Spring 1999, Volume 16.3
Ted Wilson, Peter Appleby, Carolyn Irish, Elaine Englehardt
The Value of Values
Ted Wilson is the Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. A graduate of the University of Utah and the University of Washington, he has been a fellow at the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard. For ten years he served as Mayor of Salt Lake City, and was the Democratic candidate for Utah Governor in 1988. An avid skier, rock climber, and back packer, his favorite hobby is watching Utah's Future.
Peter Appleby is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah with strong interests in professional and applied ethics. He serves on the Board of Directors of Citizens for Penal Reform, the Ethics Committee Code-Revision Task Force for the American Psychological Association, Ethics Committees for various hospitals, and is a member of the Steering Committee for the Utah Chapter of National Voices for an Inclusive 21st Century.
Carolyn Tanner Irish is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, she holds degrees from Michigan, Oxford, and the Virginia Theological Seminary. Prior to being seated as Bishop, she served congregations in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Michigan. She has taught at the Edmund Burke School, Virginia Theological Seminary, and the College of Preachers. She currently chairs the Board of Directors of the O. C. Tanner Co. in Salt Lake City, and serves on numerous church and community boards.
Elaine Englehardt is Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Director of the Center for the Study of Ethics, Director of the Integrated Studies Program and a Professor of Philosophy at Utah Valley State College. She earned her Ph.D. in Ethics and Communication from the University of Utah.
Dr. Englehardt is a frequent consultant for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Association of Community Colleges.
The following conversation was held in the Hinckley Institute of Politics on September 22, 1998, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Elaine: We are here today to have a conversation, an informal interchange, and the topic is values. As I think about that topic, I am glad the exchange will be informal. Also as I think about values and some of the things that are going on in society today, I'm awed by the continued relevance of what Plato and Aristotle had to say on the topic. Aristotle for example, poses a higher standard when he differentiates between moral and intellectual virtues. You may have intellectual virtues that say, "I would like to do good things with health care." But until you act, these virtuous thoughts are not moral virtues. You may say, "I would like to do something about diversity. I'd like to give fairness to people who have a different sexual preference." But it is merely an intellectual exercise until you act morally and do something about it.
In Plato's Republic, a bleaker model is posed in the story of Gyges, a shepherd in service to the King of Lydia. While herding sheep one day, Gyges discovers a horseman who has fallen dead in a crevice. The horseman is wearing an unusual gold ring which Gyges steals. He soon discovers that twisting the ring makes him invisible. Twist it again, he's visible. It's a nifty trick. A few days later, all the King's shepherds are holding a meeting to discuss problems with the flock. They are afraid to inform the King about the problems because bearers of bad tidings are routinely killed. Gyges volunteers to tell the King. Becoming invisible, he easily gains entry to the palace where he seduces the Queen. Together Gyges and the Queen plot and kill the King, and Gyges takes over the kingdom.
Glaucon, the character who has been telling Gyges' story then derives the pessimistic conclusion that it is only the fear of being caught (our "visibility") that determines human behavior. "For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice" (Book II).
Today we are bombarded with issues that provoke thought about values. When does a gift become a bribe? Are sexual relations between consenting adults public or private matters? How do we provide reasonable health and retirement care to deserving individuals? Who determines who is deserving? What are our most strongly held common values?
Ted: I've always worried that part of Plato's ideas about philosopher kings came from pride—I think he saw himself as the philosopher king who could best run the republic. But it's more than that. Philosopher kings were good, well-integrated people. To me that suggests governmental leadership needs integrated personalities—people who understand that for anything to have value it must be earned. This is true for diversity, equity, independence, freedom, goodness or charity—it must be earned.
One problem with common values is that today we live in a system that allows us to make very large amounts of money through the informed use of capital. I don't want to sound like Karl Marx, but we have a economic system in our country that is based on capital—machines. The effect of this is to distance us from the true rewards of honest labor. Does that economic system distort our political system? We have a nation where the "have" and "have-nots" groups are growing as the middle class gets smaller. That's been well documented in the last 20 years. As that split has occurred, the elite tend to earn more and more, and those who are not able to earn become less and less in touch with the system—and the values of the rich and poor move in different directions.
Carolyn: Ted, I notice how quickly you have gone to a kind of economic metaphor for us, and that's kind of antithetical to my own stance on values. I don't think we earn everything that we have. I think there is something about the grace of God in the circumstances of our being born where we are and when we are, so I want to move away from the idea that we are always earning and that we should expect return of an economic kind. That is one of the distortions of our culture especially at this time. We buy into metaphors of economics and market place so automatically that we don't think about values independent of them, and I guess I would like to pick a little broader field. I like to think about value as ideas that ultimately are without price.
Ted: Carolyn, you come from a family that has given a good share of its money away to others, and if I could find the ideal, it would be in your family. I think the value of "gaining to give" as handled by your father and the entire Tanner family has been remarkable. But I'm worried about our system's inherent inequities. We have a political and economic system that has been banged around and damaged by poor distribution of income, and that really bothers me.
Carolyn: I'm disturbed by that as well; don't mistake what I'm saying. Equitable distribution of wealth is one of the major value issues facing us, not only in this nation but in the world. I don't want to deny economic values.
Elaine: Earning is not exclusively an economic metaphor. I am interested in how we "earn" or acquire intellect, character, friendship, and other things that can never be taken from us. They're not monetary things, but are earned by individual and cooperative effort.
