PolySciFi Blog

Saturday, April 02, 2005


He called it a Hierarchy for a reason...

Say my name, and I appear...

Hi everyone. I'm only here because this wouldn't fit in the comment section. Incidentally, Jody won the Electoral Sweepstakes contest. Now on to bigger and better things. Let me speak my peace and then maybe disappear for another few months.

Jody has started quite the interesting conversation on the variety of value systems and how that affects political debate. He goes on to underscore the point of value differences by making a list of "societal objectives" and asking people to assign them a weighting according to their personal importance. You can read the entire article here, and you can see three assessments in the comments section. I'll list the objectives verbatim here for your convenience:

Beauty (or art)
Intellectual Stimulation

If you're so inclined, this is the part where you'll have to forgive me for giving any credence to something that the President might think. In keeping with the original idea of the post, I'll try to be as civil as I can, but I make no guarantees...

Oh my God, people. That whirring sound you hear in the background is Abraham Maslow spinning in his grave. Surrvival. Security. Belonging. Esteem. Self-actualization. Despite what we might like to think in these so-called "enlightened" times, you can't get to the top of the pyramid if there is no bottom.

I commit attribution errors for a living, it's a weekend, and I've only been out of the house once today. So let's see what I can do to get my average up. No doubt that we've seen three placements of "Security" based on the fact that it's easy to take for granted. If you aren't worried about your security, then you probably don't worry too much about your security. Maslow himself called it a "deficit need" - it's only something you notice when it's not there.

Someone can correct me later on if my perspective of "security" is off, but for fear of giving in to too much hyperbole, I take security to be the feeling that exists when you aren't afraid of being shot in the street where you live, or for that matter, of a jet plane flying into the building where you work With that in mind, let's at least get these things in the right order, stick in some of the commentary that I promised in my own addition to the comments, and maybe go from there.

security - the quality or state of being secure as freedom from danger (safety), freedom from fear or anxiety, [or] freedom from the prospect of being laid off.

This one is at the top of the list. If I'm dead, I can't enjoy anything else. And I'm with Maslow that I can't really enjoy anything else if I'm acutely aware that I'm not enjoying security.

liberty - the quality or state of being free.

I would rather be alive than free, but perhaps only barely. If I am alive, then at least I can work towards regaining my freedom, if it has been lost. If I am dead, then whether or not I can enjoy my liberty is moot.

fairness - [the quality of being] marked by impartiality and honesty, or free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism

justice - the quality of being just, impartial, or fair, [or] conformity to this principle or idea (righteousness); the quality of conforming to law.

Liberty, justice, and fairness are to some degree intertwined. Some would argue, and quite convincingly, that no one can be free in a world that isn't just or fair. I have ranked liberty above both fairness and justice, as I view liberty to be a personal quality. Fairness and justice are community qualities, requiring the cooperation of a greater number of people to function. To the extent that I can imagine it, I would prefer living free in an unfair or unjust world to living in bondage in a world that purported to be just or fair.

The problem comes in ranking the two. Have you ever had someone ask you if you preferred that the law be just but not fair, or fair but not just? I think that a question to that effect is one of the possible character creation questions in Ogre Battle, but I digress.

Speaking from personal experience, I don't consider myself to have gotten my grading right unless I'm both consistent and just. But if there's one of the two that I have to get right first, it's the consistency part. Grading means absolutely nothing if it's not consistent (fair) - that is, where no rational function exists to relate effort and ability to an assessment of performance. Once I choose a function and stick to it consistently, the actual function that I use - maybe a step function, something linear that saturates at the extremes, or maybe even something more log-sigmoid - will determine how just the grading is. Half off for missing one step out of ten? Ninety percent of the credit for missing one part out of two? It all depends on the point that I'm trying to make.

