Values Re-orientations

Values. Those extremely vague five words your company has on the wall that are meant to do something by doing nothing. A thing (or perhaps things) Bruce and Barack speak vaguely, reverently about modifying. Is a values-system a reality? An identity? A series of resentments, calcified into habits of mind and action? A feeling? Needs, prioritized and distilled to unhealthy ABVs? Unclear. But they seem to be powerful. Republicans value low taxes and are willing give away anything to get that second of the certainties out of their lives. Democrats value many things and are willing to prioritize nothing to achieve anything. Corporate leaders value money and will buy back stock, design gorgeous pay packages, and issue themselves pre-IPO forgivable debt straight from the corporate balance sheet to get more of it. To change what I value is easy: just don’t eat a meal, and suddenly food is the top value, hunger the top need. To change what archetypes of people value is hard. Voluntary fasting is not on the agenda at political conventions or this quarter’s board meetings. This how economists keep getting universities, governments, and the companies with the most extra cash (and anxiety) to pay them: they propose to be able to understand valuing behavior and possibly influence it, using incentives and lately the irrational cognitive triggers that the Nobellious behavioral economists brought into the fold to keep the field from going the way of the phrenologists. The reality of incentives and universal human explanations (they aren’t ideal predictors) has driven companies to hire anthropologists to mate with their data scientists, to observe and ride along with and then profit from humans doing their human thing, without trying too hard to explain it. Valuing behaviors are not explicable by those five vague words on the wall (who knows what’s meant by integrity, beyond something you can use to virtue-signal in almost any situation), valuing is only explicable by observing actual behaviors (and perhaps also by rituals managed by conscientious operators). Are you thinking that bitcoin has no value because nothing backs it up? Are you thinking that the Kleenex-brand cryptocurrency has tons of long-term value because people seem to be valuing it? These predictions are not super valuable, as far as future behaviors go. People are valuing bitcoin. People change the way they prioritize new, sexy assets in capricious and unpredictable ways. Sort of like fashion.

So if you’re Barack or Bruce or Donald and you’re trying (and very much succeeding) at getting a group of people to value as you are (and seeking personal redemption in your Abraham Lincoln-style esteem seeking), you’re missing the forest and the trees for the squirrels. Valuing happens for so many reasons, and getting people to value you is a very particular type of manipulation (similar to the one that helped create the Great Man theory of history). Perhaps it might be best to feed yourself when you are hungry and enjoy the sunset well, rather than get the world to esteem you for your notions and expressions. Leadership is a most-overrated thing.