Peter: I would like to follow a line which I think Carolyn suggested. I have a kind of psychological view of values. It seems to me that our values define our personalities and our identities. Broadly speaking, we are what we care about. Of course it's more complex than that. We often mask behaviors so that our values are not always discernible, even to ourselves. Sometimes we find out what we really care about only when we're placed in a situation that forces us to act.
Beyond the individual, I'm also interested in communities and commonalities of values. I don't share the view that any collection of people define a community. I do think that communities are defined by shared interests and activities. The family is often cited as a basic community. A typical family is a group of people who share things that they care about, whether good or evil. Dys functional families have few or no shared interests, and they are dysfunctional communities.
I agree with Ted's concern about the disparity between rich and the poor and believe that disparity interferes with our capacity to create communities in the society today. That's one of a number of very serious problems. But coming back to my fundamental premise—that my values define who I am and those values are most accurately represented by behaviors—to seriously consider community values you have to deal with community behaviors.
A community may be well established groups like a church congregation, professional association, or a family. There are also temporary communities that form around particular concerns that move us to action. Communities may be the supporters of political candidates, environmentalists, racists, pro-life advocates. They may be widely scattered throughout a region, but they become communities through their public expressions and actions. If what we are concerned about is raising the level of values—raising the level of things that people care about—then we have to look at how we engage our own values in our interactions with other people. Engagement seems to me how we create community, and maybe that's how we start solving problems.
Elaine: I'm in favor of engagement, but Peter, your examples highlight part of the issue. One of the challenges facing society today is too many communities which mitigates against the celebration of common values. It's another thing to establish personal values and build communities through advocacy and action, we do in one sense all have to live together—pro-life and pro-choice, environmentalist and developer. Does the freedom we enjoy in this country doom us to an increasingly divisive nation. How do we find and inculcate common values?
Carolyn: I believe that one of the other distortions of our perception and a hindrance to the articulation of values comes from our individualistic approach to everything in our culture. That advertisement, "Be all that you can be," suggests that the most important thing is whatever works for the individual. We live in an age of self-actualization. We create our own reality, our will be done. We always start with me, me, me. So in the search for communities and common values, we have gone some way off course. I think that the focus on "me" is one of the major obstacles to teaching and passing on the great common values. A second concern I have is the distance between what we profess with our lips and what we do in our lives. Perhaps this is Aristotle's distinction between intellectual and moral virtue. But when we are talking about passing on shared values, it is one of the most deflating and pragmatic issues I deal with. I am concerned with the major separations that have occurred between profession of values and daily action in government, education, business, athletics and in the home. Too many people have stopped engaging in the challenge of religious and other kinds of value dialogues because they think that it's just about words and not about behavior. The hypocrisy among our leaders in all dimensions of life is a serious impediment to the sharing of those things we value.
Elaine: I agree with you Carolyn, although the very conspicuous public displays of hypocrisy may be just the tip of the iceberg. Hypocrisy is ubiquitous. We've had a lot of public discourse about family values in our society in the last few years, but much has been trivial and shows little understanding of what family values are really about. I agree with the idea that parents hold primary responsibility for the transmission of values to their children, and that it's primarily done by behavior. Catechizing children doesn't work in showing what it is to be a decent human being. We have to show children how to care for others and to be accepting of others and to exhibit traditional Christian charity, love and acceptance. At least from my experience as a parent, I think children are relevantly immune to preaching.
Peter: Children are very keen to follow behavior and to mimic attitude. I think people of all ages don't learn much from talking the talk. It's walking the walk that teaches. And I think it's urgently important that we not make a parade of recitations of the things that we care about—I'm not interested in the controversy over the placement of the Ten Commandments on the wall of somebody's court room. But I am interested in what people do who are in conspicuous positions of public life or in the family. How do they display values and how to they teach by example? What sorts of communities do they create?
Elaine: Ted, maybe you'd like to go back the notion that you brought up in the beginning that there is a separation or hypocrisy involved in our placing too much value on money and on the machines that earn money for us.
Ted: Distribution of wealth is debilitating to human perceptions of self-worth and to our political systems. It is also debilitating to human sensitivity to spend our life trying to acquire and then somewhere along the way finding out that the acquisition means little or nothing. There's lots of religion on that. But I would like to continue talking about the difficulty of establishing values in a community. In the United States, we have a system that makes it very hard for our government to get involved. If we lived in Saudi Arabia or even England where there is a national religion, there are certain standards that could be encouraged or imposed by the state. The Saudi Arabian government specifies what women may wear in public and how marriage is conducted. Abortion would never be allowed in Saudi Arabia. And it seems to work because the community is homogeneous with the great majority of people subscribing to the underlying religious tenets.
Our system on the other hand faces a far different problem—what to do with so many diverse people. The first settlers in this country spread out and adopted different economic, social, and cultural patterns and quickly became at least 13 large communities and hun dreds of smaller ones, so when the Constitution was written it clearly had to be a pluralistic document. That doesn't mean there aren't certain values which our Government supports and sustains. But most of these are what I would call values of process—we agree to stop at red lights, we treat each other relatively civilly, and we allow people to speak freely. But sometimes, these process values are challenged by deeply held personal values on subjects such as abortions, polygamy, or gay rights. In this kind of value debate, the pluralistic state must remain silent, even though doing so makes it more difficult to maintain community. Pluralistic communities by definition disagree, and sometimes these disagreements exacerbate intolerance, which leads me to wonder whether a pluralistic government like ours can or should do much to aid in value formation beyond those areas empowered by the Bill of Rights.
