The Manichean World Radical Bleeding Heart image

Projecting Our Values onto the World

We noted earlier that values and world-views tend to get all jumbled up together. Here we have a good example of that: the objectification of value. It is something we all do to one degree or another. That is, instead of saying “I like X and dislike Y,” we say “X is good, and Y is bad.” That is an illusion. Our values are part of us; they are not in any way part of the objective world outside ourselves. Projecting our values onto the outside world simplifies life and relieves us of responsibility if we choose to act on those values. We might feel guilty about hurting someone just because we don't like them, but surely it is alright to hurt a “bad” person, isn't it? They deserve it, don't they?

That, indeed, is why we divide people into “us” and “them” and why we rank them. It is all about projecting our values outside ourselves as a way of renouncing responsibility for them. That is what the objectification of value — the Manichean world-view is about.

Do-badders live in a Manichean world, a world divided into light and dark, good and evil. These, they believe, are absolute attributes inherent in people and things. Do-gooders see good and evil pragmatically, the result of actions. To them, evil is as evil does. And doing evil, generally, just means hurting folks.

Does Evil Exist? We should be very clear about something here. Liberals are sometimes accused of not believing that evil exists. Perhaps some liberals are confused about that, but the real issue is not whether good and evil exist, but rather what is their nature.

If you start with the premise that values are subjective, not objective, you might conclude that evil is what hurts you and good what pleases you. Then world-views start to come into our calculations. If you think of others as your brothers and sisters, then you want them to be happy and wish to avoid hurting them as well. The well-known Golden Rule. That means that conditions and consequences can be good or evil, but people are not, although they can certainly do things that are.

Relativistic Ethics. This brings us to the subject that the conservatives dread: relativistic ethics. We do not mean by that that some bad things are worse than others and some good things better than others. Every sane person accepts that ethics are relative in that sense. What we mean is the idea that anyone's values are as good as anyone else's. If someone thinks that it is OK to kill other people and eat them, and we know that values are subjective, must we accept that person's values as equal to our own? The short answer is no, we do not. Just because values are subjective, does not mean that they are capricious. Some values are nearly universal, if not absolutely universal. There are unfortunately moral aberrations, just as there are physical aberrations.

That raises the question of where values ultimately come from. This is a deep philosophical question about the fundamental nature of the world in which we live and of which we are a part. If you want to go into that, you may wish to visit the Madman.

[Next: Satan and the Absolutists.]