberty should be inviolate, if we are said to be keeping to the tenets our founders laid down for us through revolution and in common law. That does not mean that the individual is beyond the reach of a greater organization, be it government, or church, or the like, only that they, in their autonomous state, have the right to be themselves. Where the individual allies themselves with others, in whatever configuration, they maintain their individuality while at the same time, in being a part of a larger group, tacitly agree that they are in accordance with others. That doesn't mean they are their group, only that their participation is of their own accord.

So what do we gain from this, and what does it have to do with our values?

As we move from smaller to larger collectives, from families, to collectives, then to tribes, then to villages, then to towns & cities, then to states, and then to nations, we see that it is harder and harder to stand upon any kind of homogeneity of thought or deed. The larger and larger collections of humans become, the more diverse they are, and that diversity leads to divisiveness rather than consensus. Blocks and factions within a larger collection will do as they wish, thwarting the will of the larger body, insisting that their way of thinking is superior or that their morality is the highest. Even within those blocks and factions, we cannot say with surety that every member believes exactly the same thing, but we use the expedient of assuming so to bolster our rejection of their cause.

Even if we all agree with the tenets I laid out at the beginning, those tenets soon become mired in the social brier patch that is our attempt to integrate them into our system of values and beliefs. Any coherence or consensus we might share with others is quickly reduced to pat ignorance or rank hypocrisy. Rhetoric replaces reason; logic is "trumped" by belief. We are left to shout at each other across the room, hurling epithets when we should be hurdling obstacles. We see this in most of the contentious issues of our times: abortion, birth control, women's rights, racism, classicism, economic disparity, terrorism, wealth, religious tolerance, LGBT issues. What could be issues resolved through frank discussion and willingness to compromise, become battle lines to be drawn, defended by breastworks of intransigence.

The root cause is a stubborn determination to put personal belief above human necessity. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. These are concepts that -- even though writ throughout human culture and many major religions -- feel alien to a great many people. So sure are they that their view of the world is correct, that they brook no interference with it. Furthermore, they insist that their point-of-view dominate, even where it is clear that it is an attempt to impose their belief systems on others, in contravention of the inalienable rights of those others. They see no inherent contradiction in loudly proclaiming the freedom of the individual, even as they are trying to deny said freedom to others.

At some point, where we are an organized society of liberty and law, we must accept that, no matter our personal beliefs or those beliefs of the groups we belong to, greater humanity's needs may very well go against them. We may feel passionately that a thing is wrong in our world view, but that feeling, that belief, does not automatically supersede the feelings and beliefs of our brethren. In order for there to be a society, it must, of needs, find a middle ground, a place of compromise. It does not mean surrendering principles; it does mean putting them aside on occasion where a greater good is at stake. This is how societies are forged and this is how humanity unites, when we recognize our human duty to our friends, neighbors, countrymen, and to the other citizens of Earth. Like it or not, we are in this life and on this planet together, and we must come to accept that, or see humanity perish in a fire of its own making.

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