Sunday, 24 September 2006

Values for money

Now that the immediate heat has gone out of the Australian values debate, I feel that I can say that it is an important debate to have .
As long as, that is, we do have a debate about values and not about jingoistic, shallow sentiments which are designed to appeal to the basest instincts and to pander to lowest-common-denominator easy votes.
I have long said that I want political leaders who lead not just reactive puppets who do and say what ever they believe, or polls tell them, will attract the most attention and keep them in the public eye. This is Pauline Hansonism, she discovered that simplistic solutions which appealed to people's basest fears did indeed command public support. Did that make her values right? Quite the reverse.

It made her values simplistic. And being simplistic it made them inadequate. The simplistic value wants to lock all criminals away for as long as possible. It is not interested in any subtlety like how much this might cost- in dollars. Or how much this might cost-in individual well being. It is not interested in what the promotion of harsh values might do to society as a whole. It is not interested in any pressure a person may have been under to commit crime, or how their choices might have been genuinely diminished by the poor choices of other people.

For all the rhetoric, the problem is that most of us have no idea what "values" really are. Most of us don't embrace sociological study well. So the difficult theory of values by such people as Znaniecki and Weber remain unread!
I can't imagine that you, dear reader, will struggle with the values theory that either of those (different) sociologists espouse. The language is almost impenetrable.
One thing I do know though, even though the language is difficult, it is important to speak accurately and carefully when speaking of values, because the language of values is powerful and effective. This is one reason why the writings of these and other sociologists is so dense, they are being careful. The dictatorships of the 20th century show us how the language of values can move nations and cost thousands their lives. This is important stuff!!

It is easy to not want to deal with the subtlety, the nuance or the power. It is simplistic to say we will just deal with the crude stuff, and that we will stick labels without carefully understanding their meaning or import.

This is self-evident when we use an expression like Australian values. The immediate response is what on earth does this mean? Whose Australia? Whose Australian values?
We should have this dscussion, but let's do it seriously and properly.

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