Toward a Declaration of Common Values

On the occasion of an election or a war, we might hear a discussion of values. Our values. Others’ values. Family values. Moral values. Commercial values. Competing values. Typically, such discussions are shallow and uninformative.

What are values?

Values are assessments of goodness—of personal conduct or of material things—on which people agree. The more agreement there is, the stronger the value. For example, just about everybody agrees that taking care of your children is a good thing. If enough people agree on something like that, it’s a value, and proponents will sustain it and defend it, and social institutions will grow around it.

The strongest values, like parental responsibility for children, are all but universal and are probably hard-wired in us and the other primates, part of what helped us survive as a species for the past many thousands of years, an inheritance as fundamental as the opposable thumb. Eating and sleeping in groups, sharing, learning, working, enduring, risk-taking, and the capacity for violence are such basic values that we take them for granted, as part of our nature, and they do seem to be inborn human characteristics. Values like honesty, fidelity, generosity, and scholarship, in contrast, seem to be passed on from generation to generation by example and indoctrination.

How does it happen that people come to a consensus on values? Belief in some sort of divinity might play a part, but it’s more likely that values and beliefs evolve in the same way. As groups adapt to circumstances, they adopt rules of conduct. Values evolve with the group. During times when the number of men is roughly equal to the number of women, for instance, value might naturally be placed on the union of one man with one women, and this might improve the group’s chance for survival. When one sex predominates—as when the hunts are so dangerous that there’s a chronic shortage of men—a rule of conduct might evolve that tolerates multiple husbands or multiple wives. If the group survives and social conditions are relatively stable and satisfactory over a long time, the values tend to become universal and seemingly permanent.

Values and Value

There’s a fine distinction between values and value. Value is the relative quality of goodness. What is good has value. What is less good has less value. Items of personal property—goods—have value. Good feelings have value. Good land has value.

How much value a thing has depends on how good it is. Land is good if it is fertile or if it is near other good land or if it has a house on it or oil under it, for example. The more goodness it has, the more value it has. If an acre has none of the qualities that make land good, it has no value.

Part of value is consensual, because value is a matter of agreement. How good and valuable a thing is depends on how good and valuable people think it is. Things that have value often have ascertainable value. By asking people how good and valuable something is, you can find a point of rough agreement on its value. Things that have uncertain value may have no value.

Value is usually quantified in terms of money. A pound of butter has the value of three to four dollars, because we agree to pay an amount in that range when we want butter. Value can also be expressed without reference to money—a house is worth about fifty thousand loaves of bread (give or take a few thousand loaves) in just about any currency.

Some values can’t be quantified. What is the value of a child’s life? We might be able to say that it’s more valuable than the life of an 80-year-old hospice patient, but we wouldn’t be able to pin it down any more precisely than that. Consensus can be elusive when it comes to value that isn’t quantifiable.

One problem with consensus value is that there are areas of disagreement on goodness. You like red and I like green, so a green thing may have more goodness in my eyes than in yours. If your mother is an 80-year-old Alzheimers patient, you might put a different value on the life of a hospice resident than I would.

There’s value, and then there are values. Values, in one sense, can be stated simply in terms of a price list, but that’s not what most people mean by values. For most of us, values underlie rules of personal interaction. They tell us how to behave in our relations with other people. Good conduct is conduct that conforms to values. Without conformance to values that we agree on—from the weakest don’t-pick-your-teeth-at-the-table courtesies to the most compelling love-thy-neighbor precepts—we become less able to live together and prosper.

Values and Institutions

Values evolve out of social institutions, which are made up of people. Social institutions in the economic realm—markets, business, labor, government—determine the value of the money and the value of goods in money. Social institutions in the moral and cultural realm—religion, family, education, literature—determine the value of such intangibles as life, liberty, and happiness.