There is a sensitive area in Utah, the issue of polygamy. We have national and state laws against polygamy. But because we have such a high regard for diversity and tolerance we typically don't enforce the laws. The lack of enforcement also poses prob lems, as recent Utah politicians have had trouble explaining to us. The central problem in a democratic country is, how do you impose a standard for "goodness" when it may fly in the face of some other person's religion or family beliefs.
Carolyn: I understand the conflicts that can arise between personal and common values. And I would not be comfortable with the government picking and enforcing values for us. But real problems arise when broad constitutional freedoms are interpreted too individualistically. Right now, I think one of the major value questions in our culture deals with the environment. We are on this earth in community and in communion with many creatures. And because our ecosystem is so wonderfully complex, we must care for the earth not one by one, but as one among many. In this case, I think that government has a role to play in the process of protecting our environment.
That's why I want to keep going away from personal values. Not that I don't appreciate them, but always talking about what's good for me me me or you you you, as opposed to we or us, is not only spiritually short-sighted, but pragmatically so as well. It strikes me that in Europe there is equal diversity, but a much greater awareness of the common good and willingness to act upon it. I cite as evidence their control over manufacturing emissions, which in the United States we gave the back of our hand to. Our government said we can't do anything about that, it's private enterprise, it's free market. To Europeans, that's kind of bizarre. So, I think as time goes on we are going to have to, and our government is going to have to help us learn to, accept some restraints upon ourselves that are genuinely for the good of the whole earth and for future generations.
Peter: Let me jump in with a remark about that which may sound utterly naive. It seems to me that we do have this procedural structure which allows for maximum displays of individualism that has had some pernicious results. But the environmental case seems to be one in which at least there is some grounds to hope. Again, I'm thinking about community building. I believe that most of us are able to deal with problems when they are presented to us in terms that we can understand, and I think environmental issues provide a case in point. It is true there are many societies more advanced than we are in dealing with the environment, but we are starting to build some consensus on some issues in the United States. If you observe the polemics about tree huggers versus exploiters over the last couple of decades, you begin to see some instances where genuine dialogue is starting to occur. A recent poll suggests that ordinary working people in the West are beginning to care about the preservation of wild places. It may be an optimistic read, but I think that, while we yell at each other and say utterly inane things and reward our politicians handsomely for behaving badly, we begin to get serious when we grow to understand what the problems are.
Elaine: The environment may be one area where necessity will force us to develop common values. I'm less sure about other problems. I have heard some refer to the current storm of contradictory values as a second civil war. If it is a war, one battle is certainly about abortion, pro-life against pro-choice. Another battle is gay rights. I worry that in these conflicts there is not much sense of necessity pushing us toward common solutions.
Ted: I know I just said that the government can't mandate values, but our political system does wrestle with them. One of the most recent wrestles was the 1972 Roe vs. Wade decision which established an awkward chronological and medical approach to abortion. The Supreme Court has said that after a certain point you can't have an abortion, but prior to that you can. It's an arbitrary standard but the majority of the population accepts it.
The problem is how to make everyone happy about these difficult decions the government makes. Ideally, in a democracy, once there is a piece of major legislation or a court decision, everyone goes marching off together. The opposition is still loyal, if unhappy, and only seeks change through accepted processes.
The problem comes because for some values, the United States is a democracy, for some it is a looser confederation, and for some it is a loose collection of almost tribal communities. Even though the nation has the power to make laws and court decisions, there are some value areas where people stay angry for a long period of time. As our history suggests, sometimes these differences lead to violence and even revolution. Gay rights and abortion are certainly at the top of the list of issues that are likely to be divisive for a long time.
Carolyn: Certainly in the religious communities these are the "hot" items. I'd like to say something about them because they belong to a family of issues which I've come to think of as sexual issues. The fact is that human sexuality is a gift, in my perspective, and like any gift we can abuse it or we can give thanks for it and honor it. I don't expect commonality and agreement immediately on any of these questions, because the whole area of human sexuality in some ways is so mysterious to us and so below our level of conscious and rational thought—it's experiential and it's powerful—that we don't know what to do with it. We get our ideologies out of these powerful forces—physical, psychological and religious and all of that—and then when they hit the political arena, as Peter said, the shouting starts, the divergence begins. I think it's important to notice which issues fall into the category of sexual values. I think the role of women fits here, which may explain some of the controversy about so called "feminist" issues in recent years.
Peter: I think the sexual category is a particularly powerful one. It's powerful because it excites perfectly extraordinary fears, which may explain some responses to gay rights and some of the women's issues. People feel deeply threatened, and we become irrational when we are threatened. The more threatened we feel, the less likely it is we are going to be able to work things out in a rational way.
The women's rights movement has made many people of my gender feel threatened. "What happens if my wife makes more money than I do?" It can be very threatening to some men if their wife has a higher career profile than they do.
Carolyn: Well, that brings psychological values to the forefront. You seem to favor a rational or intellectual approach to values, but the fact is that on many subjects—women in public life and in leadership roles, gay rights—sometimes evidence makes little difference to people. You can cite all the proof you want and they still have the attitude that they don't like certain behaviors—"that's not us, and we are the majority." I worry that too many people don't want to look at individuals, to use Ted's lovely phrase, as integrated persons, separate from us but valued by God, and worthy of the dignity with which we regard all people. Too often, we categorize people in clumps by saying these are black people and therefore this, or these are gay people and therefore that, or these are women. I think we are learning the fallacy of lumping people together, but sometimes the learning process is slow.
