The problem with “values”
So David Cameron has made a speech, and yet again a leading politician has raised the issues of “values”. You can read the full speech here, but below are some of my favourite bits.
“The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country.
Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.”
Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love…”
I always get terrible bored when people roll out the word “values”. Values is a slightly ephemeral concept, which means many different things to different people – but we all like to think that we have them, and that ours are right. Clarin’s Dave however helpfully lists some values for us “Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love…” They’re mostly great and I’m all for them, although I have to admit I’m not that keen on self-sacrifice. However, in my experience there is nothing as deluded as people and their strange motivations. You will find the lazy person adamantly saying that they in fact work hard. You find people massively broadcasting what they do for charities, not for charity, but to bolster their own self esteem. Everyone likes to think they are compassionate, and we all continue doing so on a wide scale, however it is so easy when it comes to the people in our own lives who have angered us to forget that compassion we have when reading a sad story in the papers about a complete stranger. We can often be too quick to judge what we see as an apparent lack of values in others, and too keen to exaggerate our own.
Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality…
…has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots.”
Mr Cameron twice mentions the riots as an example of lack of values. What Mr Cameron does here is a reoccurring tactic within the speech – that of vagueness. He talks about morality and social problems which caused the riots – yet does not define what they are. He also links morality and social problems together – giving the impression that a lack of one is a cause of the other and implies that the lack is in the people with the social problems.
“>The absence of any real accountability, or moral code…
…allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society.”
That’s true David, and that will also be why you signed that treaty with our European Partners to see more regulation on Financial Institutions, brought in a Robin Hood Tax, cracked down on tax evasion by massive corporations and are currently making moves to create a government which is in no way motivated mainly by the interests of business – thanks for that.
<Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong.
“Live and let live” has too often become “do what you please”.”
I would argue that we are quite keen on right and wrong, take for example law. That quite clearly distinguishes what is right and what is wrong, and is complex enough to have a whole set of punishments ranging from a ticking off to time spent in jail for those who break it. I’d also say we’re keen on right and wrong because we have this thing about every four to five years where the whole population elects people to represent them in passing laws, it’s called a parliament. Mr Cameron’s opinion on law appears to be that it is not enough.
A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone.”
I’m truly amazed by this bit, and utterly confused as to what Mr Cameron thinks is the alternative. Does he expect us to all start collectively ticking people off for their lack of values. Who is going to define these values? Who is going to decide if someone’s behaviour is lacking these values? What exactly is going to be done if they haven’t actually broken a law? I think Mr Cameron is really paving the way for a new reality TV show in which we examine people’s lives and then vote as a nation if they should be kicked out the country or burnt as witches.
Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles.”
This is designed to play to people’s dislike and fear of difference it comes across in a morally censorious way while at no point what-so-ever actually going into detail about what these “bad choices” or “lifestyles” are. This means that there is lots of room for people to nod their heads sagely and insert a mental image of whatever “lifestyle” they disagree with, and assume good old Dave is thinking the same thing. The word choice of “lifestyle” is also considerably worrying. There are people who would consider homosexuality to be a “lifestyle” choice. Although I’m not sure that this is what Mr Cameron is trying to say some people could interpret this in a homophobic way.
Mr Cameron has had a speech written for him that is designed to make him look as though he is a straight talking every-man. In reality it lacks substance and any real concrete ideas. It is empty moralising with no suggestions for change. It avoids his own responsibility as the man who is currently in charge of the country while sermonising at others about theirs. It exaggerates a lack of morality in others, simplifies complex situations and at no point does Mr Cameron explain why he is a fit person to lecture on morality and values. It’s the political equivalent of the Daily Mail.
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