(A twelve-minute read if you value your time)
For some naive reason I thought this would be an easy subject to write on.
After all, we all value fresh air, clean water, and the other essential to living- Life.
If we remove our personal values and look at our shared convictions regarding what we believe is important and desirable , of course, we are left with valuing the right things and surely they are common values but the term “values” means different things in different contexts.
So much so that we are no longer connected by Our Common Values.
In reality we understand that our choices are always significantly limited, and that our values shift over time in unpredictable ways.
This is especially true with emerging technologies, where values that may lead one society to reject a technology are seldom universal, meaning that the technology is simply developed and deployed elsewhere. In a world where technology is a major source of status and power, that usually means the society rejecting technology has, in fact, chosen to slide down the league tables.
Take for instance choice.
To say that one has a choice implies, among other things, that one has the power to make a selection among options, and that one understands the implications of that selection. Obviously, reality and existing systems significantly bound whatever options might be available. In 1950, I could not have chosen a mobile phone:
So it is premature to say that we understand how to implement meaningful choice and responsible values when it comes to emerging technologies.
Technology is changing far faster than the institutions we’ve traditionally relied on to inform and enforce our choices and values.
However current progress in meeting the profound challenges that humanity must confront falls far short of what is needed.
Combined with the need for a new understanding about the way that people think raises complex ethical questions concerning our common values makes it a complex subject to address.
So let’s try and address it under these broad headings.
The Rule of Private Gain. If you are the only one personally gaining from the situation, is it is at the expense of another? If so, you may benefit from questioning your ethics in advance of the decision.
If Everyone Does It. Who would be hurt? What would the world be like? These questions can help identify unethical behaviors.
Benefits vs. Burden. If benefits do result, do they outweigh the burden?
Or we can bury our heads in the sand, and insist on the sanctity of Enlightenment reason.
Or we can respond to the new understanding of how decision-making processes work, by demanding that there is public scrutiny of the effect that particular communications, campaigns, institutions and policies have on cultural values, and the impact that values, in turn, have on our collective responses to social and environmental challenges.
The first thing that struck me, is that these days there is no such thing as value-neutral policy.
Often, if the facts don’t support a person’s values, “the facts bounce off”
If you need an example you need to look no further than what we are witnessing with president-elect Mr Donald Trump and the English vote to leave the European Union.
President Trump has little understanding that American Values that crossed the Atlantic with those who sailed from Europe and Slaves from Africa to help create the USA.
Their values have stood the test of time till now.
Mrs May on the other hand carrying the cultural and historical baggage of an Empire that supplied the slaves and is now reaping the reward of leaving the European Union’s blueprint for success which relies not only on securing economic prosperity but also on consensus on core values common to all the EU Member States.
( In the EU the original emphasis on economic development and environmental protection has been broadened and deepened to include alternative notions of development (human and social) and alternative views of nature (anthropocentric versus egocentric). Thus, the concept maintains a creative tension between a few core principles and an openness to reinterpretation and adaptation to different social and ecological contexts.
The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.)
She is now clasping hands with a country that is also denuding itself of core values.
Many studies have established substantial correlations between people’s values and their corresponding behaviours.
Unfortunately our troubled world is no longer affected by common values, they being manipulated by simply flooding the public with as much sound data as possible on the assumption that the truth is bound, eventually, to drown out its competitors.
If, however, the truth carries implications that threaten people’s cultural values, then… [confronting them with this data] is likely to harden their resistance and increase their willingness to support alternative arguments, no matter how lacking in evidence” (Kahan, 2010: 297).
The idea that people can be ‘nudged’ into new forms of behaviour by having their brains massaged in a certain way, is built on the premise that we are not rational beings to be engaged with. It’s very foundation is the elite’s view of us, not as people to be talked to, argued with and potentially won over, but problematic beings to be remade” (O’Neill, 2010; emphasis in original).
Values have a profound impact on a person’s motivation to express concerns about a range of bigger-than-self problems. Indeed, they are values that must be championed if we are to uncover the collective will to deal with today’s profound global challenges.
Undoubtedly these are values that have been weakened – and often even derided – in modern culture. They are not, for example, values that are fostered by treating people as if they are, above all else, consumers.
As humans our biological tendencies push us towards both altruism and selfishness, artificial intelligence is removing any sense of common values.
While humans are capable of displays of enlightened self-interest, we cannot hope that individuals will subjugate their own self-interest to the pursuit of the greater common good. The best for which we can hope, therefore, is to exploit those instances where self-interest and the common good happen to coincide – often called ‘win-win’ scenarios.
It also seems clear to me that, in trying to meet these challenges, civil society organisations must champion some long-held (but insufficiently esteemed) values, while seeking to diminish the primacy of many values which are now prominent – at least in Western industrialised society.
Values are also shaped by people’s experience of public policies.
It is therefore crucial to ask: which values does society accentuate?
People’s motivation to engage with political process, and to demand change, is shaped importantly by their values.
Civil society organisations must strive for utmost transparency about the effect of communications and campaigns in shaping public attitudes.
