by Anthony Painter
It has been clear for some time that class-based models of political behaviour have weakened to the point of uselessness. The question is what to replace them with. Human beings are not just a set of individuals impervious to external influence. In fact, we are deeply influenced in ways that we don’t realise. It turns out that that what drives us is values.
Values are the deep undercurrents of individual motivation. They heavily influence our shopping habits, our choice of partner, our cultural interests, our work, and our politics. We don’t just wake up one day and decide that we are going to hold a certain set of values. It is something which occurs in response to our needs. If we are hungry then our values will gear us towards abating our hunger. If we need the esteem of others then our values will guide us in that direction. And if we need to attain ethical wisdom then that is what we will spend our time doing.
It is these deep values that Chris Rose explains in this powerful and exciting look at what makes humans tick. Maslow was right: we do have a hieracrchy of needs and this book presents the evidence behind the theory. It is built around decades worth of data about values and value shifts in society. The evidence base comes from a guy called Pat Dade who runs a company called Cultural Dynamics. I’ve met Pat on a number occasions and he is one of the most inspirational people I’ve come across in my professional life. This book explains his life’s work. Anyone engaged in politics, business, human association of any kind who hasn’t read this book is missing the full picture. It’s all in here.
To understand the insights it is necessary to understand that all societies break down into three broad value-sets: settlers, prospectors, and pioneers. As Rose explains:
“For Settlers, the deep forces draw people to seek out safety, security, identity and belonging. For Prospectors, it is the yearning for success, the search for esteem of others, and self-esteem, while for Pioneers, the constant drive is for new ideas, the quest for connections waiting to be made, and living a life based on ethics.”
That’s humanity in a paragraph. Our behaviours, opinions, actions are all in some way linked to these sub-conscious value sets and the needs they respond to. Societies change over time as values shift. Individuals shift their value sets over time too. Understanding these value shifts is key to understanding politics, business, religion, culture: society.
Earlier this week I wrote a strident critique of the claims of the Occupy London protestors that they were representative of the 99%. The simply fact is that there is no 99%. As things stand – though it does shift – we have a society that is 41% pioneer, 31% settler and 28% prospector. Portsmouth University political theorist Ed Rooksby shot a tweet in criticism of my argument to the effect that I was frightened of offending the middle-classes. But, of course, it is pioneers who are in those tents outside St Paul’s and they will be pretty middle-class in the main. The protestors will have more of a problem with many other pioneers who, having their own mind, will disagree with them. Prospectors who are probably more interested in shopping and fun unless Occupy becomes more fashionable (think The Only Way Is Essex), and settlers who recoil at disorder will also present a large obstacle. There is no 99% behind any given solution: we have a divided sociey and that’s how it will remain.
But this creates problems for anyone looking to construct political movements and coalitions of all types, not just the protestors. In the post-class politics era (but not, please note, post-class) political motivation and allegiance is more contingent, fluid, and free-flowing.
What Red Tories and traditionalists see as a liberal conspiracy in the creation of our individualistic society is actually a perfectly explicable social development. As our society moved into greater prosperity; as the threat of cataclysmic war receded, then social, economic and political freedom became highly desirable. We give those baby boomers a hard time, but they were the first generation who were able to enjoy social, sexual, political, cultural and economic freedom as the historical context shifted. This wasn’t done to us by a liberal elite. This happened and we need to be aware of what happened and why. We became prospectors and pioneers instead of settlers. Rose quotes the work of Ronald Ingelhart on the rise of post-materialist and secular values approvingly. We just haven’t yet found an intellectually honest way of understanding it. What makes people tick is one contribution to that.
And these insights explain much of what is happening in the political world currently. Here is Rose on Ingelhart:
“Ingelhart predicted in 1977 ‘declining rates of elite-directed political mobilisation and rising rates of elite-challenging mass activity among Western publics’ – in other words, declining participation in formal elections, and rising participation in things like campaigns, boycotts and petitions. This is, of course, exactly what has happened, as these are the activities of the Pioneers, with their latest expression found in new powerhouse groups such as www.avaaz.org, www.getup.au, www.moveon.org and www.38degrees.org.uk“.
The rise of the Greens, the Pirate Party’s success in Europe, but also the attraction of the far right to the settler mentality, are all contained within this understanding. The riots can be seen as the violent expression of a particular group within prospectors. Understanding people through their values is key to explaining political behaviour and much else. It also disciplines us to realise how it’s not just clever marketing that achieves political change. It’s also about understanding people through their values and needs. Rose quotes George Lakoff on framing approvingly. Lakoff has been used to hoodwink the left into believing that all it requires is cleverer arguments to win the day. To certain extent, yes, but it must also be aware of the limits it faces – people’s individual values in all their variety.
There is nothing I can say to recommend this book more highly. If you don’t understand its argument you don’t understand modern politics. Buy it, read it, absorb it, and then think about what it means in practice. It will challenge your assumptions and change the way you look at things completely.
Anthony Painter is a writer and critic.