Gateway to ideas; 6; Who Sets Standards and Values
Gateway to ideas. Gateway to ideas. A new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading. Today's program. Who sets standards and values is moderated by Virginia Petersen noted author and critic. Our guests today are Dr. Terrence Hopkins associate professor of sociology at Columbia University or author of the exercise of influence in small groups and a book on evaluation research. And Mr. Harding Lemay lecturer a critic and publishing executive. The subject of who set standards and values is certainly a fascinating one. But at the moment it seems rather elusive. I think we have to decide what
standards what values we are about to talk about intellectual standards moral values standards of behavior merely standards of taste own experience and I think almost all standards and values come from one basic definition and that's ethics. What is right and what is wrong or what is good and what is bad perhaps and I think if we start with ethical values what people do today and how they're influenced to do what we consider either right or wrong or harmful or helpful. Dr. Hopkins is by way of being an expert on the subject of who determines these values. If indeed anyone determines them if they haven't been inherited from a bad boom like forbears I'm not sure. But would you say Dr. Hopkins that we have an elite of opinion molders who established standards and values for everyone. Well. We say we are assuming of contemporary United
States. Well yes I think we have to confine ourselves to what we know a little about. And I think that. They're two very different pictures. One can draw about the maintenance of values and standards contemporarily one is in terms of any given person. And where do his values and terms come from and how are they maintained or eroded as the case may be. And generally here we think in terms of his immediate social circle people whom he regularly deals in the course of his work. If you then shift your focus and say OK but for the society as a whole is there a set of common values and common standards and what maintains or erodes DS then I think you have to say that well there are obviously some groups in this society some particular people who are much more influential in affecting this general generally held set of values than other people. I mean what would that person's profession be do you think. Oh I suppose
one has to say some of our clergy in this context clear not as much as one would have said 50 years ago and out of the case but obviously the important group our political leaders are really important to continually appeal to and raise sentiments and try to emphasize some values instead of others. And how about the groves of academe whence you come. Publicly they also raise and emphasize certain values. We're not coarse I think well all of these agencies. You're lovingly talking Dr. Hopkins about what I would call the formal and the recognized agency right. I like to take you a little further into the unofficial ones because in my mind the greatest influence in American life today is combined with what we call communications to newspapers. Right. In Motion Pictures radio and television that there are in our time since the Second World War things on the front pages of newspapers about the personal lives of public and usually entertainment figures which would never be in the papers before that time were
young famous couple who are not married and living openly together. And it is used as a tremendous gimmick. And newspapers and in radio and television. So the influence on the young people today since I believe firmly that people imitate what they see rather than listen to what their elders tell them seems to me to be completely dominated by public figures. Those figures come right into your homes today you watch them on television and it seems to me that is what is demoralizing the influence of the religious leaders the educators and even further the legal guardians of our culture the law has very little forward and I think perhaps the first thing I'd say is that the. If you take that first focus I suggest I give an individual and his immediate groups really the great importance of mass communications. It has destroyed the kind of local Unity and the local consensus
that used to ship be shaped around an individual and you can now have the mass communications coming in and providing any given person with a whole set of possibly different turnitin views from those which the people right around them have undue Corson's all the people around them are also individuals and they're also subject to these massive mass communications. It's sort of they all sort of turn away from one another and begin by looking towards this book by Margaret Hall's that called pseudo ethic in which she maintains that we give lip service to one set of standards and values and actually follow another and I think outside of that I think she's quite right and I don't think that's new By the way. Oh no I think I've always give you a listen if his one way and practice but I think even those people who used to be the. People we looked up to and from whom we took our moral and ethical values no longer are there giving them to us. One of the most popular new books new novels out which is a literary tour de force in many ways is a book called A
mother's kisses by Bruce Jay Friedman. Now when I was my 8 year old son's age the book about a mother and her son was Madame X as I remember my mother was reading it years ago. Another famous book of that generation was sorrow and son about a father and his son. This is so old fashioned today that if you happen to be unfortunate enough to have a share amount of affection for your parents you're considered a creep. And this mother's kiss is a brilliant literary thing to me but it is also in many ways a symptom of what is wrong. It's all written from content relationship most of us were brought up to believe was a good healthy and almost necessary relationship. The protective mother. I don't want to. I dressed myself directly to whether a protective mother is good or not but I would like to question the assumption that somehow the values that were held 50 years ago were either better or that there was even any more consensus on them than there is now. Well I don't mean to imply you are in Tennessee because I'm more inclined to go along with Mr Friedman in
his book than I am with mathematics. There are destructive might is what I'm saying is that years ago cliches your flag your country your mother and your church I suppose were when I was a boy at least where the things everybody in your community said you had to respect and admire. It's rather cruel to call them cliches because things only become cliche because they're true. Yes you know I've been trivial. No I don't think that's necessary. I was wondering if you people wouldn't concede that the argument which I have seen beautifully expressed by James Reston in the New York Times that Goldwater was unfortunate appealed to the American public at the moment is based in a very real thing and that is a nostalgia for these same moral values which as a nation we more or less unite in feeling being lost. Well we we claim to have held some people claim to have held in the past but after all Sinclair Lewis whose whole major contribution.
