Appeals to Values

Values Defined: Values are general, often vaguely and abstractly defined sets of beliefs that guide specific behaviors and new beliefs.

Values And Ethos: Values are closely related to Ethos, but while Ethos refers to the persuader's character (and what is character but the image of one's values?), Appeals to Values refers to the audience's existing values. In this way we can see that an Appeal to Values is actually a reverse appeal to Ethos.

When we make appeals to values, we are usually not trying to persuade our audience to change their values. Rather, we try to show them that our claim fits their existing values.

Because values are often vague and abstractly defined, and because most people don't really spend that much time thinking about their own values, the implications of those values, or how those values actually relate to other ideas, convincing someone that our claim fits their values is often less difficult than it seems if we clearly understand our audience's values, and especially if we understand them better than he or she does.

Everyone Has Values: It's important to realize that it is impossible not to have values; values are neutral, subjective and refer to anyone's or any culture's set of guiding beliefs; if I get up in the morning, take a big snort of cocaine, beat my dog, grab a beer and jump in my stolen car and head out onto the streets to peddle crack and tend to my hoes, it's not because I don't have values; it is because I have a set of values that justifies that behavior (or it is because my lifestyle doesn't reflect my values).  If I drive around the backwoods in my gas guzzling -ton truck, looking for Forest Service signs to shoot and throwing my Keystone Light beer cans out the window, it's not because I don't value the environment; it's because my specific environmental values -- or the environmental values of my subculture -- justify that behavior.

This, of course, raises the question: what is it with Keystone Light drinkers always throwing their cans out the window?

Cultural Values: Values are the lifeblood of any culture and are thus often difficult to identify in one's own culture; especially if we are not familiar with other cultures, or if we have been raised to believe that only our own values are valid (as most of us were, in fact, raised), we probably do not even question the values that guide our own choices or the collective choices of our culture.

Cultural Relativity:  A good example of this is so called "Family Values". In China I was frequently criticized as an American for not having "family values" because I did not financially support my parents, because my parents did not live with me to help me raise my daughter, and because, worst of all, the simple existence in my country/culture of "retirement homes", which many Chinese equate, in relationship to their own values, with concentration camps.  My Chinese students also couldn't believe that children received, rather than gave, presents on their birthdays, since in China children give their parents presents as a symbol of the child's gratitude toward the parents.  In other words, for roughly three thousand years the Chinese have defined the greatest moral good as guaranteeing that families will sacrifice all personal liberties for one another, throughout one's entire life, and that breaking from this custom constitutes behavior as immoral as, for example, pedophilia, adultery or theft.

Yet, because China must feed 20% of the world's population (1.3 billion people) on 7% of the world's arable land, which has led to frequent and continuing hunger and actual mass starvation, most Chinese also accept their "one child policy", which most Americans find utterly immoral (of course Americans must only feed 5% of the world's population (300 million people) using one of the most fertile regions in the world; the USA has 588 hectares per 1000 people, while China has 80 hectares per 1000 people).

Closer to home, under the banner of "Family Values" we find many arguing that homosexuals should be allowed to marry, and thus share in the rights and responsibilities of "family values", while other Americans believe that the same act, gay marriage, actually threatens these same "family values".

So we see that "values" are vague and highly abstract.

Values also run oddly consistent and inconsistent at the same time:  Consistent and Consistently Inconsistent Values

Typical Values Include:

Family and/or Clan. Discussed above.

Moral Or Ethical (for the purpose of this class, we'll treat these as the same thing and leave it to philosophy courses to debate the differences). Morality and ethics both refer to an overarching philosophy guiding our behaviors, most generally in relationship to others, either individually or collectively. Note that most of us operate on fairly abstract and constantly competing sets of moral values.  See: Consistent Inconsistent Values

Economic. Micro and macro economic values guide both our individual and collective choices, as well as our individual relationships to material goods and toward other individuals and groups. In other words, economic values guide my choice of what to buy, how hard I'm willing to work, what sacrifices I'm willing to make toward my material goals, as well as our conceptions of a just and ethical work or trade environment, and our ideas of who should decide competing economic choices between individuals and/or groups (corporations, unions, governments, inter-governmental groups (the UN, Amnesty International etc.) churches etc.); codified economic value systems include feudalism, capitalism, communism etc.

