What are the "Values"?

We hear that term a lot these days–certain beahviors or public policy positions should be embraced or rejected in the name of “values”. But where can I find a comprehensive list of what all the different values are? And what is the logical procedure for determining whether an idea is or is not a value? Do values change? Do they conflict? You’d think such an important principle would be more than a load of vague innuendo.

That’s just it. The whole “values” meme from the last election has been pretty much debunked. It means too many different things to too many different people to have any value (pun intended) as a policy tool.

I’ll try to find the link if you you really want, but the talk about “values” came from one poorly constructed poll done by one of the networks. It hit the press the next day, and then took on a life of its own.

I learned about “values” from my work in “message development.”

It isn’t a vague concept – at least not in the fields of social science and communications. Certain terms have pretty near universal significance in a society. Here are a few (there are a lot) to choose from:


Now, how you interpret those words is a product of your own world view. “Family” to some may be mom, dad, and the kids; to others it may include grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews; and to another group it could be the commune where they currently live. “Self-sufficiency” may be shorthand for “everyone has a good job with a decent wage and benefits” or it may mean “get those damn slackers off welfare and cut my taxes.”

In fact, the group I was in actually broke out into an argument about the term “choice.” Some thought it was an all-inclusive term that included everything from religion to Coke vs. Pepsi – others thought it was a code for reproductive rights.

To the individual, values don’t really change, although they can evolve (if you grew up thinking “family” included a mom and dad, and now you believe it can include same-sex partners without children, that’s an evolution. You still believe in the concept of “family.”) To a society, different values can increase or decrease in importance (we can see this with the continuing debate over individual rights vs. community norms.)

For politicians, the key is to cloak what you say in terms of “values” that get a majority of voters to nod in agreement.

I’m sorry I don’t have any reference works to suggest right now. If you’re interested in sociology, it’s really a fascinating topic.

“Values” is code for keeping the fags in the closet. Also for believing that any woman who gets an abortion, no matter how desperate her situation, is a murderer. And you’d better get yer ass in a church. Maybe a synagog. Definitely not a mosque. That’s it.

Don’t forget “patriotism,” otherwise known as “blind obedience to the flag.”

Your list is a start, kunilou, although “Family” is a kind of group, not a principle which compels or restrains behavior or forms a basis for judgement. Invoking the concept of “family” is supposed to get us oppose certain behaviors, especially homosexuality and especially when homosexuals try to form families. Go figure.

Now then, I wonder if most conservatives would agree that protecting the environment is an important value?


Liberals have values too.

Perhaps hating gays is a “value” that a lot of “values voters” voted on. They don’t want to say it in so many words, so they hide behind the word to make it look like what they are advocating is noble.

That’s why I’m surprised that I don’t hear Democratic candidates using that word more. Doesn’t everyone vote based on values?

I think its code for people who think act act like you:

Beer or wine
NASCAR or Formula 1
Country Western or Rock & Roll
Pickup Truck or BMW
Touched By An Angel or Will and Grace
WalMart or Nordstroms
Disneyland or France

These days, “values” has come to mean:

Lockstep obedience

Perhaps we can try debating what isn’t a value. For example, the notion that homosexuality should be discouraged as immoral isn’t a value, and those who think that it is are prejudiced and wrong.

Now in my previous post, I claimed that protecting the environment is a value. Conservatives have gone on record as denigrating this value, but are there any conservatives willing to state flat out that no, that isn’t a value.