Bolder leadership from both political and business leaders is necessary if proportional responses to these challenges are to emerge, but active public engagement with these problems is of crucial importance.
This is partly because of the direct material impacts of an individual’s behaviour (for example, his or her environmental footprint), partly because of lack of consumer demand for ambitious changes in business practice, and partly because of the lack of political space and pressure for governments to enact change.
This will require a change in societal values, and commitments by wealthier nations to assist others in the protection of wilderness resources of global concern.
One hundred years from now, when historians look back on this period of history, what will they think of the wilderness debate?
Will it be irrelevant to them or will it represent a vital component of a societal watershed of thought that changed the way in which society viewed itself and its relationship to Planet Earth?
Some values are mutually consistent, others tend to act to oppose one another. Activating a specific value causes changes throughout the whole system of that person’s values; in particular, it has the effect of activating compatible values and suppressing opposing values.
The implication of this is that business practice, government policy and civil society communications and campaigns must take responsibility not just for their ‘material impacts’ (what they achieve ‘on the ground’), but also for the effect they have on dominant cultural values.
It is often argued that, because a problem – climate change, for example – is of urgent concern, there ‘is not enough time’ for systemic responses.
This is a suspect argument: it seems at least as likely that appeal to ‘easy wins’ on climate change will actually serve to help defer ambitious action until it becomes “too late” for this to be taken effectively.
We must build a visual and compelling vision of low-carbon heaven.
It seems that one way in which values become strengthened is through their repeated activation. This may occur, for example, through people’s exposure to these values through influential peers, in the media, in education, or through people’s experience of public policies.
The future is already through technology bring means that devalue that past and are, to a large extent, unconscious of the present. The Internet, the Smart Phone, artificial Intelligent Apps are all contributing to this.
This means that we value and collect more material objects. It also means we give higher priority to obtaining, maintaining and protecting our material objects than we do in developing and enjoying interpersonal relationships.
Even the gloomiest of assessments of human nature lead to the conclusion that we should be working to mitigate unhelpful aspects of our biology through cultural interventions.
This constitutes a timely opportunity to further reflect.
Man always kills the thing he loves.
In the United States, people consider it normal and right that Man should control Nature, rather than the other way around.
Up to the election of Mr Trump: Equality was, for Americans, one of their most cherished values. This concept is so important for Americans that they have even given it a religious basis.
To prevent the silent creeping erosion of our European project it has to be more focused on essentials and on meeting the concrete expectations of its citizens. I am convinced that it is not the existence of the Union that is object to but the way it functions.
Institutions that examine power and responsibility, and audit their ethical decisions regularly, develop employees that function with honesty and integrity and serve their institution and community.
It is imperative that we appreciate that each person’s intrinsic values are different. Because values are so ingrained, we are not often aware that our responses in life are, in large part, due to the values we hold and are unique to our own culture and perspective.
What is ethically responsible is not just fixation on rules or outcomes.
Rather, it is to focus on the process and the institutions involved by making sure that there is a transparent and workable mechanism for observing and understanding the technology system as it evolves, and that relevant institutions are able to respond to what is learned rapidly and effectively.
Indeed, much of what we do today is naive and superficial, steeped in reflexive ideologies and overly rigid worldviews. But the good news is that we do know how to do better, and some of the steps we should take. It is, of course, a choice based on the values we hold as to whether we do so.
The values that must be strengthened – values that are commonly held and which can be brought to the fore – include: empathy towards those who are facing the effects of humanitarian and environmental crises, concern for future generations, and recognition that human prosperity resides in relationships – both with one another and with the natural world.
In making judgements, feelings are more important than facts.
Can you imagine big business embracing humility as a core value?
If wilderness is to exist into the future. (It is a finite resource. It is a non-renewable resource. It is a non-substitutable resource. It is an irreversible resource. It is a common resource.) Has the time come for us to govern ourselves? Our experience and conceptualisations are not random; they are stored in structured forms in long-term memory.
Values have been defined as psychological representations of what we believe to be important in life.
To be ethically successful, it is paramount that we understand and respect how values impact our social environment. How we perceive ourselves and operate within our environment is of such importance that institutions establish rules of ethical behavior that relate to practice.
Political leaders have profound influence over people’s deep frames, in important part through the policies that they advocate.
Values can be both activated (for example, by encouraging people to think about the importance of particular things), and they can be further strengthened, such that they become easier to activate by education which has an important impact on their value.
A final thought: We all value our own lives, it is how we conduct that life that gives value to it. It has no meaning without values.
No individual man or woman and no nation must be denied opportunity to benefit from development whether its technological or otherwise that exceeds our humanity.
A digital divide threatens us all, both rich and poor, it is also testing our values.
Are we all googling while Rome Burns.?
Technology has a multiplying power. Websites have become multi media platforms and Television stations are now media centers where the evening news broadcast is secondary to the accompanying pod casting blogging with interactive forms as Twitter, Face Book, etc.
Use them to put the flames out. Values offer focus amidst the chaos.
If you got this far I value your time and comments not your like clicks.