Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Values in sheep's clothing

values in sheeps' clothing
Last week I listened to an interview with German author Michael Mary, talking about his new book "Values in Sheep's Clothing - Uncover the tricks by which we all are manipulated". I pricked up my ears because, as a secular humanist, I always have thought that values like human dignity, solidarity, honesty, tolerance and the like should be important guidelines of my own life. I also expect others to respect the same values.

If anything useful may be retained from religions of all kinds, it must be just these basic values of humanity, I thought. And now comes this guy and tells us that this is all bullshit? After having listened for a while, I learnt that he, Mary, still finds values useful and indispensable for social life.

Values, according to Mary, do not guide human behaviour. They are used in negotiating diverging goals, when one side tries to convince the other that a certain decision helps both sides, trying to conceal that the other side suffers from a disadvantage. Thus, values are not made for decisions but for talking about decisions. They are indispensable for social solidarity in a society of individuals with diverging goals and interests.

This has given me some food for thought these days. Not only can I follow easily this line of thought. It also supports my post of yesterday where I said that the difference between theists and atheists is only minimal when it comes to the real backgrounds of behaviour. I said that values such as imaginated God's will are not the real reasons for trying to be good, but only "illusionary" reasons, and that most of them will not change after religious faith has been abandoned.

I agree with Mary that we should keep a watchful ear on the value preachers everywhere, trying to sell values in order to push forward their own interests and trying to keep us quiet and submissive. He is right, we must be suspicious. Fighting for democracy in Iraq? No, for oil.

Yet I have the impression that things may be not so simple. Values may be used as sheep's clothings, for sure. But are they really irrelevant as guidelines for our behaviour? Just an example, littering. I do not throw litter away because I hold up a clean environment as a value. I think that it is this value that guides my behaviour. Or queuing: I do not push in because I follow the golden rule of mutual respect. Isn't this a value, too?

I think this may be settled by looking at the levels of values. Those I have mentioned are more down to earth than the highly abstract values Mary deals with in his book: Freedom, fairness, democracy, solidarity, tolerance, and the like. Thus, my job as a humanist is having a watchful eye on all those conflicting values and trying to separate wheat from chaff.

Photo credit: Amazon

No comments: