Exploring Values #2

Updated: Apr 17

In a previous post on values, we established two facts: Values compel action, and they must propagate for proper social order. This post builds on the premise that norms track values.

Through social observation, we notice that norms necessitate a voucher system. Think of vouchers here as people who assert that an individual is of good character or, at the very least, can uphold the values that the community shares. At the micro-scale, this is clear to see. In relationships, for example, when each party introduces the other to their parents, they must vouch for them before the approval process can even begin. This fact takes the intuition even deeper. Values, through norms, compel a cost of entry that is shared not just by the new entrant but also by someone in the community. This aspect of shared cost is critical when we look on a larger scale at things like markets and the insurance industry. Thus, we can call the fact that “values are costly to maintain” fact #3. This is true in more ways than one. Most of the time, we pay some cost to ensure (or enter) a properly functioning society. For example, we don’t all get to be our “full and true” selves every time because there are things more significant than one’s immediate wants, however legitimate they may be.

Another observation we must make is that values are emergent (fact #4). When left to our own devices, we seem to create spontaneous order. This is intuitive. We must act in the constraints of space and time, and we are captivated by the consciousness of our mortality which compels us to act. Many times, order degenerates quicker than it is imposed, but it is imposed nonetheless. In this sort of environment where humans must act and act in complex ways, values are emergent. What’s even more profound is that when these values emerge, they become more complex over time to the point of being “encoded in our biological structures, as anything conceptual can be coded.” This, in some sense, insists that values need not be expressly stated to propagate or increase in complexity. We see this because we know that even when values are explicitly stated and expressed, it fails to compel action on a large scale as norms do. “Be polite” is much easier to say but harder to implement than saying “Shake hands with people you meet.”

This intuition does temper the irritation that intellectual types have about small talk. Those around me know how much I rant and rave against small talk. However, through this exploration of values through norms, I’ve come around, a bit, to understanding the value that small talk tracks. Play! It tracks play, and play is a value. In other words, most of the time, small talk is not really about the weather since we rarely have anything innovative to say about that subject matter. It is to test to see if your interlocutor has the basic conversational and social ability to keep up a truly meaningful (or deep) conversation. In children, this is most clear. Children on the playground play games that adults might find boring or silly. These games are, however, ways for children to both bond and test their playmate’s developmental stage. Play is the basis on which true deep friendships form. We have this in everything (dinner, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, banter, etc.) and even on the most fundamental things (foreplay, for example). It is a value we all want to share and share in increasingly sophisticated ways. See you next week!

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