01 November 2010

Common Values, Common Action

Thanks to this article by George Monbiot in the Guardian Weekly, I looked up the report Common Cause by Dr Tom Crompton, published by WWF. So instead of a Monday morning ramble, you're getting my thoughts as jotted down while I skimmed the report.

I agree with the premise that seems to underpin the report, that values are a basis for action.

A "bigger-than-self" problem as a way to describe issues such as climate change or threats to bio-diversity feels clumsy.

People believe they are rational decision makers, but in fact are irrational, emotional decision makers. Yes, but...is my response to this. Irritatingly, I can't think of the theory/research that argues emotional/intuitive responses are shortcuts to rational response (ie if we think them out, they are rational responses). The thing is, analysis of our "emotional" response may reveal values we're not so happy to acknowledge as influencing us. Better to dismiss as "emotion" -- we're not really like that, just the heat of the moment.

It's not news that people take on board the info that supports their existing beliefs.

Nonetheless I like the report's model of intrinsic and extrinsic values. To quote from it:

Intrinsic values include the value placed on a sense of community, affiliation to friends and family, and self-development. Extrinsic values, on the other hand, are values that are contingent upon the perceptions of others – they relate to envy of ‘higher’ social strata, admiration of material wealth, or power.

What I don't like so much is the report's stress on the moral preference for intrinsic over extrinsic values. I agree with the argument, but the preachy tone rankles.

Similarly, extrinsic and physical-self goals (especially financial success) are associated with greater indifference to bigger-than-self problems, while intrinsic and self-transcendent goals (especially community feeling) are repeatedly correlated with greater concern about bigger-than-self problems, and higher incidences of corresponding behaviour.

Here's another quotation. The suggestion tucked in it that science is value neutral or that its values are so broadly accepted they need no discussion is interesting.

the impact that particular values have on our responses to the issues that science tells us are of most pressing concern – such as global poverty, climate change, and biodiversity loss.

Also interesting is the discussion on life goals (I refuse to copy the report and hyphenate "life goals"). My sociology degree makes me a sucker for a model. Ah, power point presentations.

"Framing" a discussion is a useful analytical tool for deconstructing media. Using framing techniques to promote your own agenda is important to winning the argument. It'd be naive to think otherwise. But it's a trick that enrages me. All the things you distort or leave out of the frame still exist. They can spring back and bite you. Transparency might be a jargon word, but I respect people who make their framing explicit. And actually, I think the choice of metaphor is often this sort of clear signal.

I enjoyed the report and the clarity of its argument.

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