For the last few years I had a verbal sparring partner at work. We had grown comfortable expressing strong opinions that we didn’t necessarily believe in, as an intellectual challenge and to mutually explore what we actually think about a subject. We sometimes gave the impression to casual observers that we hated one another; but it worked for us.
Nearly always, during these squabbles, we discovered that at a deeper level we agreed about fundamentals but had been coming at the subject from a different angle or using words that misled the other into shadow-boxing a spectre from our own imaginations. We would argue forcefully for an hour or two before finally identifying a point of agreement that had been crouching in the shadows. Very occasionally, we would not converge. Whenever this happened, it would eventually emerge that we were arguing from a point of view based on our core values, which are different in some areas.
Some months ago I started to consider why well-meaning people, with logical thought processes, when presented with the same data, came to different, even opposite conclusions, based on their political beliefs. I decided to apply what I’d learned from my own ‘heated debates’ to political thinking. I started by trying to identify the value systems supporting Left and RIght Wing political thinking. That is still a work in progress but I’ve discovered that almost everyone involved in politics will cite their main motivation at the beginning to have been their desire to make the world a better and fairer place.
As there are concepts behind the content of our information resources, so there are deeply held values and beliefs forming the foundations of those concepts, yet we rarely bring our values out into the broad light of day. Are we ashamed? Almost everything we do is informed by values that we keep hidden, perhaps from ourselves. Is that healthy?
The Scottish Referendum brought out questions about where Scottish, English and British values were different. We discovered that we didn’t know what that meant. People said that the British believe in “fairness” but we argued and we screamed “that’s not fair” at each other as we fought about ideas.
Before we start to write, should we make an honest private check-list of our personal values? As we approach the next general election, I’d like to see the values of parliamentary candidates made explicit. I guess I’d like some reassurance that they believe in something.