Monday, June 12, 2017

Moral Values? American Values?

Greetings.  I know it's been a while, so here we go!

I'm quite sure that by now most of you have heard of that infamous speech by our nefarious Sec. of State in which he said: "Our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated – those are our values. Those are not our policies."  He went on to say: "In some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals."  (He seems to have no problem with the Global Gag-Rule which ties our health assistance to some value - oh wait, that's one of the right-wing's values!)  You can read The Guardian report on on that Tillerson 'values' speech here .

Moral Values

Maybe we should start our thoughts here with some words from our Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  This quote is from a speech he delivered in 1954:  "The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is that all reality hinges on moral foundations.  In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws." 

Critiquing Tillerson's speech, John Kirby, the state department’s former spokesman tweeted: “Divorcing our interests from our values in foreign policy is like trying to plant cut flowers.” 
(from The Guardian's coverage) How can we claim "moral leadership" if we don't champion them at least on some level?  Look at the very recent spectacle of our nutjob  #45 meeting with all those dictators in Saudi-Arabia (and an arms deal!).  He also congratulated the new dictator of Turkey, Erdogan. Our actions do speak, often quite loudly.

Next, please consider this quote from professor/scholar Edward Said:  "Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate."  (The entire article by Said is worth reading!) Telling thoughts indeed. Wouldn't it be refreshing to see us actually promoting policies and programs that in reality help and empower folks? And once again, I maintain that investing in such initiatives is more productive than investing in guns and bombs. Here is a recent review from Oxfam on some facts about poverty-reducing foreign aid from the U. S.. We're not actually such big givers, which will probably surprise many. Such programs with real local input, however can make a difference.  (Now a quick aside here... recently Cal. State, Fresno made a quite controversial decision to not this year fill the position of an Edward Said Professorship )

Further, isn't there also an old saying that 'if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything'? (The exact origins of this quote are very hard to pin down: there are variants listed from Chaplain Peter Marshall, Ginger Rogers, Malcolm X, Dr. King and a BRITISH Alex Hamilton;  it's often attributed to our A. Hamilton, but with little hard evidence.)  To me this means that although in this life, countries - and we as individuals - sometimes do have to make compromises; but we need to always have our guiding moral principles in mind to make sure we don't stray too far from what we claim to be about.  Our policies should, as much as possible, reflect our commitment to our values, values such as freedom and human dignity, which even Tillerson mentioned.

Values must also not exist in a vacuum. Pres. Thomas Jefferson recognized the need to have laws back up our values.  In a letter to Mordecai Noah (1818) he wrote concerning the religious intolerance often faced by Jewish Americans:  "Your sect, by its sufferings, has furnished a remarkable proof of the universal spirit of religious intolerance inherent in every sect, dis- claimed by all while feeble, and practiced by all when in power. Our laws have applied the only antidote to this vice, protecting our re- ligious as they do our civil rights, by putting all on an equal footing. But more remains to be done, for although we are free by law, we are not so in practice..."  (one place the full text of this letter may be found is in this online volume!)

Our values, our guiding principles must be backed up by laws, policies, programs, and daily actions if they are to be effective in their job of lighting the way forward.  Our job is to keep them in mind always when configuring our decisions and programs.

American Values

So what are American values anyway?  My own list would include: equality, freedom, democracy, social mobility ('The American Dream'), justice, individualism & independence, human dignity,  and the rule of law.

These values are deeper than just "Mom, the flag, and apple pie." They speak to aspirations we still need to work toward.  America has often been called an "Experiment."  Well, doesn't the experimental process usually involve adjusting things? Controls, procedures, or maybe materials, and hypotheses get modified as the quest to answer a question continues.  Thus, we must continue to advocate for changes which will move us closer to the full realization of the values and ideals we supposedly stand for.

American values can even trace their roots back in time!  The Founders were definitely influenced by European Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke.  Locke, in turn, was definitely at least somewhat influenced by Aristotle.  What? Those Ancient Greeks again?  I remember (it was only  - um - X - years ago) a class in Freshman Western Civ., with our most excellent prof, Ms. Audrey.  One day she brought in a travel ad for Greece which had as its main caption "You were born here."   From our study of those Ancient Greeks and our consideration of the values the U. S. supposedly espouses, we decided it rang true.  So the aspirations these ideals speak to didn't just spring up overnight.  It might be "enlightening" if we thought of them as part of an evolving human endeavor.


Values should not be something we intentionally sideline.  They should be a constant source of guidance for our policies and programs.  If we align our decisions properly with our values and ideals, I believe results will be most effective.  And it is also good to keep a bit of historical perspective in mind as well.  And to tie things all together, here is a fantastic quote from Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower. This comes from his First Inaugural Address in 1953:

"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both...these basic precepts are not lofty abstractions far removed from matters of daily living.  They are laws of spiritual strength that generate and define our material strength."

So on to you, readers.  Any thoughts about values? Please share in comments. 

Here's something I found while working on this post.  A blast from the past which speaks so clearly to us today. 

Please do comment and/or share if you find this or any post here to be of value.  Thanks!

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