Ted: I'd like to explore for a moment the role of religion as it relates to issues such as abortion and gay rights. I can understand why a church-going person might be anti-gay, for example, if they read only certain scriptures in the Bible. But there is a huge amount of tolerance and love in almost all scripture, and I'm not sure how people can focus on only a few verses and exclude the rest. I don't know how religions that are founded on love can be used as a basis for hating gay people. I'm not talking about discriminating against them, I'm talking about hating them.
Carolyn: Well, the word "hate" itself is not unfamiliar to the scriptures. Whenever I come across it in the Psalms I always kind of shiver a little bit. But one part of the answer, and it's just a small part I think, lies in how people approach scripture. Some think that the Bible is a book of rules and that every word is literally and absolutely true as written in a particular text. Others, as you point out, are able to look at the overall message of scripture which encourages us to regard the sanctity of life, to give thanks for life and the wonder of it, to love and tolerate. It is frustrating when some people focus on a few verses and conclude that they get to hate gay people. If we consider the whole, and the fact that we're all here on this earth as human beings, I find the preponderance of evidence to suggest a larger view, that not only can we tolerate those who are different, but we can accept and love them.
Elaine: For a moment, Carolyn, I almost felt hope. I've always thought that once values become resident in human beings, they are very difficult to change. But if we can suggest different processes, i.e., looking for a preponderance of evidence rather than isolated verses, maybe change is possible. That's why I've always held some hope for politics and law—both of these systems it seems to me evolved to help resolve conflicts or obtain a working compromise. Can we stay on the subject of conflict resolution and commonality for a while. The nation is deeply divided on many issues. We have here today representatives from religion, education, and politics. Is it possible to find common ground when disparate values are strongly held? Or are we doomed to yell at each other in an ever more angry conflagration?
Peter: Well, we certainly yell at each other a lot. And I worry that political and legal institutions aren't likely to bring about a sense of commonality. There are very severe limits on what legislation can be enacted. If the people in some large sense don't want a law, it's not going to work. Take prohibition, where we had a constitutional amendment prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages, but the people changed their mind and it was repealed. Closer to home, the legislated speed limit was 55 mph and for good reasons—to save gasoline and lives. But society again said no, and so we no longer have the 55 mph speed limit. The laws have changed, but the values behind them on either side have not. Talk to an active member of MADD about speed limits or alcohol consumption, the conflicts are still there.
That doesn't mean there's no hope. While legislative leadership is limited in its direct power to change values, govern ment is virtually unlimited and can probably be most effective in exemplifying values. We bring people along by consistent displays of what might be called virtue. Another thing that institutional leaders can do is to help people to learn how to accept other people, and to learn to communicate with other. Most of us tend to demonize groups of people that we don't know. We are afraid of those people over there. Forty years ago I used to hear people say that all black people look alike. There was an obvious reason for that statement, most white people were not accustomed to looking at black people, and when we encountered a black face, we looked away. Obviously, if you don't look at whole groups of people, they all look alike. Community leaders of all sorts, and I think religious leaders are particularly important here, can lead us by example and communication—not by handing down dicta or legislation, but by living and helping the community.
Carolyn: Thank you for the vote of confidence. I see religion as probably the broadest landscape we have. Religion to me is not a segment of life, but it is the place of integration of all the dimensions of our lives—public and private, community and family. I also understand the religious journey as a process of learning, where sharing the questions may be even more important than finding answers. I value my own religious community because it is a place where I can take my questions, my doubts, my concerns, and share them with other people in an open, trusting and loving context without it jeopardizing my membership in the community.
Maturity is also a part of the journey of religious life. We are not the same when we come to this point in our journey as we were when we set out as children. And I think maturity is about learning to live peacefully with unresolved questions and unresolved problems and learning to live peacefully with the people who embody those differences.
Elaine: We've talked about exemplifying values and increasing communication. How do we get the voices to speak and the ears to listen? How do we share the questions instead of the presumed answers? Is it possible to find a common voice?
Ted: Elaine, in that sequence of questions is a great answer. When I was Mayor of Salt Lake City, we had some really tough commu nity issues. I found the ones that tended to get solved were those that I really ventilated with community councils, the business community, and other segments of the community whether they were interested at first or not. There may have been a few grumpies at the end, but by being absolutely open, things tended to get solved. I think that the aeration process of opening up issues, as Carolyn has eloquently put it, to share the question, gives people a sense of ownership and sense of participation even though the final decision may turn against them. And that sense of ownership helps to balance the remaining negatives.
I observe discouraging trends in public life, but there are some encouraging ones, too. One is the neighborhood council movement which began in cities and now is spreading more regionally. Even some states are adopting councils where people come together to share questions and possible answers about things that are important in their lives.
I'm fascinated by the quick public release of all the tapes relating to the Starr investigation. At first I was horrified by it, there it all was on the television and on the Internet, all of it, and free of charge. But I think it was better to ventilate it, to allow people to make informed judgments for themselves—that's called aeration. Even though you had to explain things to your children that you may not have explained before. Openness is always better, even if what's going on is pretty bleak. I'm optimistic about the availability of information.