On a micro level, economic values determine whether we're willing to live in a trailer court and work two 8 hour jobs so that we can make payments on a brand-new Ford F250 Power stroke Diesel Super duty to tow our matching new Snow cats; or whether we're willing to invest thousands of hours and dollars in a four year college education; or whether we're willing to commute, or drive an old car to stay out of debt etc. etc.

Work and Education. These are of course closely related to economics, but in many ways both work and education carry value separate from their economic value.

Sexual. Use your imagination: who gets to do what to who, where, when, and why.

Nationalism or Patriotism.  National values guide our conception of the relationship between the individual and his or her own nation or state. As a rule of thumb, American national values are codified in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, but the fact that they are codified doesn't mean that any two Americans actually agree on them.  This is another good example of the fact that values are highly subjective: all Americans must agree to abide by the ethics set out in the US Constitution, and yet we spend countless hours in court each year arguing about what exactly those values mean when applied to our actual real behaviors.  Patriotism generally refers to loving one's country more than one loves one's own life.

Distrust of Big Government.  On this surface this refers to a basic "conservative" or libertarian belief that government is inherently bad. Relevant to this class, it often also connects to conspiracy theories, most of which revolve around a belief that governments cover up truths.  It's no coincidence, then, the two beliefs tend to go hand in hand.

International. Our sense of the morality of war, offshore investment, overseas "sweatshops" etc. are guided by our sense of this nations place in the larger world and how we should behave in relationship to non-Americans, and vice versa. These are largely issues of whether or not our national values apply to other nations, and also whether or not we feel justified using force to impose our values on other nations and cultures.

Environmental.  Like family values, it is impossible not to value one's natural environment. Like family values, it also seems impossible to agree upon just what that means.

Health.  In many ways values of health seem currently confused with aesthetic values (covered below), but health for health's sake is itself a value upon which we increasingly form our choices.

Typical and Relatively Unique American Values Include:

Competition. Expressed symbolically in our obsession with sports and daily in our economic models (free markets), as well as our scientific beliefs ("survival of the fittest", "let the market sort out the winners and losers" etc.)

Individual Liberty and Inherent Rights (aka Freedom).  Americans take for granted that all American adults have a right to make their own choices. Unless those choices interfere with the choices of others or we simply don't like them (libertarianism or classic liberalism), in which case we all believe that Americans are free to choose whatever, so long as "whatever" is whatever I also believe.

Inverse Patriotism or Nationalism. Many contemporary Americans assume the nation-state exists for our benefit, not vice versa.

Equality. "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men [and women?] are created equal."

Romantic Sexual Love. We assume that sexual love is a valid basis upon which to guide traditionally economic relationships, varying in range and degree of scope from large choices such as marriage and having children together to small choices such as who to date and what to watch on TV. Most traditional cultures view romantic or sexual love as a barrier to happiness or a nasty habit to work out in brothels or behind the barn, but American culture views this form of attraction as a prime guiding force to most all of our behaviors.

Aesthetics and Symbolism
The term "aesthetics" refers to values, principles or just plain opinions concerning what is or isn't beautiful or pleasing.  This refers to everything from the cut of your jeans, the length of your hair, whether you want to hear "boom boom boom" or a steel guitar or a German operatic opera, from the color you painted your room to whether or not you like antiques or Bauhaus, to whether or not you like beer at all or cheap beer in a can or micro-brew in a bottle or whiskey or fruity mixed drinks with umbrellas.

BUT, aesthetic values are not as random as they first appear: aesthetic values are often the symbolic language of our deeper cultural values.

This explains why millions of Muslims rioted when a Dutch newspaper ran a comic of Mohammed wearing a bomb on his head, or why every year or two for decades the House of Representatives has passed a bill banning the burning of the American flag.  Or why it actually matters whether or not you wear tight Wrangler jeans vs. baggy pants around your butt-crack, or why some people wear spiked heels in the snow when they walk to class.

Aesthetics are the symbolic language of cultural values, and as such they are the means through which people represent their ethos.