You guys are certainly drivers are a whole generation essentially so forth that even at that time in earlier these were not the reigning values they sort of seem like it's a little difficult then for people who are now the generation which was growing up then to claim that at that time those were the reigning values since the contemporary evidence from that period says they were but they were not the writers of their time there was much. Well yes but I would also like to point out that what has happened is that the thing that used to be true and practiced in the bedroom has moved right now right out onto the front porch that they have that there has been a change in public sexual standards there can be no doubt. So is it a change that has been foisted on us by books by what I like to call the zipper and Button school. Is it a change that we have for St. rite publishes expressly encouraging all of those to go for more in order to get sales.
Is there a real demand from us. I'm very eager to answer that because it's an accusation everybody who works in publishing hears and it seems to me that all publishers want are good books and what determines good books or even saleable books and it's not it's not even saleable books is not the publisher but the audience the public and there is no doubt that you could you could publish probably. Number fullish they're doing it very old fashioned novels today and you would get two or three thousand readers. You can publish something better than old fashioned and still containing ethical and moral standards as classes recent books the rector of Justin and get much more than that in sales but the tendency today and I agree with it is to bring everything out in the open in literature literature it to me as always been a reflection of society doesn't create society. The writer doesn't get his material out of the thin air he gets it from looking at the people around him. But in the matter of the of the sexual explicitness in current literature it is done. Surely for a different reason than say a D.H.
Lawrence did it in Lady Chatterley's Lover because he really had if one can say sell high I marvel put it he was a lady lover but there's no longer that. Well again I think one has the sort of simple distinction what a publisher wants what an author may want and the effects of a publication of the work may be quite different. What the. Obviously one important facts of D.H. Lawrence writing was to eventually create a kindlier tradition in which this kind of writing is alright it's non shocking and it encourages both other authors to write in this vein and it also encourages people to think that's not shocking. Well he wasn't so much the writing as he wished people to no longer be shocked by the so-called facts of life. I don't think I think that's why Terry Southern's Candy is almost an essential book today because we've gone so far it's very hard to shock us you can only shock us now by laughing at the thing we take seriously. And Candy is one enormous and to me and
uproariously funny parody and it is I suppose if you read it quite seriously you would be quite shocked. But look today the last 20 years. People say things to each other they never would have said before little children no words and perhaps they always did that and even their parents don't know. And it seems to me that books are always just catching up with society they're not leading society. Sometimes I think they do what the big the big sociological books the great writers and serious novice Ham are all read Origin of this year yet he says These people certainly provide all the right the left and Darwin I would say and I don't think I don't agree that you know I think you've been talking about sexual standards and clearly what Freud opened the doors to creation all in the second not only sex but Freud opened the door into the self-examination and into the why do we do the thing we do and what does it mean in terms of our total experience. If there's one thing that I feel strongly about now is that there is talking about influences and what I think are cliques within the influencers. There is a great
tendency to accept anything which is self analytical as better than anything that is not I think saw fellows know Naama hurts our view is a perfect example of that it's a kind of intellectual narcissism that you know isn't very interesting really unless you're terribly interested in the author's particular problems. Well it's the same old problem of the of the frame of reference of the self being the most important one which is part of a new point of view about ethics and standards because that used to be the question raised by Christ I believe originally that one line was a rigid one had to lose oneself to find oneself and that has gone completely out hasn't you know I wonder I think. Right now I have to fall back on Luke Usher's religion in our time where he draws a fairly sharp sharp draws a very useful distinction in the application of stream of consciousness say applied by Thomas contrasts with Joyce's application and the function of
