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To be human is to make value judgements

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

The aesthetic & values dimension of culture is a structure of ideas, sometimes paradoxical, inconsistent, or contradictory, that people have about good and bad, about beautiful and ugly, and about right and wrong

They are the justifications that people cite to explain their actions and interaction.

The three axes along which people make judgements are all dependent upon what they learn from childhood.

These include judging between right and wrong, between good and bad, and between beautiful and ugly, all based upon social and community values.

They are not acquired through our genes, but through our socialization.

That implies that they can be relearned; that we could change our judgements.

Because we are animals, however, and learn different things at different stages, we should not assume that everything learned can be unlearned.

Values are incredibly difficult to change in a community, especially if residents perceive that an attempt is being made to change them.

They do change, as community standards evolve, but that change can not be rushed or guided through outside influence or by conscious manipulation.

Shared community standards are important in community and personal identity; who one is very much is a matter of what values in which one believes.

The degree to which community or organizational members share values, and/or respect each others' values, is an important component among the sixteen elements of strength and capacity.

Values tend to change as the community grows more complex, more heterogeneous, more connected to the world.

Changes in values tend to result more from changes in technology and changes in social organisation, and less from preaching or lecturing for direct changes.

It appears that there is no overall direction of values change in human history, that judgements become more liberal, more tolerant, more catholic, more eclectic ―― or less ―― as societies become more complex and sophisticated.

Communities at either end of the social complexity spectrum display standards of various degrees or rigidity.

In spite of that range across all communities, within any community there is usually a narrow range of values among residents.

Urban and heterogeneous communities tend to have a wider variation in values and aesthetics.

Communities that are more complex and that have a wider gap of inequality (hierarchical), a wider range in power and wealth, tend to have a wider range of prestige assigned to people. The comments on the page about political power range, also applies to prestige range. The janitor in the Washington slum hotel has far less prestige than the president who lives in the same town (as with power).

It is not easy to predict the value standards of any community before you go to live there and to find out how to operate within the community.

Because of their importance, however, it is necessary that you, the social researcher or mobilizer, learn as much as you can about community standards, and do not assume that they will be the same as your own.

The Values Dimension of Society

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© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.05.20

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