Values work in concert with each other to achieve social ends. Eating is not a value, but sharing and hunting and enduring hunger are. In the proper combination, values give the social group an advantage. Those social groups that came up with the best combinations of values associated with eating managed to feed their number well enough to survive and multiply and pass their values on, in all their simplicity and complexity, from generation to generation. A tribe with maladaptive or outdated values tended not to pass them on because the members died out or stopped functioning as a group. Tribes with adaptive values survived to pass them on, eventually establishing them as standards and traditions.

Values have always been in flux. The “prophets” of modern religions—Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha—all proposed complex and radical systems of values, some of which caught on at once and some of which never did. Aesop, a slave, illustrated values that survive today and that we pass on joyfully to our kids. Some values are more enduring than others.

Social institutions– family, government, religion–are systems of values. Everybody agrees—by social contract—to honor common estimates of goodness. Self-government, freedom of speech, sanctity of contract, generous spirit, and justice are all recognized as good and valuable, and we unite behind them by participation in our institutions.

Or we don’t. What if we don’t recognize a common estimate of goodness? What if our estimates cover so broad a range as to encompass near polarities? What if a majority of us didn’t believe in the possibility of self-government and refused to participate in it, for example? Then it would stop being a value, and the institutions that depend on it would be weakened, possibly with consequences to the adaptability and competitiveness of the group that once held the value,

Values are taken for granted as constant and unchanging, but they never are. We may claim to live by self-government, but so many reject participation that it may no longer be a value. Whatever advantages came to our social group through self-government—personal liberty, prosperity, property—might reasonably be considered at risk now.

We allow values to erode at our peril. They got us where we are, and who knows where we might end up without them? Capitulating to a relaxed standard on killing other people, for example, is likely to endanger the entire group, as war tends to do. When people become so accustomed to killing—in war, on the street, in popular fiction—that they can no longer trace the line between acceptable and unacceptable killing, their society becomes unstable, and their institutions are put at risk.

We assume that our values are shared, but are they really? Look at some of the values at issue in a few of the many conflicts that have plagued us in the first years of the 21st Century. Who agrees that it’s OK for a country to use military force to make a political point? That it’s OK to maintain that God gave land to members of a particular religion or ethnic group? That is was OK to displace large numbers of Mediterranean natives to make room for large numbers of displaced Europeans? That’s it’s OK for Americans to support a government with a state religion? Institutions of religion, religious tolerance, politics, and government all furnish answers to these questions—answers that are mutually contradictory—and these institutions may be weakened by the lack of consensus.

The extent to which values are shared and endure determines the strength of an institution. It might be argued that slavery, which involved the participation of slave owners, slaves, and law-abiding Americans, became a weak institution because the participants and beneficiaries had no common set of values. During the centuries that economic values predominated, slavery endured, but conflicting moral values finally caused this institution to succumb. The nation suffered a great (and well-deserved) upheaval in the course of discarding the values associated with the institution of slavery, and we could be in for comparable upsets with the abandonment of other fundamental values.

The Strength of Institutions

If the strength of an institution depends on the extent to which values are shared, how strong are the institutions that we rely on to embody and define our values? As participants in public education, for example, what values do we share? Could the social institution we think of as education be strengthened if the values associated with it were stronger and more universally held? How are values strengthened, anyway?

Education is generally considered a weakened or even a failed institution. Literacy rates have been in decline for a generation, and the anecdotal evidence of widespread ignorance is compelling. Even the least educated of us place the blame for the dumbing-down on education, which we think of in terms of schools and teachers.

What are the common values that built the social institution we call education? At first, in this country, it was moral instruction, and this required literacy and bible reading. With the passage of time and the education of greater numbers of people from various walks of life, the institutions of education recognized the role of such values as self-improvement, citizenship, competition, career training, obedience to authority, social mobility, national defense, and the advancement of science and culture. These became the principal objectives of education. To attain them, participants in educational institutions had to embrace and comply with appropriate standards of student conduct and pedagogical practice.

Fifty years ago, standards were strict, and U.S. educational institutions were among the strongest in the world. Literacy was almost universal among English-speaking Americans, and American accomplishments in science, literature, and technology were prodigious. Today, the minimum standard of student conduct requires only that students refrain from killing each other and vandalizing their schools. The minimum standard of pedagogical practice is considered satisfied if students are meeting their minimum standard of conduct.