it within the literature I think that's shifted but now we're getting sort of offer or subject I think. Well I don't think you're soundly on the subject because stream of consciousness is certainly a part have of my evaluation since it means that the evaluation of the self comes first and foremost in the creative act. Well this is a very important I would add not only in the creative act in the sense of response that is you asked when you see something you don't ask some how is it good is it right what does it mean you say. Do I like it. Yes. Actually isn't it Dr. Hopkins that the work of art or work of anything that you're watching or reading brings its experience to you and you bring your experience to it and somewhere you meet. But we are taught to sort of appreciate things first and so-called godly fashion we're supposed to respond or react to it. This is a famous name rather than we get back to who teaches because if we're trying to settle who set standards and values we are I suppose discussing the instance of the home when after all the whole modern
educational principle is that the child is formed in the first very early years and therefore. Do parents as stablish once and for all certain patterns of behavior and certain concepts of good and bad or don't. Some do some don't. I mean it's like I think you're just I think the point is theoretically in good deal dispute. As you get Orthodox for audience who hold character is determined by early Family Association period and the rest of life is working out of it. And you get other people who hold that no other important influence has gone through it's up to ten others who hold no other continual developments and modifications. Just some things that we ask in this we go oh no you cannot just in a bad way from their primitive nation a few times. Yes well I agree the problem of conformity that everybody is saying I think that today you know Americans very often seem to be slightly insane when they get a phrase they can use and
I've heard for the last 15 years attacks on the American from conformist as if conformity were merely an American or an American phenomenon. There are a lot of people who ride that horse I mean Vance Packard has ridden it till it's exhausted it's lame it's black but I swear that the same people on the other hand my Mari M.A. in Moore and I go Sydney rides a great deal better than Vance Packard achieved I think considerable influence in the sense that a great many people have read a book and a great many people agree with or that we are under a tyranny of conformity. I read a book and I don't agree with it. But I don't understand because some people argue about Terry and for me will tell you the standards and values have disintegrated. What I mean. Either you have standards and values shared which you must conform and then you can have shared values and conformity but if the absence of shared values I don't see how you can have a meaningless share the absence has been well but I don't think there's conform to it much less actually you know I don't believe in it yet I don't believe in that whole business and I think the book at least within books and I think
books play a very small part if any influence and not enough people read in this country for a book to be effective and certainly not enough people read the very important books but when you compare the let's take the influence on the younger intellectuals in New York of the European film. Yes very much stronger than any book Fellini and I can't pronounce their names but all the Italian directors have much more influence on the young man Friday and and the Swedish right then they have as much if not more than books had in my generation and what have the young intellectuals into and any influence on the rest of the country. I don't know about young in influence or any liberal actually but again let me move away for a little bit from the easily identifiable groups are supposedly identifiable to another notion Paula. Professor Khan has developed national Two-Step flow. Influence and in relation to use the mass media. What does that mean well that most
people are simple called personal influence. Most people are not that influenced directly by the mass media. But there is in any given community or grouping there are local influentials and these men on the one hand do depend to a great extent upon the mass media and say news magazines and so forth their thoughts are shaped by these materials and they in turn are the ones to whom people in the community. Turns out they were their idea that it was magazines and so there is a kind of filtered influence of some consequence and I think the same would be true of books where books music I just had so much you can read you can you know get along very well without reading books if you read the proper reviews. You know if you read The New Yorker thoroughly and time was about not to know you have to read the book. Many of us know that in publishing that you can meet people who pretend they've read books who've never cracked the book for six months. They just read or write but they have opinions everybody. If you want. Has it been everything you believe that the opinion
