I think there’s a great fear that once religion disappears or loses its hold on people, there can be no agreement around belief and values, that there’s then a post-modern chaos where all values are relative, no one agrees on anything and everything splinters. I simply don’t think that’s true to experience.
Of course there are areas of real ideological debate, but I would say that they are on the outer fringes of the spectrum, that there is an enormous amount that contemporary America, Europe, a contemporary world agrees on that if you gathered a group of a hundred Americans into a room, and you said to them, okay, are there things we can rally around? Are there things we can believe in? You would get immense agreement around fairness, justice, kindness, love, value of children, value of education, the environment. You would get at least 10 or 20 commandments, if I can use ironically that word. But I mean that seriously in a sense of a set of values that we can rally around.
So, we’re not short of things we can believe in. What we’re short of is methods for making those beliefs stick. We are catastrophically bad at actually activating, bringing into action, theories that we all assent to in the quiet of our minds. So in the quiet of our minds we believe in kindness and generosity and tolerance and all the rest of it. Go outside to the rest of the world, are the values actually active? No. In many places they’re not. And so that’s was interests me. How can we make the things we do agree on get a grip on our minds at those key moments when we’re actually acting in the world?
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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