Given the range of conditions deemed to meet minimum standards, it should come as no surprise that a high proportion of the nation’s children now pass to 4th grade without being able to read and that the average high school sophomore can’t make change of a dollar. The best students may be as good as the best students ever were, but the typical student is less educated than his 1960 counterpart, and the institutions of education are thereby weakened to the point that many of us no longer trust them to impart learning to our children. It’s a failed social institution that doesn’t have the confidence of the society that developed it, and it’s a weakened society that is deprived of an institution that once made it strong.

If the values underlying the institutions of education have been abandoned, how do we restore them? Can it be done? Should it be done? If standards are to be raised, who will raise them and to what level? One approach to the problem might be to find out where we stand on the values that underlie the institution. Do we agree that social mobility is desirable or are we generally agreed that the people now at the bottom should stay there? Should competition be confined to the playing field or is it of value in the classroom? Do we undermine discipline when we forbid the teacher to touch the pupil? What do we believe happens when we promote children who aren’t ready for the next grade? If we don’t know where we stand on issues like these, then we don’t know what values we hold, and we can’t begin to restore the institutions that rely on them for standards of conduct.

Values v. Values

Values are always moderated by other values, and they may compete for popularity in a way that affects the institutions they embody. Among the values associated with education, for example, is open-mindedness, including the willingness to embrace ideas that may conflict with conventional wisdom, dogma, and tradition. Religious and political institutions are thus affected by the success of educational institutions, and the resulting friction can impede one or all of the competing institutions and weaken or strengthen values accordingly.

On a smaller scale, within a single family, the value of rootedness and home may predominate in some members, while others will be moved by the value of adventure and fortune. “Home and family,” once linked inextricably as a unitary value, are split now, as kids start their own families in distant precincts, and extended families are geographically extended from coast to coast.

How about the value of one mother and one father? That arrangement was commonly taken for granted as the basis for successful family life, and homes broken by death or desertion were considered at risk. In the latter part of the 20th Century, personal freedom was gradually (or suddenly) incorporated into the constellation of family values, forcing families to find ways to adapt to breakups. The current rate of divorce and separation suggests that the one-mom-one-dad value is far from universally shared. Partners seem to come and go in the average life, and family membership is inconstant.

Absolute power is another issue reflecting the evolution of family values. It used to be that the father ruled the family. In his absence, the mother ruled, or maybe it was a grandparent or the eldest child. In every functioning family, there was an authority figure that nobody dared defy, and there were subordinate authorities that commanded respect and obedience from their juniors. Authority was a common family value—embraced with misgivings by those at the bottom of the pecking order—that we used to think was essential to the orderly functioning of society. Today, the question of authority within the family is controversial, and there are competing values that undermine authority in families as in religion, government, and other realms.

As a social institution, the family seems to be able to tolerate quite a bit of deviance from whatever values it teaches, but it’s not clear yet whether the new models are a reflection of its strength or its weakness.

Now consider the institution we call the free market, one in which nearly all of us take part. This institution, which outlasted slavery, gave us the monetary value of property, labor, comfort, travel, food, and everything else, and it functioned with estimable regularity. So universal were basic commercial values that just about anybody could make a deal just about anywhere for just about anything. Even thieves could do business with each other.

The basic values underlying the free market all involve respect for mutual agreement. We routinely do business on a handshake (or less) because we presume that the other party to the transaction will do what’s expected. I give you the money, you deliver the goods. You work a day for me, and I give you a specified sum afterwards. The free market gained strength as an institution through the constant repetition of such transactions, probably because market values expressed our natural character as competitive, acquisitive survivors. It comes naturally to us to endorse commerce and the honoring of agreements. Commercial interaction enabled us to eat more regularly, and so it caught on.

