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Human Values Project (Explanations)

Complexity: Understanding value systems

Human Values Project


1. Understanding of value classes

In the light of the above it would seem useful to distinguish sets of value functions. It is also useful to attempt to distinguish for each case between: a positive interpretation (p); a negative interpretation (n); a paradoxical negative interpretation of the positive (pn); and a paradoxical positive interpretation of the negative (np):

2. Class discrimination and demonizing

The sociology of value advocates and creators is characterized by much bitterness and demonizing. It is the argument of this paper that this is the consequence of a failure of class discrimination --where the notion of "discrimination" itself evokes the demonizing process.

There is an interesting recursive feature to the levels of demonizing:

The issue of demonizing is in practice far from trivial, as indicated by use of the epithet "satanic" by fundamentalists in political and religious discourse. But whilst this might be expected of those focused on Class I or Class II values, the often rabid fanaticism is surprising in those advocating Class III values -- whether under a banner of postmodernism or political correctness.

Again the situation can be usefully illustrated with a family. Some families exhibit extreme suspicion of non-family members and their values (Class I). Whether in strong patriarchal or matriarchal systems, family values may be strongly laid down with severe sanctions for deviance (Class II). Adolescents and young adults may explore a variety of value systems consecutively or in parallel, adapting to others holding values which may be quite incompatible, and reacting very negatively against any dominant value pattern (Class III). Couples or colleagues, concerned to create a relationship characterized by viability and newness, are especially attentive to the complementarity of their values and the need to strike a balance between destabilizing tendencies towards Class II or Class III values (Class IV).

The "demonizing" functions have their place in distinguishing different approaches. They become completely dysfunctional when they obscure recognition of their complementarity and thus oppose the coevolution of the different value classes.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential