Interests and Values
Indispensable mice, expendable humans.
June 16, 2004
If our societal debates were really about values, consensus would be the rule. In the sense that we value the same things, we have the same values. In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis finds common values expressed throughout the world, whether ancient or modern, east or west, "civilized" or aboriginal. Fully one-fifth of his little book is devoted to illustrations of common human values from these varied sources.
Lewis calls this common ground by the Chinese name the Tao: "it is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time." It is not the Christian way of salvation, which reaches from time and space to a heaven beyond time and space; it is the Way of the created order where we now live.
So in the Wyoming dispute between a horse trainer who wanted to build a training facility on his land, and the environmentalists enforcing a law against it, let’s not jump to the conclusion that they have separate values. Along with everybody else who embraces the Tao, they respect life, liberty, and all kinds of other good stuff. On the level of the "right to be," the landowner’s horses and the environmentalist’s mice are equal.
The irony is that the mice might not exist at all.
Even so, the conflict is between their interests, not their values. While values are absolute, interests are not; law and its application must take interests into account and balance them with the values that apply to them. There may be so many factors at work that no law can be subtle enough to address them all. Maybe the adversarial legal system is not the best means to sort out legitimate conflicts of interest.
No law can settle a conflict between a horse and a possibly fictitious mouse. If we think it can, we will continue to micromanage society in the name of values.
Our common values reflect the Way. The Way is absolute. Its application in a world of conflicting interests is not.
About the Author:
Barnabas is on the side of the environment, so he's usually on the side of the environmentalists. In the present political climate, they can't afford many mistakes, though, like protecting non-existence species at great cost to the locals.
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