As a fifteen year old boy I looked around and thought, “the world’s a crazy place to live”. People did stupid things, governments were corrupt, nations were selfish and ideologies were creepy. War was all over the globe and we lived in fear for the Soviets and nuclear attacks. The Rote Armee Fraction, the Brigate Rosse, the Basques and the IRA spread terrorism over Europe. I was confident things would get better over time. Peace would spread, equality would grow and people would become wiser; love would rule the world.
Thirty-five years later I look around and conclude nothing’s changed; things became even worse over time, no progress is made but in technology. Apparently the things I consider to be valuable aren’t regarded as such globally; everyone has their own Periodic Table of Values in which different sets of rules apply.
My father’s full of wise sayings and one he uses is: “When you’re fifteen and you’re not a communist you don’t think; when you’re fifty and you’re a communist you never started thinking”. Leaving the contents aside the conclusion is: values change.
Value isn’t a fixed object, like a table. A table has a desk top, a couple of legs and its purpose’s to place things on top of it. Basically the purpose of a table is clear and is limited by a set of components. Still we are willing to pay different prices for a table. The cheapest table at IKEA costs about €35, while the most expensive table costs about €45.000, that’s 1285 times more. Why are people willing to pay so much more for an item for which the basic principles are the same? Why is one table more valuable than the other while their intrinsic worth or purpose is more or less the same? Then there must be people able to buy a table at a price of €45.000.
I read about the former CEO of Discovery Communications received a ‘compensation’ of one-hundred-fifty-six-million US dollars ($156.000.000) over 2014 (source: NYTimes.com). The lowest income of the world is earned in Burundi; $121 per person per year. This CEO earned over three times more than the GDP of Kiribati, a small island nation in the Pacific. What makes this CEO so valuable? What does he produce? What is his output? Basically: nothing. He gets paid a monstrous amount of money for producing nothing. So what’s his value? Is he really worth this much? We can understand the output of a farmer, a carpenter or a brick-layer: food and dairy, furniture, houses. Valuable items that we need for living. However they’re earning less than 0,02% per year than that CEO made. Still we need the products of the craftsmen more.
A diamond is nothing more than highly compressed carbon and has no significant use to justify its extreme value. The average price of one carat (200 milligrams) in 2014 was €5.886. Let’s keep this simple: one liter of water equals 10.000 milligrams, so one liter (or kilogram) of diamond would cost €60.860.000. But again, what’s the use of diamond? Especially when you decide to spend your vacation in the Gobi desert or take a hike in the Mojave desert and you hadn’t had a drink of water for a day. To me one liter of water would be of great value and would be worth more than one “liter” of diamond.
There’s the ethical and moral side of values as well, which is a subject for a Ph.D. in itself. I’d love to discuss the changing moral during past centuries, but rather stay in the present. The world these days is already bursting with religious and moral issues, too many to tackle. Maybe a definition of moral and ethics is in place. Ethics is the systematical reflection on moral issues. Moral is the set of concepts, decisions and actions with which people express what’s right and justified (source: infonu.nl). In other words moral is a set of values. Who decides what’s allowed into this set? Society, government, a nation, the law, parents, religion, you and me as an individual? Actually all of these, isn’t it?
The question that forms the basis of these values may be as old as mankind. Who decides by which rules we live?
Most human beings agree upon and share a common set of values: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat; with the emphasis on most. Because, leaving psychopaths aside, most people will follow these moral values; unless you’re against the system, you’re against the ruling religion, you’re a killer, you’re against the party, you think too much or the color of your skin isn’t right.
There are 3002 death row inmates in the United States as of April 1st, 2015 (source Wikipedia.org). The country that is the self-acclaimed protector of democracy and human values gives itself the right to kill those who form, in their view, a risk to those values. There are five countries in the world that have the death penalty for homo-sexuality, there are thirteen countries with the death penalty for atheism, so moral values are as thin as one-night’s ice.
We may come to the conclusion that value is disputable, variable, leads to inequality and depends upon circumstances.
What’s value worth? Not much, I think. Value is as pliant as silly putty and people who have their mouth full of ‘values’ are the first ones to be creative concerning moral.
The bankers and CEO’s defend their comfortable salaries by claiming it’s within the law.
The same law that allows to execute people, sell arms, defend interests by force and rob the African continent empty of its natural resources.
Maybe it’s lawful and ‘morally defend-able’, but the question we all should ask ourselves is: Is it ethical what’s happening?
We cannot change the world, but we van make a difference.