Take this dialogue:
Potential employer: I’m sorry, you’re just not right for the position.
Job candidate: But I need this job.
Parent: You have to be home by 11.
Teenage offspring: But all my friends get to stay out til at least 1.
Parent: That’s good for them, but you have to be in by 11
On the surface, these two conversations have very little in common, yet these two very pedestrian examples demonstrate a singularly divisive principal, one that underlies “disagreements” of varied scales and consequence. In both examples, each side addresses the same problem from an entirely different value set.
In the employee/employer example, the employer makes a hiring decision based upon the needs of the job and company. The employee believes that his employment should be based on his personal needs. One speaker is pragmatically motivated, the other personally/emotionally.
In example two, the parent has her own set of values as to her child’s curfew as determined by her own subjective views. The child thinks that the measure should be external, driven by some geographical norm as determined by the curfew of her circle of friends. The point here is that these two arguments cannot be resolved logically. Why? Because the two participants are drawing their values from different systems.
Okay, so let’s escalate this a little. I am a lawyer, a litigator by profession. My job is to win cases and, more commonly, to maximize [or minimize] a settlement. Yet there is also this concept of justice lurking in the background – an ethical and philosophical notion of a greater good and a higher calling. On the one hand, I may gauge my success with a calculator, the more money I make [or save] for my clients, the greater my success. But there’s that
justice thing again. Am I doing justice when I overpower a less prepared adversary and deprive him and his client of a fair resolution? Perhaps not. The value of justice is very much at odds with a “win at all costs” approach to litigation. By one measure, success is as simple as the arithmetic; by the other, success depends on fashioning some measure of justice that is in fact beyond measure.
Take this dialogue:
Lawyer: I’m sorry, your claim is barred by the statute of limitations; so, take a hike.
Accident victim: But I need the money to live. I can’t work anymore.
Does this sound remarkably like the conversation with our job applicant? Of course it does. The same conflict among values is at issue. One side is emotional and the other analytical. There is no middle ground because they are on different planets.
When one looks at the most divisive of issues, you will often find that they are underscored by this same interdisciplinary stalemate. Take evolution versus creationism. No matter which side of this debate upon which you fall, it is obvious that one side draws on faith of something not provable while the other draws only on the historical evidence of what can be proven or theorized. Hard
Similarly, if someone thinks I should die because I am an infidel (decision of faith) it matters little that I may be empirically a good person, father, citizen. Plea though I may, I am by their spiritual value system, unfit to live because I do not even share same humanity.
Dare we look at the abortion issue?
This is a polarizing issue in large part because the values both sides bring to the table have completely different origins, each valid with their own value system. I don’t expect to resolve this debate but perhaps, just perhaps, someone reading this might open his/her mind and understand the system in which an opposing belief may be rooted. There are at least three
different value systems at work here (faith, science, and law), and one can come to differing positions under each one. But let’s start with the root of the issue, faith versus science. The law one can be left out for now.
Many religions believe that a human is possessed of an immortal
soul. While this belief is not universal, it certainly is not controversial. So let’s first look at those not holding such a belief. For them, it’s all about science. And if your belief system is governed by science – and there is no criticism here – than it makes perfect sense to make a determination of when life begins by examining such things as consciousness, fetal development, viability, etc. It is very easy to look at a microscopic cluster of cells scientifically and determine that it is un-evolved, not viable, not self-aware, and not human. Science supports such a view. If you draw your conclusions solely from a science-based value system, this is a perfectly natural place to set up shop on this issue.
Now let’s flip it. Add faith and an immortal soul to the picture. If one accepts the proposition that each of us is possessed of such a soul, when on earth do we get it? At conception, at birth, our second birthday? This is something that cannot be proven, and equating it with conception makes as much sense – or at least no less sense - as any other time. In fact, if one agrees that this soul-body fusion is beyond mortal determination, and considers a human soul the essence of life itself, is it so unnatural to take the safest route of assuming that it attaches at the earliest possible moment – conception? There is no reason in a faith-based system to equate the attainment of an immortal soul with such things as consciousness and viability. Science does not to dictate to faith and
So what is the point of this? Nothing more than before we reject someone’s position because it is contrary to ours, might we not back up a little and consider the belief system from which these views originate and afford it
some measure of respect? Perhaps we can then at least see that it is no more reasonable to impose our set of values on another then it is to adopt those with which we disagree. And perhaps the greatest irony here is that when persons of open minds with different values and perspectives genuinely engage in a dialogue, truly wonderful revelations may be the reward. As to the values of such an open mind, I refer you to Benjamin Franklin’s comments at our constitutional convention:
I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at
present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error.
* * *
On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.
Wise words; don’t you think?