Peter: I'm guardedly optimistic. Let me give another example where a deep issue dividing society has not been resolved entirely but where progress has been made. A few years ago the state of Oregon was wrestling with fundamental health care concerns. I don't know who organized the efforts, but there were extensive and intensive community discussions all over the state of Oregon about what public health priorities should be and how people in Oregon should try to deal with the massive problems of health care cost.
We live in an age when extremely expensive medical treatments costing a quarter of a million dollars or more may only be of marginal utility. The question Oregon was trying to answer was how the state should allocate resources, and they followed a process similar to what Ted was talking about. Everybody was invited to participate in the discussion. The outcome didn't make everyone happy, because hard choices were involved. But the citizens felt satisfied in the sense that everybody had a chance to speak his or her mind and be listened to. So it can be done, even at the state level.
Elaine: Carolyn, are you optimistic about our capacity to resolve conflicts?
Carolyn: Well, I choose the word "hope" rather than optimism, but again, that's my language. I have a big sense of hope and I regard that as a gift. I don't know that I need a whole lot of evidence for it, but when I am genuinely hopeful I feel it is one of God's graces in my life.
In a hopeful vein, I observe that many of our great ethical dilemmas come from a conflict of positive values rather than where sets of good values are in opposition to bad. When we abstract values, it is easy to see how truth-telling and compassion can be in conflict, and how justice and mercy often disagree, and the differences can be irreconcilable. Yet we all would agree that truth-telling, compassion, justice and mercy are all positive by nature.
If we recognize that value differences will almost always exist, it seems to me that the Judeo-Christian tradition responds by emphasizing relationships rather than rules. Even the Ten Commandments are about our relationships with God and with each other. The scriptures emphasized over and over our place in the larger human community and in the community of God. That's how Jesus reaffirmed the Ten Commandments in his summary of the law, when he said, "ye shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and your neighbor as yourself." Paul reaffirmed that relationships extend beyond abstraction and principle when he said, "and the greatest of these is love." Augustan said, "Love God and do as you will"—in other words, if you love God, you will love what God loves and God loves truth, God loves justice, God loves kindness and those things, and so as you act, you will bring those values back in to heart and mind. Through action, you weave them back.
Now, in this context of relationships, look at the journey a human being makes in this world. It typically starts out in a family, and families are schools for values. They are not necessarily the value itself, but they are where we learn how they are made. And then we come to larger communities and get to deal with others outside of it. I think it is an incredibly great gift to embrace that journey and to say, I'm going to make that journey expecting that change will happen—both to me and my values as I mature, and indeed to the things that are held up for me by the society and the times in which I live. I don't have to deal with slavery, but my ancestors did. I don't deal with this or that, but others did, and grew from their experience. One of the things I have to deal with is pluralism and the fact that people I like and respect are on both sides of the pro-life and pro-choice issue. And I think that I will not be done until I've found a way to live peacefully on my journey.
Elaine: Any discussion of values today would be remiss if it did not consider what has gone on with President Clinton. How much damage has the President's actions done to the country and the presidency? What has the special prosecutor done to hinder or help the American political system?
Ted: The problem that we are faced with in the Clinton situation is trying to measure the nature of his success as President and balance that against his offences. I doubt that anyone in the country would back Clinton up for what he did. His behavior is offensive by any standard of values. But how do we measure the importance of this against the welfare of the nation? It seems to me that question has to come into play here. The framers of the Constitution left us a political process, and not a strictly legal one, when they defined impeachment because they wanted the House and Senate to be able to consider what was best for the country as a whole.
If we don't impeach Clinton or force him to resign, we must live with the fact that his acts send a bad moral message to our citizens. But if we do force him out, we must be prepared for the possibility that the country may stumble as we go through the pain and suffering of impeachment and bringing in a new president. It is a dilemma that is based not on good against bad so much as gray versus gray.
Peter: I agree with most of what Ted said, but if I were writing letters of censure, I would send strong letters to both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Starr. I believe that the two of them working together embroiled the nation in an absolutely squalid display and provoked discussion that ought never to have entered the public domain.
There is no question that President Clinton exercised terrible judgement trying to stonewall. I think he did lie and probably obstructed justice. But I think Mr. Starr played an equally terrible role in propelling us into a lurid discussion that has not helped either truth or justice. I think that it's just a very sorry devolution of public discussion.
Elaine: Maybe three letters of censure? One more to the press?
Peter: A lot of the question is political. I wonder if it is possible for the President to conduct his office for another two years. He may have been so politically weakened that he can't lead anymore. I don't think he'll be impeached and if he is, I don't think he will be thrown from office and I don't think he'll resign, but I think it's an open question of whether or not he can accomplish the things that need to be accomplished by the president. I find the whole thing deeply regrettable, and I don't have any other word for it than squalid.
Carolyn: I couldn't agree more with both of you. It is a deeply painful, lurid matter. And I ache inside for our country. I also hold many responsible for the progression of the situation to the political level it is now. When I first saw the grand jury tapes, my first instinct was the man should be fired—he should step out of public life. And then another day passed and I became concerned for the institution of the Presidency which is also something that we care deeply about. It may surprise you that I don't say, "Oh, we should forgive him," or that justice demands this punishment or whatever. I may get to that place, but right now I'm mostly responding as a citizen.
