Saturday, 13 June 2015

What do I stand for?

New Zealand is considering a potential redesign of our flag. The official government website ( allows the public to contribute their views, values and flag designs. The idea being that the new flag, if we have one, should represent what the people of NZ stand for.

My values fall into two categories I think: 
  • Social: Those that affect others directly (the way I behave towards others) and the way I hope they will behave toward each other. 
    • diversity, dialogue, freedom of thought and speech, honesty, tolerance, compassion, generosity, education, justice and impartiality. These are the basis of human rights.
  • Personal: Internal values that affect the way I think, or aim to think (which of course influences the external values). 
    • all of the social elements, plus intellectual honesty (self), intellectual integrity (self), moral integrity (self).
All of these values - but especially the personal values require me to constantly review my thoughts and behaviour and question whether I am being honest and fair in all my dealings. Have I looked at all sides of an argument? Do I need more information? Am I being biased in some way?

The World Values Survey regularly examines cultural and personal values of people around the world. The graph below, maps average value for countries in terms of secularisation and self-expression. New Zealand falls into the top right of the English speaking group, ahead of Great Britain but behind some other European countries.

Given what we know, it is not really a surprise that the Islamic countries are at the bottom left, in traditional / survival mode.

Values are associated closely with ethics and morals. Lawrence Kohlberg proposed six stages of moral development. It is worth reviewing this to see how these relate to yourself. Individuals tend to progress through the stages as they discover incongruities in their current understanding; when they come across a situation that cannot be handled well by their current set of principles. Coming to this realisation however depends on a review process - which not everyone does.

Level Stage Description
1 Obedience, punishment No difference between doing the right thing and avoiding punishment.
2 Self-Interest Interest shifts to rewards rather than punishment. Effort is made to secure greatest benefit for oneself.
3 Conformity and interpersonal accord Effort is made to secure approval and maintain friendly relations with others.
4 Authority and social order Orientation towards fixed rules. The purpose of morality is maintaining the social order. Interpersonal accord is expanded to include the entire society.
5 Social contract Mutual benefit, reciprocity. Morally right and legally right are not always the same. Utilitarian rules that make life better for everyone.
6 Universal principals Morality is based on principals that transcend mutual benefit.

Societies too, move through these stages over time. Legislation is slowly reformulated over time as society advances, although there is usually a significant time lag between the common view of the general populace and the enshrinement of that in law. It is the role of the judiciary to interpret that law in the context of historic and current events, which allows for legal rulings that push the boundaries further. There are many examples of this in recent times: rights for women, rights for black people, rights for LGBT people. Slowly, we are making progress in the West. The Islamic world varies considerably, but as societies they are still very much in stage four. The imprisonment, flogging, or execution of political dissidents or freethinkers such as Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia shows this. But hundreds of examples occur daily around the world.