There are competing values in the free market, too. Balancing out trust and respect for obligation are caution and reason and security. We know that not all promises are honored, and so we place value on safeguards and protections. If the predominant value approves business on a handshake, the competing value requires a formal written contract before anybody delivers anything. This can gum up the operation of the market, but it can also make transactions more predictable, increasing the institution’s reliability and strengthening it. There is constant pushing and pulling between formalities and trust, and formality seems to be slightly ahead. Only time will tell how insistence on formality affects the market (or other institutions) over the long term.

In the free market, there are endless opportunities for domination and predation, and so regulation is a competing value. We regulate labor, business practice, asset accumulation, manufacture, and a hundred other market functions (or we don’t). Regulation always gums up the market, but markets can fail when there is none, and our values seem to reflect this reality.

Which of these aphorisms reflects the dominant value in the market? “You get what you pay for” or “A penny saved is a penny earned.” One is a prescription to spend freely and the other is a prescription not to. When people are flush, commercial pressure is applied in favor of the former point. Today, it’s the latter that seems to be in the ascendancy, at least among those with less money to spend.

Most of the consensus values that govern the market as we know it can probably be expressed as aphorisms. Honesty is the best policy. A man is as good as his word. On the other hand, a fool and his money are soon parted. Love of money is the root of all evil. It might be possible to poll the English-speaking world on public approval or disapproval of such sentiments and, by assessing the relative popularity of each aphorism, gauge the strength of the free market as an institution.

And it may be that the breakdown of the free market, which seems to be occurring now, represents a splintering of common values, from overarching intangibles, like greed and risk-taking—basic values of survival in the natural state—down to the price of a house or a loaf of bread. When the system no longer allows us to assign value, economic interaction becomes impossible and commerce stops.

Phony Values

In the old days, only hypocrites held phony values. A hypocrite pretends to have values as a way of ingratiating himself with others. Uriah Heep, Dickens’ immortal villain, held forth endlessly on the value of being ‘umble. It was ironic, and amusing at first, because everybody knows that a person who claims to be humble (or generous or open-minded) seldom is.

As it turned out, Heep was not humble at all, but as ambitious and manipulative a fellow as any author has ever conceived. His servility was readily mistaken for humility by the foolish people around him, but humility is a value that involves personal sacrifice for the good of the group, and Heep wasn’t created to do good works. Heep was created to mock those who mistake servility for virtue. Heep observed no values but adhered to his own personal code of conduct, one that ran counter to every social rule except one: Know your place, by being ‘umble, or at least seeming to be.

No one is expected to subscribe to Heep’s values, which are not values at all, but we are expected to subscribe to artificial values. They come to us through entertainment, advertising, journalism, and propaganda. Heep was created for us to see through and repudiate, but we are meant to admire and sympathize with characters every bit as venal, and the artificial values these folks observe aren’t the values that got us here but the values that fit the story being told or sold.

TV sitcom and soap opera characters seem to thrive on antisocial conduct. In real life, people who resemble such characters are universally disliked and shunned and typically end up in jail or an early grave. We turn them off. On TV, they’re written for us to laugh at or cry with but never to be shunned and never to be turned off. The conflicts they face are of a kind that beset valueless people who don’t obey basic rules. They are frequently dishonest, lustful, gullible, predatory, quick to anger, mocking, and conscienceless. Often, they suffer consequences because of their misconduct, but they keep making the same mistakes over and over, and so we can deduce that they learn nothing from their transgressions. There may be a tacit message in this sort of entertainment—“Don’t try this at home”—but it doesn’t seem to be getting through. Sitcom values—antivalues— seem now to be held by millions of our neighbors. Maybe a majority.

We shouldn’t be surprised that valuelessness—which permits unlimited self-gratification—is the artificial value of TV fiction. If this sort of fare ceases to amuse after brief exposure, it still serves the sponsor’s objective, which is to get you to indulge yourself by purchasing his products. Sell people on the value of pain relief—endurance of pain is undoubtedly among the fundamental values that got us here—and you can make a buck on them. The story must be that somebody who was hurting or wanting bought something to relieve his distress. If the story undermines the value of endurance, courage and self-discipline, who cares? Institutions that rely on these values and that teach them along with other forms of self-denial are put at risk by the story, but who cares? If audience members could recognize what’s being done to them and what mischief is being done to their values, they might care.

