Values versus ideas

The problem with values is that they are accepted. They are the “givens” of the world as we are born into it. They are something people “have”. The euphemism of values as being “shared” is incredibly misleading, as the social ideal which underlies all values is authoritarian, coercive, and based on a closed identity. There is the obsession of hoarding, of possession, of not sharing. Values are ineluctably tied up with property as the highest ideal. With values, there is a finite social capital/energy/etc., and the idea of this comes from racist notions of purity and a pre-modern obsession with finitude. This is a social rhetoric which has the “Decline of the West” in the back of its mind at all times. It is fear of the alien, of the new, of blood being polluted. This rhetoric will always be used as a weapon by conservatives of all flavours. “Values” are the last gasps of a dying order. They are the zero sum game dragon atop the pile of gold.

In contrast with this we have ideas. Ideas are vital, they are something we encounter when we are ready for them, or interested in them. Ideas are created, debated, developed. They are dynamic, a process. More than that, they are open. The sociality of the idea is open to all who are willing to engage. It is not closed, it does not define an us and a them. You can know of values, but nevertheless be excluded because you do not “share” them. In contrast, you can be familiar with ideas, and even disagree with them, but even at that you are caught up in the network of debate and discussion which are the life-blood of all ideas. The ideal behind ideas is not finite, but unbounded. There is no zero sum game for ideas. The impulse behind ideas at all time is to open up, to reach beyond, to embrace, to search.

The rhetoric of ideas, then, is a positive, enabling rhetoric. It is a rhetoric of those committed to some type of progress, to change, to development, to the improvement of a social situation. They do not call for a falling in to line. So, a charity based on values can go to a country in need of assistance in some manner, and may coercively offer assistance once you fall in to line with their values. By contrast, a charity based on ideas doesn’t care if you even known the idea which informs their action. Ideas are possibility, values are an attempt to hide from failure. So, if a discussion of “values” comes up, note that it is a monologue which you are being allowed to listen in on – for now. But you may be excluded at any moment. Ideas have the lowest entry costs of all. All that is required is your interest, and your willingness to engage. Ideas make a community of the entire world.

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