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Society's Contradictory Value Systems

July 01, 1996

Almost every article in your paper proves that we are suffering a crisis of values. However, I believe that your articles on values ("Liberty vs. Morality," occasional series), and the responses, missed a crucial point. Our problem isn't lack of values. Actually, we have too many. We admire honesty, responsibility, tolerance, hard work, compassion and so forth. On the other hand, we also respect cutthroat competition, individualism, greed, absolute freedom and the possession of tremendous wealth. In fact, we have contradictory value systems. One is based on the ethics of our mainstream religion, the other on "survival of the fittest," our paradigm of survival.

More than half of Americans do not have a strong moral compass, nor do they believe that a common moral direction is needed. Why should they? While values of cooperation, hard work, compassion etc., are promoted for the average person, they are so strongly disincentivized in practice that it's a miracle some people still live by them. (What are the rewards for honesty, compassion, hard work, and responsibility, anyway?)

The system of greed, while repugnant, is consistently practiced by corporations and rewarded by our economic system, making it our functional moral code. The average American is in transition, but eventually, the rewarded value system wins out.

This is one of the rare problems that can actually be solved by "attitude adjustment." In fact, the social Darwinism that is practiced by corporations and promoted by "free market" gurus is not a functional model of survival, nor is it a successful social paradigm. Of course, it is a convenient rationalization for a few people becoming exceedingly wealthy. Once society as a whole realizes that relentless competition is not necessary for survival, then we will be free to examine all that derives from it. Our political, economic, and social landscape will follow our choice of ethics.



* Bill Clinton-Democratic Party definition of family values: Two people living together, married or not married to each other, same sex or male/female in a "loving" relationship.

Bob Dole-Republican Party definition of family values: A male and female married to each other in a monogamous relationship.

Which is more committed to true family values?



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