Five myths about values

Dick Meyer the author of “Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium” says that much of what believe about the role of “values” in American politics is wrong.

He writes in the Washington Post that,

Values became a popular term in America mostly in describing the kinds of ideas and customs that are specific or relative to different societies or cultures, as distinct from absolute or universal. Conservatives are supposed to prefer absolutes, of course, but they’ve done a good job co-opting values talk. Political battles aside, much of what we think we know about values in America isn’t really of much value.

There are five essential myths about values that are widely held but are wrong.

1. “Moral values” determine who wins elections . The myth of the values voter became 21st-century conventional wisdom because of the exit polls conducted for the 2004 election. …”moral values” means different things to different people. Some voters undoubtedly meant to express that they voted for the candidate who they thought had better values and character.

2. Americans have broadly rejected “traditional values.” Actually, Americans retain our traditional values more than just about any other developed country in the world.

3. Americans are polarized and fighting a culture war over values. “Americans are not divided into two opposed camps based on incompatible views of moral authority,” (University of Michigan sociologist Wayne) Baker wrote…. “In fact, Americans tend to share attitudes, values, and beliefs, and to be united when it comes to the most important values.”

4. Traditional values are “family values” or “moral values.” Nope. We use the term “values” to talk about deep things — what is most important to people, what organizes their lives. “Family values,” by contrast, is the term for a collection of transient political positions that began their prominent political life as “wedge issues” in the campaigns of the 1980s: opposition to abortion and gay marriage or support for prayer in school and teaching creationism.

5. Basic values, properly understood, are compatible and harmonious. “This is what most of the world’s religions and great systematic philosophies teach. The harmony of ultimate values is a comforting thing to believe in. But it is a dangerous political philosophy in real, live societies because it fosters wishful thinking and rationalizes the irrational. For example, liberty and equality are basic ideals in American democracy, but they often clash.”

Myers concludes:

The bottom line on values is that there is no crisis: Americans have not rejected traditional values. They are not deeply divided over questions of values. Noisy, persistent conflicts aren’t a sign of civic rot, but of humans being human. Americans are indeed frustrated and challenged by a lack of community, by rapid social and technological change and by economic pessimism. But our values are not the problem.

Read more here.

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