One of the things religion brings to the discussion, it seems to me, is an integral perspective on life and our interaction with God and with the world. In that interaction, the matter of significance always comes up—the need to see a bigger picture. When we look at the significance of Clinton's presidency, much of the public discussion come back to economics. He's been a successful President in getting our economy in order, and it may be that our forgiveness and our take on this whole thing is going to come out of the fact the public and political processes will want him to keep on doing more of the same so we can get more, have more, and keep more.
Ted: I'm struggling with the thing that none of us are prepared to do right now, and that is, do we forgive the President, or don't we? I'm not ready to do it, and yet my religion teaches me to. "Go my son and sin no more." But does that mean go back to Arkansas, or does it mean go take care of the situation in Iraq? I think most of us are struggling with those kinds of questions. Fortunately, our system allows us to take a deep breath as Congress will move into hearings and talk about it. There is time available here for answers to percolate. And they need to percolate, because they don't just jump out. The answers to complex questions are not linear. They come in from the angles, from the sides.
Maybe I'm just being a Pollyanna, but I think that our system is resilient enough, open enough, that it will allow the best thing to happen. And politics being what it is, sometimes a touch of irony occurs. The Republicans now with a little blood on their teeth will go to the back room and say, "Hey, do we really want Al Gore for two years as an incumbent and then have him become President on his own in the year 2000?" That's irony. Another might be that the Democrats may want to impeach him so they don't have to justify his behaviors to their constituents at election time. We're lucky to have a political system that is open enough to deal with these ironic forces in a way that creates a more common good at some point.
I want Clinton to be accountable. I don't want him to just skate on this, but on the other hand I admire his leadership, and this is not a time when we can afford a transition. So I hope that he'll be properly chastened, but will continue to lead for two more years.
Carolyn: You're suggesting forgiveness, but that is something that doesn't just happen because we say it. It is a process, and I think Clinton asked for forgiveness in a premature way. What he has done in my mind, is make religion and politics meet each other. Very often we try to keep them separate, but this is one of those times when they come together and the meeting has been a little awkward.
One of my favorite scripture stories is when the Prophet Nathan goes to David the King. Here is a religious figure confronting the highest political authority, and Nathan says to David, "You are the man." And he proceeds to outline exactly what David had done wrong, morally wrong.
Ted: He said, you've been messing with that woman.
Carolyn: That's right. David was the man who had done wrong, but I contrast his response to Nathan to Clinton's jumping from pastor to pastor until he found one that he liked. I don't know how much I believe in absolute values, but there is something screwy about too accessible forgiveness.
Elaine: Speaking of things that are screwy, I'd like to suggest we talk health care. Some estimates suggest that there are currently forty-one million people, many of them college students, who have no health care. They've chosen to marry, they are not under mom and dad's insurance anymore, and they don't have enough money to buy insurance themselves. Maybe one member of the couple works at McDonalds and the other at Pizza Hut, and they're both making the minimum wage which allows them to subsist. But neither of them have insurance, and they're making just enough money not to get government help.
Insurance is one part of the health care issue. Another is the human genome project which now or soon will make it possible for insurance companies to look at a complete genetic blueprint of our health. And as people with "pre-existing" conditions are now shunted to one side, what will we do when even more "pre-existing" or genetic conditions are identified. I short, I wonder if equitable, affordable health care is possible?
Ted: The only reason health care is a problem is that Americans for some reason don't think we have to die. And as a natural projection of that, as the ability of medical science to keep us from dying has increased, we all want to take advantage of it when we get sick. Not surprisingly, the result is totally exhausting the health care system. I agree, there is something seriously wrong when forty-one million young Americans have almost no health care access and an 80 year old person who happens to have insurance can obtain a heart transplant that may add a year of grudging life at a cost $200,000. I think we are too fixed on being afraid to die, and I think we don't fairly distribute health care access because of that.
Peter: Now I'm going to play the role of the economic theorizer. I agree with what Ted said and I think hard decisions need to be made, particularly about health care at the end of life. For a variety of reasons I happen to be in contact with a lot of elderly people, and I know that many of them have a long-term and futile end-of-life fear. And for most of us it is true that something like 80 percent of the medical care that we ever get in our lives will occur in the last three years.
So that is one part of the problem. But it goes beyond that. Consider also how much we spend not on health care directly, but on the operation of health insurance companies. By coincidence, the amount that goes into the business operation of health insurance companies could provide a decent minimum standard of health care for all of the 40+ million people Elaine and Ted talked about. In other words, what's happening is that we are siphoning off so much money into the insurance companies themselves that we don't have the funds to provide basic care for everybody.
As a civilized country it seems to me absolutely scandalous that we do not provide basic care for all citizens. If you are indigent and at the point of death, we may care for you; but for routine problems like immunizations or fundamental dental care, too many people are simply out of luck. One solution proposed is single payer insurance. Take my wife and I as an example. We occupy a lot of the attention of several clerks in our insurance company just juggling health care claims, because in complex ways our medical insurances are backups for each other. Every claim goes to one insurance company, then gets bumped to another company, and the cost involved is ludicrous.
People talk about the need to ration health care. Because of costs, we are already rationing it, but not in a particularly equitable fashion. To achieve fairness, we will likely confront the real possibility that there are some things that we can't afford to do. For instance, in England if you are 60 years or older, you are simply not a candidate for long term renal dialysis. You will not be sustained for years and years on a dialysis machine because it is too expensive. Personally, that's a decision I think is reasonable. If you're 60, you've had a turn and shouldn't draw down resources in huge amounts. When I was younger, I spent three days in a cardiac intensive care unit. The bill for that was $14,000—it would be higher now. I had no surgery. That was just the bill for being in the ICU.