We shouldn’t be surprised that “journalism” now promotes phony values. Today’s brand of neo-journalism is the telling of stories. If, as a neo-journalist tells his story, he informs us of what we need to know to survive as a group, it’s altogether coincidental, and if such information interferes with the story, he edits it out. Most often, somebody is buying the time or space allotted to neo-journalists to tell their stories, and that’s the guy with the final say about what gets uttered and what doesn’t. If the story-teller is forbidden to say anything nice about the president of this or that country, he doesn’t acquaint us with any such fact. If national health insurance is a taboo subject, he knows to keep away from it. Sometimes neo-journalists have to fabricate values to go with the story, such as “people are terrified of socialized medicine” or “people don’t want to pay taxes to care for illegal immigrants” or “people think torture is OK in some situations.” Such messages have commercial value but no social value whatsoever, yet neo-journalists seem to have no problem with them, and they’re endlessly spewing wisdom about what we believe and what we ought to believe.

Values recognize that what is good for the individual is not always good for the group. They compel us to conform our conduct to standards that advance the welfare of the group. If you and I eat extra whenever we get a chance, the people at the end of the line will get less, and this causes the group to break down. Greed allows individuals to acquire at the expense of the others, and this causes the group to break down. Men who screw anything that moves whenever they feel like it will cause the group to break down, and so will women who accommodate all comers. Gluttony, greed and promiscous sex are sold to us, in fiction as in advertising, as values, but they destroy group cohesiveness wherever they’re tolerated. That’s why we pay lip service to rules that forbid them. Value being a matter of consensus, you might expect the good of the group to take precedence, but, with the proliferation of artificial values, the relative value of individual versus social good has become controversial.

Values are Words

Values compel conduct, but they are still just words. Rules are words. Standards are words. As individuals, we can live by values, rules and standards that are never spoken, but values are obligatory by consensus, and consensus requires words. Values that must be deduced from conduct are much less compelling than values that are stated in words.

Sometimes the words are just words. Honor. Courage. Generosity. These are values. There is some general agreement on what the words mean and what they require, as values, in the way of conduct. Honor requires that I keep my promises, say what I mean and mean what I say. Courage requires that I suppress fear when I take on tasks that scare me. Generosity requires that I put the other person’s wants and needs above my own. Almost everyone agrees on the social utility of these values, if not necessarily on the priority we should give them in organizing our activities.

Sometimes the words are arranged into stories or lessons or songs. Aesop acquaints us with values, and so does Woody Guthrie. When we read “David Copperfield” or “As You Like It” in English class, we studied the text not only for the plots and images the words evoked but also for a sense of the values prevailing in the time and place described. Often enough, we were struck by the freshness and continued vitality of the values portrayed. Language seems to have changed much more than fundamental rules of conduct and the values that determine them.

But they’re still just words. If the lessons aren’t followed, if the standards aren’t compelling, if all forms of conduct are tolerated, the words aren’t values but mere descriptions of values. This is why a periodic examination of values is important. The institutions that got us here will malfunction if we fail to police our values. It’s happened before, usually on the heels of a period of prosperity, and it seems to be happening again. Nothing corrupts values like abundance, and we’ve been living with abundance for a couple of generations.

Suppose I decide that values are just words and I violate them freely, how much pressure should I feel to come into compliance? How confident can I be that my deviance will be tolerated? How strong is the institution when it tolerates my deviance? That depends on the institution. The institution of warfare was abandoned by vast numbers of Americans in the 1970s, largely because it was discredited as an adaptive institution. People simply refused to participate, having noticed that the best-armed county on earth was defeated in an all-out genocidal war against one of the worst-equipped adversaries ever assembled. War as a tool of national policy was discredited, and other institutions lost credibility along with war. This was unfortunate. Today, it’s generally conceded in some quarters that excessive tolerance of hippie values in the 60’s and 70’s caused the breakdown of all of our institutions and the collapse of our society. Probably not. More likely, we abandoned our values the same way we got back into the war-waging mode: we tolerated and let ourselves be persuaded by the stream of misinformation, disinformation, and hype that assails us daily.