In the end, the reason that I would value justice over fairness is that fairness is the more esoteric of the two. Students have left my office still questioning my fairness (even after long discussions) but far fewer of them have ever left doubting my consistency.

family - a group of persons of common ancestry; a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation

Especially with the addition of a component of community to the existing value of family, I might be ranking this too low. It's not meant to be an assessment of how much I love my family or my fellow man. If we were to confine the discussion to a comparison of my siblings, it's my personal opinion that I am the one that has strived the most to be independent of my parents and to make my own way in the world. Again, that's not to say that I have no use for my family or am actively trying to keep them out of my life. The reason that I put it here is that I know that I would rather have family and community than all of the things ranked after it.

As for the things ranked above it, well...some difficult questions defy or transcend a simple numerical assignment in ways that find the numbers giving answers that we might not have ourselves given. One such question finds Grand Inquisitor Torquemada offering us a choice between our liberty and our family. Already, three of us...four if you count me and set aside my vague indecision...have already given our answers: "Bye Mom...bye Dad! Have fun...wherever you're going." But something tells me that it might not be that simple...that the numbers might just be lying.

happiness - good fortune, prosperity; a state of well-being and contentment.

I think I would give up my happiness for the sake of my family. In fact, I have on at least one occasion. The good thing about it is that I believe myself to be a better (happier, more prosperous, useful, and accomplished) person for it.

intellectual stimulation (by inference) - excitation to activity or growth arising from the intellect, study, reflection, or speculation.

Young Lady Spakington (who has stayed in my guest room, and has therefore given me the right to call her by a nickname) quite adroitly points out that for people like "us," things like happiness and intellectual stimulation are connected. The question that we should ask is "Could I be happy if I were never intellectually stimulated?" Possibly. For starters, there's this physical stimulation thing I keep hearing about...

prosperity - the condition of being successful or thriving, especially economic well-being.

Like most Americans, I think of myself as being middle-class. As opposed to a number of them, I actually am. I harbor no perception that I am living hand-to-mouth, or that I have so much money that I could go without working. Perhaps more at issue is the fact that since I create nothing of note or use - with the possible exception of knowledge in others - my profession is one that does depend on the general prosperity - when people have enough money to afford the luxury of college, I get to stay in a job.

The question would then have to be, "Would I accept living at a subsistence level to guarantee intellectual stimulation?" I think I would. I've been a graduate student, so maybe I have.

It's interesting then that intellectual stimulation not only makes me happy (like my friend Spak) but to some degree guarantees my prosperity by making me better at my chosen profession. It is funny how these values-thingies intertwine.

beauty - the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.

Everyone knows the rich have no taste, right? So if I suddenly became "prosperous" beyond my wildest dreams, I'd have no use for beauty anyway.

I'm not sure what else to say about it, and in the absence of weightings (which at this point I'm not going to assign, except maybe under more duress) these last two are also close, and could be switched.

My ranking ends there, because of the quality listed "last" here:

faith - allegiance to duty or to a person (loyalty); fidelity to one's promises; sincerity of intentions; belief and trust in loyalty to God.

Despite Jody's admonition that we should qualify each objective based on our own understanding of it, I have to chide him somewhat for the beguillingly simple inclusion of "faith."

Faith in what? Faith in who? Faith in God? I think He knows me better than I know Him, but on the plus side, I hear He's done some great things. Faith in my fellow man, perhaps of the categorical imperative type? I am given to optimist tendencies once in a while. I act loyally and keep my prBulleted Listomises as best I can, expecting that others will do the same, and mindful of what society would be like if no one kept their promises, and thus no one believed in the promises of others. With all of that said, Matt's assignation of 0 to that quality either represents an allergic reaction to the religious tones of the word, or reflect some Goldwynavellian notion that a verbal contract isn't worth the paper that is being used to stab someone else in the back before he does likewise to you.

Or something like that. I always get those two mixed up.

In closing, I should now voice some skepticism based on my own assessment. If I may be allowed to infer...and who's going to stop me at this point?

But hey, what do I know, right?

Back to your regularly scheduled commentators.


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