GAIL REGAN is vice-chair of Cara Operations, retired. She chairs Energy Probe Research Foundation and is a member of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise. She has a PhD in Educational Theory and an M.B.A. in Finance. Her background in sociology and personal experience of business has given her an intellectual interest in the problem of evil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Values

 

 

 

When B.F. Skinner’s trained pigeons turned in circles, they did so for a dollop of food. They had a goal and intelligence to achieve the goal.

 

My 1970s sociology professors urged caution about generalizing operant conditioning of pigeons as a model for human life. Yes, people have means and goals, but they ground these in underlying values. Then the professors taught us to classify values abstractly as rational or emotional, competitive or ascriptive.

 

Recently, Jonathan Haidt in his book “The Righteous Mind” researched underlying values and found six measurable dimensions.

 

  1. Care / Harm                              
  2. Liberty / Oppression
  3. Fairness / Cheating
  4. Loyalty / Betrayal
  5. Authority / Subversion
  6. Sanctity / Degradation

 

Haidt discovered that study participants who are politically conservative value these principles equally, while liberals gravitate to 1 and 2.

 

Consciously I see myself as valuing rationality and competiveness, so I claim liberty/oppression as my most salient dimension. This is why I chair Energy Probe – we believe that property rights protect the environment and that functional markets enable prosperity. As vice-chair of a family restaurant business I was always concerned with providing value for customers. When sales per store went up, I was known for my question, “Good, but how much is price?”

 

In rereading “The Righteous Mind,” I began to doubt the singularity of my position. Haidt wrote about the passionate anger of the participants in his studies, how they rant. In my lifetime, the government of Ontario, Canada has allowed over-fishing in the Great Lakes, rent controls that destroyed the rental housing market, and has so muddled electricity that it requires enormous subsidies. I feel sorry about these setbacks, but I am not intense about these issues the way I am about bread crumbs.

 

Cheerfully I wipe the kitchen counter in the morning. Then I wipe it again later. By the fifth time I am fuming. How can the people in my household be so sloppy? Do they not care about the danger of flies? The disease burden of spilled milk? Why cannot I convey my passion for cleanliness?

 

I rationally care about Ontario’s competitiveness, like Skinner’s pigeons did about food. (Market failures will mean more taxes and citizens will have fewer dollops.) But I emotionally get mad and rant at dirt.   I have to admit that the sanctification degradation dimension is very important to me.

 

I wondered whether my positions are consistent. However, I have just read an analysis of the deep values that motivated George Orwell to write “Animal Farm” and “1984”, perhaps literature’s most exquisite pleas for freedom. Orwell himself was not flamboyantly libertarian. He valued privacy and human dignity above all. I am in good company.

 

 

 

Comments are closed.

 

 


hey