It may be that when we’re at our most tolerant—fat, happy and complacent—we’re doing the most harm to the conditions that helped us prosper and made us fat, happy and complacent. We don’t worry much about our own and our neighbors’ abandonment of values because we’re OK. If we waste a little, cause a little collateral damage, subject a few guys to harsh interrogation, send radio-controlled aircraft to drop bombs on a wedding party or two, so what? We’re OK. It’s a beautiful country. Everything will work out fine. We can express our values with lip service, through condemnations of remote or trivial transgressions that are beyond our control—mad Persians, illegal aliens, Arab terrorists, irate atheists, abortion doctors. Values are just words, after all.

Toward a Declaration of Common Values

The reason people are organized around social institutions with values and standards is that institutions improved the members’ chances of surviving and prospering, both as individuals and as a group. Institutions can’t function without shared values. When people stop observing values and complying with standards, institutions fail. Sometimes, as in the case of slavery, that’s a good thing. Sometimes, as in the case of the dumbing down of education and the corruption of the free press, it’s very bad. Sometimes, as in the case of the collapse of the market economy, we can’t say right off whether the institution should stay or go. We should know as much as possible about this process, especially when society seems to be collapsing around us.

To do my part in preserving beneficial institutions and discarding outdated and maladaptive ones, I need to know what values I share with bigots, zealots, sports fans, vegans, wiccans and Zionists. Is there anything to unite us? Is there more to unite us than divide us? What if we agreed to concentrate on strengthening areas of agreement, might we find new ways to settle disagreements? An assessment and declaration of common values might tell us who we are really and what our prospects are. Which of our social institutions are most endangered? What institutions are safe? Athletics? Religion? Music? Literature? Manufacturing? We take their social utility for granted. Shouldn’t we be subjecting them to constant reassessment?

What if we Americans are divided down the middle by conflicting sets of values or, worse, by conduct-moderating values, on the one side, and unrestricted personal freedom, on the other? We’d be well-advised to take warning in that case. Institutions without shared values are subject to sudden, catastrophic failure.

We might applaud the failure of some institutions, such as bigotry and militarism, but we should acknowledge that these institutions date back to our beginnings, and both played a part in our adaptation and survival. If and when we scrap militarism, for example, as no longer adaptive, we might want to use care to avoid trashing honor, duty, loyalty, courage and valor into the bargain.

I’ve looked and I can’t find any form of human interaction, real or imagined, that doesn’t plug in somewhere to a values paradigm. Successful interactions confirm shared values, just as unsuccessful interactions usually involve a conflict of values. Events reflect applications of values to the solution of problems big and small, or they embody the failure of institutions to function as expected because of weakened or changing values. We nod at narratives that portray departures from values, ending in grief. The fatal flaw in tragedy, whether fact or fiction, is always such a departure. Biography is typically an account of personal conduct in terms of values. History is the panorama of events against the backdrop of values, and revolutions, reformations and renaissances always involve transformations of values. Family discussions, the bonding of friends and lovers, back-fence gossip, playground warnings and referees’ calls are routine applications of values to social interactions.

Troubleshooting a system of weakened institutions should probably begin with an inventory of values. What principles, standards, moral strictures, convictions, tastes, customs, and traditions do we still share as a nation? As members of a religion or political party? As neighbors? As a bowling league? As bus-riders? What are the values that the greatest number of people can embrace in common? Are there universal human values that are held by everyone? How much deviance do we tolerate? How much can we safely tolerate?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, and, maybe, we don’t want to know. We do know that we haven’t been asking about our values, probably because of what we might discover. We might find out that we no longer value self-government or that we’ve abandoned all pretense of mercy, kindness and sympathy, even to the point of relaxing strictures on cruelty and the taking of life. If that’s our direction, we need to know, so we can make the appropriate corrections and save the group from death or disintegration. The study of values, beginning with an inventory and continuing with assessments and follow-ups, is indispensable to this task, as it is to the preservation of adaptive social institutions and the abandonment of maladaptive ones.

