Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Why does litter hurt your eyes?

Litter in a beautiful landscape hurts my eyes. I had some email debate about this example with Michael Mary, author of a German book about being manipulated by values. My point is that litter hurts my eyes because the beauty of untouched nature is a value for me. He says that this is pure self interest because I dislike litter. To which I replied that values and self interest are fully compatible. In fact, they are closely linked because values always are values for somebody. There is no such thing as an absolute value. For the litterer, the beauty of nature has no value at all.

When I stow my used drink can in my backpack, I think I am guided by a value, the value of untouched nature. But Michael Mary does not like this idea. He replies that I would not hesitate building a house in a nature reserve area if I had the opportunity. According to him values do not guide us, they do not bind us, but may be changed as soon as we have the impression that we fare better with a different value. They are used as tricks to conceal self interests and to make others accept these interests.

Conflict of values is the issue

I disagree with Michael Mary in so far as I am convinced that values in fact do guide the behaviour of people. Without this being the case, the trick of selling values simply would not work. With conflicting interests on both sides, every side, of course, will appeal to values that they (1) know that will help their own side and (2) will be respected by the other side. That explains everything. Values do guide us. But values are often incompatible, conflicting. Therefore, values are used to manipulate others. This does work, but only because values are more than simple camouflages of own interests. This does work because values are important elements of human motivation.

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