Events, personality types, relationships, genetic limits and capabilities, culture, family experiences, gender, and myriad associated factors weave complicated patterns of identity. One way to distill the synthesis that moves us to behave and believe as we do is to be comfortable with values talk. In other words, we need to accept the necessity of our placing some values above others at the moment of choice. As Sheena Iyengar makes so clear in pages 63-71 of her The Art of Choosing, even the nuances of meaning within a single value move entire sovereign nations in directions contrary to the deep-dseated longings of an adjacent sovereign country.
A country like the United States, infatuated as it is with freedom AGAINST, is naturally going to have lower tax rates, reduced regulation of powerful groups and individuals, and fewer shared commitments to acts of kindness toward marginalized groups than would a country enamored of freedom as a series of capabilities. A loyalty to negative freedom redirects energy away from caring and sharing as complementary values and toward its own complementary values of competition and individual responsibility.
Take a single concept like “inequality.” To some it is ethical outrage that the CEO of Google makes literally 1000 times the salary of the starting salary at Google. To others, that difference in compensation is a symbol of just reward and the efficiency flowing from proper incentive systems in a market economy. What better beginning to a conversation about this behavioral and belief difference than an exploration of the package of values lurking within these divergent responses to inequality?
So much understanding of behavior can be gained by.” studying and reflecting about the sharp value differences among people. Toward that end, I urge you to regulalry think about the World Values Survey. That survey should give all of us a healthy dose of skepticism about those who draw trend lines based on the assumption that values are steady and therefore predictable. Some are, and some are not. Human complexity and fluidity mock our generalizations about future behavior.