Commentary: The Importance of Values and Principles
Tuesday June 17, 2003 Grand Junction Free Press Page 10 (c) Copyright 2003, Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall, All Rights Reserved Grammy's Axioms, Special to the Grand Junction Free Press
By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall
Axiom: You cannot have sunshine without shadows, good without bad, nor success without failure.Have you ever noticed how the world seems to be made up of opposites? I used to ponder that concept when I spent so many hours sitting on airplanes. I became fascinated with the laws of nature as a result of meditating about it. Does nature provide rules to produce a compatible worldly path for all animal life? I speak here of our current existence in physical bodies, not of spiritual life or evolvement. An August 1999 news story tells of researchers who released organisms into their computer environment. They watched them "evolve" and recorded the results in a controlled experiment. A senior research fellow in computation and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology, Christoph Adami, explained, "These creatures have no idea that there's any other world but this. The world is unreal, but the creatures that live in it are not." Some would explain human society in the same way. The organisms could mutate. They could reproduce. Their string of life was, said Michigan State microbiologist Richard Lenski, "the cyberequivalent of ...DNA because it carried instructions for all the organism's functions." Lenski said that after all of the various tests involving mutation and reproduction, results "suggest there seem to be governing principles that exist in life." What a concept! There are laws of nature, whether they occur in cyberspace organisms or in our biological, human world. There are governing principles that exist in life. I believe principles are black and white. Nature tells me that is true. Throughout history, societies have survived because they learned to recognize and honor positive principles. But humans do not live by principles, alone. They have social values, too. What is the difference between these two thing -- values and principles? Values derive from principles, principles do not derive from values. Understanding this is key to understanding the meaning of "values." If a changing social value is not strongly connected to an unchanging principle of nature, it is not a value. Society may choose to call a mode of behavior a social value, but it cannot be defined as holding value unless it is tied to an unchanging principle. Ever-changing values must be tied to unchanging principles. There are those who disagree with my interpretation of the importance of nature's laws in the establishment of social values. Some people believe values should evolve from recent human experience. They believe there is no need for ties to historically successful social principles. Values, some people believe, should reflect what they feel, what they want, what they need. If people want drugs, they should be legalized. If they want promiscuous sex, it should be okay. If pregnancy results, abortion will be a legal alternative to birth. Nature's laws tell me that actions have consequences. Because other people see no reason to keep values tied to principles, they do not believe in consequences. If you have wondered why no one is accountable for anything these days, this is it. Too many people see no reason for accountability and so it has become an acceptable "value." It is, in fact, a good example of just how "value-less" social values can be. When people establish values unassociated with historically successful principles, the resultant value structure is unprincipled. That is not a moral value judgment. It is simple, extended logic. If something does not attach to principle in any way, it is unprincipled by definition. Only by being unattached to unchanging principles can unprincipled values change as often as people's wants, needs and feelings demand. I love nature's laws. They are clear. They are as old as the earth. They are our guides while we dwell in Caesar's world. All we need to do is observe and learn what Mother Nature has to teach us. As one of my favorite philosophers, Ayn Rand, points out, we share two-thirds of our human nature with all other animal life: perception and sensation. As Ms. Rand also points out, the other third of our nature is conceptualization. Only human beings can conceptualize. And, conceptualization must result from personal choice. No one can force Henry Ford to conceptualize the Model "T." My personal belief is that until we understand and have control over the animal two-thirds of our nature, our ability to conceptualize in a spiritual sense is quite limited. What things has nature pointed out to me? The same thing it tells everyone: What goes up must come down. Isaac Newton became the Father of Physics by noticing that apples never fell up, always down. The line of least resistance makes crooked rivers (and crooked people). For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every cause, there is an effect. All living things grow to maturity, level off and die. A garden left untended is quickly filled with weeds. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Axioms and principles are quite different. Axioms are social lessons learned... like: A smile gets you further in life than a frown. We are all in life what we have prepared ourselves to be. If you lay down with dogs, you may get up with fleas. Axioms are things that are generally good rules to follow in most situations. Unlike principles, however, they can change. Sometimes it is better to frown. Some dogs do not have fleas. The group that does not use unchanging principles to establish values will look at my statement that "We are all in life what we have prepared ourselves to be" and disagree. "Not all people have the opportunity to prepare themselves to be someplace other than where they are. All things are relative." That is how relativists think. It is a true statement -- but has little or nothing to do with the equally true statement that we are all where we have prepared ourselves in life to be. I did not say all of us in life are what we are capable of being or that we all have equal opportunities. I merely said we are all where we have prepared ourselves in life to be. It is a true statement. Values based on relative truths represent the philosophic perspective that nothing is ever totally wrong, nothing is ever totally right. All situations have gray areas. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. The values that result from relative truth are always gray. Black and white truths are never relative. Values based on unchanging principles represent the philosophic perspective that all things can be judged right or wrong and that nothing is ever relative -- especially truth. I prefer to live life in black and white. The way I see it, relative truth offers no anchor to define right and wrong for the total society. Relative truth changes from day-to-day and so values based on relative truth change from day-to-day. In other words, there is no truth. Values of right and wrong that change from hour-to-hour, or business-to-business, or family-to-family, or courtroom-to-courtroom lack the very stability society needs to thrive. One of the things I appreciate from my childhood is the concept that what is wrong today will be wrong tomorrow and next year and ten years later. Yet, today these gray "values" become more and more dominant in American society. To my good friend who recently said "The pendulum is beginning to swing back the other way. We just have to be patient and wait it out," I say this: A garden left untended becomes quickly overgrown with weeds. Weeds kill flowers. Nature says so. It's how we ended up with 30 million abortions. We let our garden of moral certainty get overrun with the weeds of self-gratification. The biggest problem we have with our system of justice is that policemen function from the perspective of absolute truth -- violence comes in black and white. It offers no shelter under the aegis of relativist gray. However, judges, safe in their courtrooms, function from the perspective of relative truth. The lawyer who can paint the best gray area wins. Our concept of justice thus falls victim to the gray people... the relativists and the gray principles they use to determine truth. They forget that when everything is gray, never black and white, there is no truth. When you think about it, nature achieves balance by pitting two forces of equal strength against one another. We could not have success if failure did not exist. We could not have light without dark. We could not have love without hate or good without bad. Remember the scientists who injected live organisms into their computer system? Remember what they said? After all of the various tests involving mutation and reproduction, results "suggest there seem to be governing principles that exist in life." If that is true of simple organisms structuring a simple society, surely it has application to complex human beings. Yet, what good is "governing principles" if everyone is so politically correct that no one acknowledges their existence? Deciding what things I stand for requires me to walk out of the gray areas of life and take a stand that certain things are right, certain things are wrong. They are black and white, not gray. By selecting the things for which I stand, I define my character -- or, lack thereof. Everyone does.