Get off Your Values and Get to Work

By Burns, Robert E. | U.S. Catholic, January 1995 | Go to article overview

Get off Your Values and Get to Work


Burns, Robert E., U.S. Catholic


ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE knows that conventional wisdom--a proposition that "everybody" knows is true--is, more often than not, untrue. So when legions of pundits, editorialists, columnists, and television and radio commentators are lockstep in accepting at face value an unexamined belief, beware.

Students in Logic 101 learn that begging the question--assuming as true a question whose truth is yet to be argued--is the first of the logical fallacies. Awareness of that error, however, would not seem to restrain those who publicly and solemnly intone that there is a crisis of values in our country. Cloning those Cassandras, letters to the editor begin "The breakdown of values in the U.S." and even out-of-work baseball players bemoan a "lack of values" as causing their plight. Beggars all are they--and we.

In the 19th century, slavery and child labor were not only accepted in the United States but also celebrated. And much closer to home, up until the 1960s people who did not happen to have white skin were forced to use separate washrooms and drink from separate fountains. In some parts of our democracy, a black person was expected to step from the sidewalk into the gutter when a white person approached. Sweatshops were common, and they were peopled by fully accredited American citizens (unlike the unfortunate "illegals" today, trapped by fear that the migras will find them).

But if the history books commonly used in our schools called the way we were a "crisis of values," that is news to me. Yet, if today when we speak of a crisis of values we are thinking of the many people condemned to living in filthy, rat-ridden housing with broken toilets leaking down broken plaster walls, that indeed says something about our values.

Or if, uncaringly, we look away when workers are fired and replaced by others simply because they have exercised their moral right to strike--a right defended again and again in papal teaching, including that of our present pope--our values leave something to be desired. But these are not the kinds of value questions that today's conventional wisdom seems to have in mind. Our concern for values is too often of the armchair variety. We are satisfied to have the luxury of deploring, deploring, and deploring while blaming others, the churches, the schools, the president, the Congress, and so on.

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