The past year or more I have been tangling myself in conversations attempting to figure out how value works in human lives. We don’t like talking about it, so mostly I am met with silence or treated like a heretic. Eventually I will tie together all the threads into a more coherent offering, but until them it probably makes sense to share snippets of dialogs that express where I am going.
The Great Barry Hessenius posted some interesting questions this morning under the title “Place is more than space – Feeling uncomfortable where you feel you don’t belong and it resonated with some of the issues I have been addressing. You can read Barry’s essay (its worth it!), but the specific concerns I am interested in are as follows:
Hope you are doing well. Thanks as always for challenging us with difficult topics! Another good one today
Your post comes on the heels of a conversations I was involved in with Clay Lord about the difficulties with cultural appropriation. For me it highlighted the challenge of squaring values we legitimately hold to be right with other similarly worthy values. Is it possible that two or more virtues we esteem do not scale together, and that promoting one negatively affects our ability to promote the others? Is that what a conflict of interests means?
The difficulty for the arts in being more inclusive is just one such context. The idea that we should reach out to outsiders inevitably seems to mean we want them to become more like us in some fundamental way. We want them to value what we value. It comes to them on our own terms, so its not an equal exchange. But how would we make it equal except by sacrificing the things we wanted to share? That is the conundrum. To gain one thing we lose the other, but to keep it we also lose what we hoped to gain. It just doesn’t add up. Either we change or they change. Something has to go…… Ideals, meet the real world!
Mostly I have been thinking of this in terms of the problems we have in promoting diversity, which emphasizes the division between things, their difference, and equity, which attempts to be fair across the board. It seems we can’t have both more than in a limited sense. Diversity fractures and equity levels. They are aspirations for us, and good things to aim at, but this does not mean they are also practical. Wanting certain things does not mean we can get them, no matter how right we are to want them. The impracticality of our ideals does not mean we were wrong in wanting them. Its the hard face of reality that all aspirations must confront. But that is the nature of aspirations, after all.
The arts are not alone in their naive assessment of values. Mostly people do not have a clear sense of the role and function of value in our lives. We take recognized goods and imagine that aspirations can automatically be collapsed into real world outcomes. Which is a dangerous assumption. We never stop to wonder why having our cake and eating it too rarely (never) seems to come off except in limited circumstances. We see the challenges and leap to the conclusion that our problems can be solved on the aspirational plane. No wonder we are stuck when we are not prepared to accommodate reality into our wishful thinking!
The first lesson in aspirational thinking is imagining what might happen. The first lesson in practical thinking is assessing what can happen. As long as we find it difficult to see beyond our own desires it is no wonder we are obstructed from reaching our goals.
All the best!
The pursuit of values can look a lot like wandering around an Escher painting. The further you get in one direction the less well it adds up with other things.
I welcome any thoughts you all might offer 🙂
Make beauty real!