Words for Assessment

Here’s a list of nouns, shorthand for statements or sets of statements that express values.
What if we assembled thousands of people and asked them to rate the importance of each one, relative to the others, in governing personal conduct? Personal thinking? Personal interactions? Suppose we asked for a rating of the importance of each one to the welfare of the group.

Respect Shrewdness Practicality
Understanding Sympathy Courage
Modesty Science Moderation
Honor Valor Privacy
Liberty Tolerance Reverence
Generosity Passion Erudition
Reason Equality Cleanliness
Democracy Beauty Caution
Cooperation Inquisitiveness Thrift
Revolution Loyalty Health
Sanity Faith Love
Peace Activity Logic
Duty Union Justice
Kindness Intelligence Charisma
Worship Creation Parenthood
Independence Harmony

We could assign the nouns to logical categories, calculate which are shared by the greatest number of people, determine which ones tend to cluster together, and detect gaps between personal preferences and prescriptions for the group. We might be able to discover weaknesses in the institutions that establish and sustain these values. We might find out whether confidence in the utility of basic values is waning—do we still believe honesty is the best policy?—and reveal weaknesses in the social structure, possibly averting civil war, anarchy, poverty, and crime,

Here’s a list of sayings that illustrate values. What if we asked our assembly to pick the ten they like best and then pick the ten they think we should all live by?

War is a racket

Love conquers all

Science is bunk Men are pigs

The truth hurts It is better to give than to receive

Winning isn’t everything Justice will prevail

A camel will pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man will go to heaven From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

Seeing is believing Rules are made to be broken

Every man for himself God is just

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned Power to the people

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend e truth shall set us free

Eat, drink and be merry Supersize me

All things in moderation War is hell

You get what you pay for Live and let live

One nation under God Let that be a lesson to you!

Mother knows best Black is beautiful

Love thy neighbor Waste not, want not

I’m worth it Peace on earth

A chicken in every pot Love makes the world go around

Question authority Honor thy father

Blood is thicker than water The meek shall inherit the earth

Boys will be boys Turn the other cheek

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore

Laughter is the best medicine United we stand, divided we fall

Don’t cry over spilled milk Religion is the opiate of the people

All good things must come to an end Look out for number one

Every cloud has a silver lining Good things come to him who waits

What goes around comes around Let the buyer beware

No pain, no gain. The best things in life are free

Solidarity forever Good things come to him who waits

All men are created equal You can’t fool all the people all the time

Liberty, equality, fraternity No peace, no justice

Death before dishonor We shall overcome someday

A man’s home is his castle It’s a small world

A man’s word is his bond All’s fair in love and war

Love of money is the root of all evil Eye for eye, tooth for tooth

Solidarity forever United we stand, divided we fall

Viva la revolucion Be kind to animals

There’s a sucker born every minute Vengeance is mine, says the Lord

#* you, Jack! I’m all right! Neither borrower nor lender be

No pain, no gain. Eat to live

Big brother is watching Nobody’s perfect

Spare the rod, spoil the child You are what you eat

It should be possible to generate lists of preferences that, upon due analysis, would enable us to deduce the values shared by the greatest number of people. Suppose we discovered a constellation of values that defined a majority of our assembly. Wouldn’t it then be productive to organize around those values? We might be able to assess compliance among those subscribing to the values and among those claiming not to. We might be able to generate policies, standards and practices to make our shared values stronger. By exploiting areas of agreement, we might find ways to reclaim abandoned values that we can’t spare. We might even convene in congresses to find out what values the greatest number of us hold in common and to mobilize existing organizations to try to find out what values their leaders, members, benefactors and customers share. It may be that critical social institutions can survive only if the participants in them resolve to find out what values they hold in common, how important they are to the functioning of the group, what the present state of compliance is, and what measures to take to preserve and, when necessary, resuscitate them.