My first reaction to a Sunday NY Times piece asked “Are Western Values Losing their Sway?” was to ask whether the concept of “western values” was still useful? I suspect that regular readers of this blog immediately wondered just what the author meant by Western Values. In fairness to the author, he is also questioning the utility of the concept in suggesting they are losing their sway. Is it really values we are talking about, or is it ideology? Maybe we can assist in the burial of the “western values” concept, whatever we call it.
The piece is framed in east vs west. It reminded me of a recent student discussion posting regarding an assignment to analyze the results of a mildly famous 1964 long-range Delphi forecast, in which the student noted in the section around the future of war and peace, how stuck the participants were in the East vs. West paradigm. In 1964, of course, that makes sense. If you weren’t brought up in the Cold War, though, it may seem a bit odd. It’s a great example of how current paradigms can constrain future thinking, which is what we “attack” in our Alternative Perspectives class.
The article suggests that 1989 marked the triumph of the West and cites Fukayama’s “end of history” notion and the possibility of a new universalism. That’s a slippery question. We talked about it a while back in “Are Values Universal,” which provided a definitive “maybe” or “it depends.” J I would be willing to say that idea that Western values are or could be universal is probably flawed. What we’ve learning from ConsumerShift and the World Values Survey that the data is based upon is the process of the development of values over time is independent, but perhaps somewhat influenced by, ideologies –among other influences. For example, we see the leading edge of postmodern values changes distributed globally from Northern Europe, the US, and Japan. We see modern values influencing development from China to India to Poland to Mexico. These structural changes in values might be called “universal” if one were comfortable with a loose definition. The values are indeed influenced by culture (as well as ideology). For instance, the postmodern value of self-expression is “expressed” different in the US compared to N. Europe and Japan. But it may be said to be a “universal” postmodern value (again, weak definition).
To the point. I think we often miss long-term changes that are happening when we frame discussions in ideological terms. Let’s take Iran as an example. There is some evidence that modernization process and the adoption of modern values is happening along the expected trajectory that ConsumerShift/World Values Survey would expect. Yet the political discussion is framed around the fading ideological paradigm, and misses the potential that Iran follows its development trajectory and becomes a more or less “normal” country (whatever normal means). Andy Hines