Ted: Was that a good use of resources?
Peter: I like to think it was a reasonable expenditure of health care funds. But, if I have the same problem when I'm 80 years old, I don't think it would be a reasonable thing to do. I think there comes a time, and Governor Lamb of Colorado got in enormous trouble for saying this, in the autumn of life when the leaves have a duty to fall off the branch.
Carolyn: End-of-life care has become a bioethical issue because the advancements of technology deprive of us useful precedents. Earlier generations did not face the same decisions, so we can't look back to see what our parents did. Nor am I sure that the sanctity of life dictates absolutes about how we respond to this kind of problem, either the direct human situation or the allocation of resources.
I hear the word "equitable" and worry that we may again slip into talking about a system that is based on what you can earn—you will get health care on the basis of, not what you deserve but what you can pay for—and I find that not equitable. And I worry that health care is only part of that larger range of questions dealing with the gap between rich and poor. Do we really want to be in a society that lets everything ride on what a person can earn or afford. Frankly, I think we need to look beyond health, with all of its elegant technology and high costs, and consider the nitty gritty of how it really affects others and how it affects us.
What does it cost us to try to sustain life in a child who is born too soon to survive or born with incredible disabilities. If we argue for the sanctity of life, we should do everything we can to save such a child. But what are the costs to society, to the family? To what extent are others deprived? Maybe someday we'll look at genes, as Elaine suggested, and be able to say, this child is a liability, this one is not, and allocate resources accord ingly. But I don't know that we are worthy of managing genes just yet, or that we will be able to do it any better than we manage the rest of the world.
For me, caring for the health of human beings will always be partly tinged with a religious reverence for life. In the face of the incredible possibilities we have for relieving suffering and prolong life, even engineering it to some extent, justice suggests making primary health care available to everyone.
Elaine: When the Clintons first came to the White House, Hillary's first assignment was national health care reform. For her efforts she became one of the most hated women in America. Why is equitable health care such a controversial idea?
Ted: Fundamentally there are two great values in American politics, one is quality, the other is freedom. And people wanted to be free to get what they need out of the health care system—to get the doctors they want, and to have as many tests as their doctor orders.
Hillary Clinton came along and said that doesn't work anymore; it costs too much money. It's also important to note that our health care system was inflating at a rate of 13 percent a year, or four times the rate of inflation. So people were worried about costs, and when Hillary came along and said, you're also going to have to give up some of your freedom, they were ready to kill the messenger. People essentially said our most cherished political value is freedom, not equality. Equality comes second.
Carolyn: Are you sure of that, or was it partly because she was a woman?
Ted: There was some of that, too. Now that she has returned to being an ever-loving long-suffering wife, there's no question that she has gone up in the polls. It's discouraging to see how much value people put on information that is garnered primarily from television sound bites.
Carolyn: Bringing up television is very important. Not only do we place value on television, it is an irrational value given the way it forms and shapes us. We put our children in front of it from an early age. We think of the family unit as the place where basic values are formed, and it used to be that way. It used to be that when we sent children out the door to school, we were sharing them for the first time with the broader community. But that's no longer true. When you put babies and small children in front of television, you invite in values that are totally unaccountable, over which you have no control except to maybe shut off a few channels. And I think that's really going to be an important questions for us to face. I'm not saying that television has no worth, but there are people who would sell their soul for the kind of power that television has come to provide.
Ted: Carolyn has identified two great powers today, one is sex and the other is television. And now, television is marrying sex and creating incredible distortions of life in America, creating freak shows that people sit and watch all afternoon.
Carolyn: And it goes beyond our own children. I spend a lot of time with people from the Third World, and one of their complaints is that they now have the technology to have television sets in the poorest villages all over the world, but the content that comes on TV is straight out of America. And they are worried that this freaky vision of American values will override their native cultures. They are profoundly concerned that our display of things—ads that get kids to want this kind of shoes or jeans, or music—are seriously detrimental to the cultural norms of their society. And no one is accountable for that imperialistic imposition of values. Technological and economic powers have made it possible and a lot of people are left to deal with the consequences. They see it as a real violation of their traditions.
Ted: I was shocked walking through some dire slums of New Delhi a couple of years ago and seeing Bay Watch on TV.
Peter: Dallas was broadcast in 75 languages.
Ted: Whatever innocence may have existed in the world has now been stripped away, and they're right in it with the rest of us. It's very difficult.
Peter: We're bashing television, because of the way it influences children's values. That's only part of the problem. I think television also mitigates against creating communities. Television is a thoroughly isolating medium. People become attached to their TV and it becomes the primary source of information about the world. I regularly talk with the elderly, and what is striking about that community is that many of them know what they know about the world outside of their retirement community only from watching television. Not surprisingly, they are deathly afraid of the world outside. They think that, if they leave their apartment and go downtown, a taxi driver will rob them or someone will beat them up and kill them. Television's reinforcement of behavioral and racial stereotypes is absolutely appalling.
The idea of a civil body politic, people having shared interests and communicating with one another, especially across cultural divisions, is made very difficult by the fact that the source of information for too many people is contemporary television.
