Defining the Value Metric

A slide rule. This is an example of a mathemat...

A slide rule. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been throwing around the term ‘value metric’ a lot, so I want to take time to further explain the term as I intend it to be understood.

First, a formal definition:

Value metric,  noun

  1. the standard by which the relative worth (value) of a set of social/ideological ideals, customs, or institutions (values) is assessed.

A ‘value metric’ is a phrase which refers to how individuals process and evaluate ideas. It is not only a value system in itself, but a lens through which we observe and evaluate other value systems. Value metrics are the tests behind religious observance, the underpinning values of philosophy, and the hurdles over which every concept must jump to become a deeply held belief.

I suspect the chief difficulty with ideological debate is not the clash of opinions, but the individual struggle (or complete inability) to comprehend the value metrics applied by others to the concept of ideology. We all want different things out of our religion, philosophy, and our politics; we all evaluate the available values systems with different goals in mind. This fundamental aspect of ideological diversity is often overlooked. Still, when we don’t understand the ‘whys’ of other people’s beliefs, the ‘whats’ become incomprehensible. It’s difficult to pull on the mental shoes of our philosophical opponent, to see reality as they see it and grasp unnaturally a thought process entirely natural to those with whom we are debating. Perhaps it is this struggle for cognitive empathy that creates friction, leading to the heated debates we’ve come to expect between members of differing political parties, religions, and philosophical outlooks.

My theory is that people are drawn to value metrics which support the fulfillment of their deepest longings. If above all else I crave empirical truth, rationalism may become the value metric by which I evaluate all other philosophies. Ideologies will seem credible or ridiculous according to how well they fulfill my empiricism. If I ultimately desire a vibrant meta-narrative for the human experience I will evaluate ideologies by their ability to provide meaningful existential story arcs. The value metric of creative meaning-making may thus lead me to be more amenable to the Abrahamic faiths. Intentionality has little to do with what we ultimately find or do not find compelling.

Consider a mother who sees evidence her child has broken a window. She wants to believe in her child’s innocence for a wide variety of reasons, but she is thwarted by an evidentiary value metric, driven by her fundamental desire to be a good parent. The evidence of her child’s misbehavior is more compelling than her child’s explanation, and so she punishes him. If we are open to the possibility that we do not entirely control what we are or aren’t convinced by, we must also be open to the possibility that a person may want to believe or disbelieve something, but is thwarted by a value metric driven by their fundamental desires (a possibility with important implications for dialogue between ‘nones’ and religious adherents).

My fundamental desire is to know truth. When asked if I’d rather be happy or right (in the most existentially fraught game of ‘would you rather’ I’ve ever played), I said that I could never be happy unless I thought I was somewhat right. I think mankind has an asymptotic relationship to truth, but my fundamental desire is to continually approach the line.

Truth and goodness are interwoven concepts to me, and so my ideological value metrics include empiricism (Does it make scientific sense?), utilitarianism (Does it produce the best possible results for the greatest number of individuals?), individualism (Does it promote the agency of the individual?), and holism (which would take too long to explain in a pithy question).

I’m still searching for a system of belief which combines and satisfies these standards.

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