Valuation: Freedom vs. Fairness
TThrough the course of thirty-five years of practicing psychology, I have come to believe that the key to happiness and success in life resides in the power of valuation. True valuation is the ability to recognize the most important value in every circumstance and to behave in order to actualize that value.
The happiest people automatically recognize and act upon true values. Applied psychology has not fulfilled its potential to make the world a better place because it has not focused on the powers of valuation. America's happiness and success as a nation have resulted from the one-pointed emphasis on the value of freedom.
Knowledge can generally be divided into two categories: 1) purely intellectual knowledge about facts, and 2) judgments about valuation that imply the appreciation of the worth or importance in circumstances. Facts in themselves are trivial unless they are associated with values. Intellectual knowledge becomes important when it is used to actualize true values. Generally speaking, life becomes misguided and unhappy due to mistakes in valuation rather than lack of information. This is why purely informational programs that ignore true valuation, such as sex and drug education, diversity, and anti-bullying programs, invariably make matters worse.
Happiness would be a snap if one could just pick a favorite value and act upon it in any given situation. But that does not always work, because circumstances present both true and false values. True values belong to circumstances in their own right. They are the intrinsic, absolute, and permanent opportunities for spiritual advancement presented by life's events. For example, the value of human life is present in every circumstance that includes a human being. Similarly, honesty is a true value in every business transaction, and courage is a true value throughout all military service.
False values are those that arise from wants and desires evoked by transient circumstances. They are derivative, relative features of desires, which tend to intensify and subside. For example, water is very important to a thirsty person but brings misery to a person in a flood. This is not to say it is false to hope for fulfillment of desires. Happiness also includes enjoyment and pleasurable experience. But desire in itself does not signify a value that can be a guide to happiness.
Mistakes in valuation can be made in three ways. False valuation occurs through taking as important that which is unimportant, taking as unimportant that which is important, and giving to a circumstance an importance other than what it really has. The political questions of this time are fundamentally disagreements in valuation, which embody the above mistakes.
For example, one argument of the "pro-choice" position asserts that it is a grave and insurmountable injury to the prospects and well-being of a birth-mother for her to have an unwanted baby. The value of protecting her future is more important than the value of the life of her unborn baby. This is a valuation of reversed importance, and fraught with unknowable assumptions. It is factually untrue that having a baby ruins the possibility of achievement for a mother, whether she keeps her baby or not. The young mother who believes that having a baby would wreck her life is influenced by unstable emotions and changing circumstances, but the value of the conceived human being never varies. In the future, when circumstances change, she might feel regret for the child she sacrificed. But the guidance of true values always brings peace of mind and never causes regret.
Another example of false valuation is the normalization of marijuana use. This is a case of the unimportant -- the freedom to use mind-altering drugs -- over the important values of mental, physical, and spiritual health. The normalization of marijuana use not only is driven by the desire for drug intoxication (which is a low form of false valuation), but is doubly destructive because being drugged damages the power of valuation regarding other choices.
The current struggle for the soul of America is between the values of freedom and fairness. Any value might sound good in a vacuum, but the truth or falseness of a value is enacted not in a word, but in the workings. Freedom can be a false front, as when someone claims the right to mistreat another, and fairness can be a true value, as in the case of athletics. The conservative position advances the value of individual freedom, while the progressive position advances regulated fairness. This battle is being fought on many fronts, including differences in income and preferences in opportunities and taxation.
But individual freedom is a true value, and regulated fairness is a false one.
Freedom in this context refers to a universally and equally endowed opportunity for economic participation. When an individual actualizes the true value of freedom, everyone benefits and no one is diminished, whereas regulated fairness is a zero-sum game that divides people into givers and takers. One group wins, and one group loses. This false valuation satisfies one group at the cost of freedom for another.
True values like freedom do not originate in human arrangements like regulations, whereas the false value of fairness, in the above meaning, is a product of coercive law. The true value of fairness means that everybody plays by the same rules. The socialist understanding of fairness is actually anti-fairness, because groups play by different rules according to governmental valuation. This is also a factually false valuation because economies, as everything in nature, do not create "equally" distributed outcomes.
Valuation is indispensable on both personal and political levels. Here are two inquiry-based models of valuation. The first (thanks, Eruch) answers the question, When should one become involved in a conflict? In effect, how to pick your battles? This model uses three valuations: 1) Are you taking a stand upon the truth? 2) Is the conflict necessary? 3) Can you proceed without malice?
Here is another valuation method for problem-solving:
1) In one sentence, state the problem you are trying to solve.
2) Why is it important to solve the problem?
3) What is the most important true value to enact in your course of action?
4) What course of action will enact that value?
The future of America's happiness and success depend upon the restoration of the true value of freedom.