Elaine: When we start speaking of world communities, other issues come up immediately—population, resource allocations, race relations. Discussions of population often attack religion because some religions don't allow for contraception, or layer it with guilt if it is used, and by guilt I mean eternal damnation. As a result, population continues to grow and people are not taking responsibility for the strain that growth places on limited natural resources. Is this a case again of me, me—living for our generation with little concern for the future?
Carolyn: Well, I'm not going to wade into the waters of overpopulation at this point. My faith's tradition is very clear that children are a personal choice that families make. I do take very seriously, however, the need for environmental protection, and I worry that much of our past efforts are being wiped out by increasing population. But while it is a serious concern, I think it will work itself out, and I would not place the blame for population on religion. It's open to debate how effective religions are in dictating birth control practices to their members.
About the environment, religious people sometimes like to think of themselves as stewards of creation. But we don't always connect that stewardship with some of the things that we do to our water, our land, our air. I think of that lovely book of Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. That wasn't silent, it was a clear wake up bell. Silent Spring announces very explicitly that we have no alternatives. We are accountable for what we do, and to survive we will have to change. And how we manage that change is profoundly important. The problem is so serious that we may have to do some new things that our governments are not used to doing. And it's not just government. I see the major religions of the world having to come to terms with the fact that humans are not the only ones on the earth. Something's screwy if we think of ourselves as being near the top of a pyramid of values—God highest, then men, women, children, animals, plants, and so on down to the earth, air, and water. Thinking that hierarchically is all mixed up. The plants, animals, air, and water do not depend on us, we depend on them. So I think our religious teachings may have to be jostled a little bit as we learn to embrace and love neighbors that are not people who live next door or others that are like us, but embrace and love species and creatures and entire eco-systems.
Peter: Some political things can be done to address population. It would be unpopular in Utah, but it would not be an insuperable problem to change the tax structure so that we stop providing incentives for lavish reproduction. I like the idea of providing exemptions for two children. Beyond that, people shouldn't receive tax breaks for doing something that is not in the public interest.
I feel the same way about the environment. If people do things that are environmentally destructive, there should be economic incentives for not doing it. We should find ways to make polluters pay for the cost of what they do. Take highway construction and highway usage, for example. The highway system we began to build in the 1950's is one of the great environmental problems. It started out as a matter of national defense, but it killed the passenger railroad system and made the automotive air pollution a problem in every urban area in the country. Worse, we continue to subsidize this incredibly polluting process with more road building.
Ted: I think overpopulation is huge and scary. I think the solution in much of the Third World lies in empowering women with the status of choice in their lives. A lot of overpopulation would not occur if women had the choice of going into the working world. We've seen that right here in Utah. Our birth rate has dropped substantially as we've gone up to 64 percent of women in Utah working outside the home-this, in spite of the huge amount of religious pressure to stay at home and raise a large family. Women going out and going to work, shoosing professions, choosing active community life, causes them to want to have fewer children. It's a natural thing.
Carolyn: Maybe a little more protection for women can be put on the revolution's agenda.
Ted: Yes, protection and educational opportunities. But I think you will begin to see world populations move downward. In the United States, the population line right now is close to flat. It's declinging in Europe to the point that 10- 15 years from not they are projecting huge labor shortages. And in the third world, the women's revolution is catching on.
Elaine: You almost convince me to join Carolyn in becoming hopeful. Not optimistic, but hopeful. So let me bring up one last value concern. I am concerned with how hard it is for men and women, for people of different races, and persons of varied sexual preferences, to get along with each other. A year ago, California decided to get rid of Affirmative Action in as many areas as it could. Are we close enough to equal treatment in society that we no longer need AA around?
Ted: California's the state of what's happening now, and generally what happens there will happen in Utah 20 years later. I find it interesting that the fight on Affirmative Action there was led my a black man, Ward Connery, who said I'm tired of being condescended to, and if my children go to a college, I want them to be there out of merit. It's hard to find fault with that. In fact, I think that that should be the end goal of Affirmative Action-helping us all to get there on merit. But I don't think as a country we're there yet.
Peter: I think this is another one of those issues that's being swallowed up in utterly nonsensically rhetoric. The whole discourse about denying white males places or turning them away in favor of less meritorious minority candidates is absurd. Ninety-three percent of the middle and top level management positions in every occupation in this country continue to be occupied by white males. I don't think there is a big threat that black people and women are going to take all those jobs away. Affirmative Action may have done badly in some cases, but the basic idea is still urgent and needed.
Carolyn: My own take on Affirmative Action is similar to the way I feel about universal health care. Educational opportunity should be made available to people independent of their means and independent of a lot of other things it depends on right now. I think, however, that we have learned quite a lot as we went though the Affirmative Actin experiment. I don't regret that. I think it was good for us to have to look closely at what we call a remedial or bridge way into society, as long as we remember that membership in an equitable society should never be contingent on birth, color, sex, wealth or what-have-you. Ecclesiastes suggests that for everything there is a time and a season, and it may be that the time and season of Affirmative Action was here for a purpose, and the significance of it will continue to affect all of us as we look for other ways to integrate and include all people in the privileges of this society.
Elaine: I am intrigued that religion, philosophy, and politics have mixed so profoundly in this conversation. Your insights and voices speak substantially to the issues. And while we've just been able to touch the surface, I've felt rewarded for being able to listen and be here with you. Thank you all very much.