filters down from some hidden in some things there is this kind of national You get the impression that there's a kind of national thing when it filters through successive groups even when you live long enough times there were what I was getting to I thought this question who set standards and values is sort of loaded in its assumptions and presumes there is someone there is an answer to it and I would start right off by saying you know I don't think the question is well put. I would say somehow more generally or vaguely what maintains or change of standards and values yes. But Dr. happy as you were just saying about the filtering done out there's another part of this that intrigued me recently and that is not the thing that filters down the thing that explodes up such as men's shoes styles come from. Harlem Yes that's going to part of it in a cultural way but also the very rich kids who most of us think you know our kids we have everything we want to rip up a mansion out in Southampton or wherever it was to go hard there were riots in the summer not the negro riots but the riots this summer among the teenagers in certain resorts and there is something that is filtering
and setting off a fuse somewhere it seems to me. Well filtering down a filtering up doesn't filter up it just it just blows the mix of one comment and then come to that because I think it's extremely important extremely informative that is on this notion of filtering down there is a certain tenancy to think of there being an organization of this. And if somehow some people are in charge of it or the conspiracy that's probably doesn't exist. Second like there is evidence that there are many standards and values are locally held for which there's no direct hook up and they're even important class distinctions so that people working class are not very influenced by middle class people the middle class are not very influenced by upper middle or upper class in some areas you really close to other distinctions such as pseudo sociology upper middle and middle middle and lower middle and lower. That such distinctions exist I think it is obvious they're drawn. I think they are useful sometimes in thinking
about certain. Well there are a lot of like that in our literature on this but again you come back to books. The last record of Justin is our middle class to me. You know speaking just as where it belongs in a cultural sense. Saul Bellow is an intellectual. Yeah I don't think it's very good of its kind. That's where it belongs and then you should be on your ass for the lower classes among the readers. And so these classes exist as more or less I suppose you are forced into some identification of ourselves within the group. We seem to belong to all of us. I say I think so I think but you know continually subject to the one of great effects of mass communication has been to to break down some of those what I call local I don't necessarily mean Geographic that's where all the trouble is starting nobody knows where he belongs anymore so do you. Don't you think we ought to you ought to issue an opinion on the subject of whether this is or is not a post Christian era as some of the
intellectuals Mr. Limbaugh talks about have have called it a post-Christian has been I think possible expression and you know I suppose it's a possible expression I find then a very exciting debate. The ecumenical council would be sort of dismissed historically whereas I think they probably had problems generate a promise of a livelier. Concern with values and standards internationally and we've ever had. Doesn't it seem to you that the people who are food to a post-Christian era are making the mistake of thinking that because a great many people have fallen away from their faith and revealed religion that they have also fallen away from the from the gospels the teachings of the Gospels because those really at least we still give lip service to don't we do we've never done much better than that outside of the puppets today. I don't find lip service to the Bible anywhere in Congress of course but that's another part it isn't a question that it's a question of honesty and
being our brother's keeper. But sometimes you look under what will you think you know may not want to but you don't know you well are you Hitler's keeper Eichmanns keeper I mean there's a point where the yes and the other hand should we should have been we should run kept him and that's a bad pun I think in this case. I think that in this post Christian thing there is a sense in which it's a post-Christian world I'm not sure that we're so much falling away from we meaning the Merican middle classes which have been predominately Christian. I don't think directly they're falling away greatly but obviously in an international sense it's a post-Christian or there are now world religions a variety of all sorts are becoming increasingly important to the great Indian continent Chinese sub continent Japan and so forth in that sense we're very much a post-Christian era that Christianity will no longer be a religion associated with the few dominant powers in the known world. Russia
without a commitment to any of the major world religions of usual classification and so forth. And in that sense yes it will be a post-Christian there. But I think you know Christianity is a sort of general sayings will certainly survive. I'm glad to hear you say that. I mean it's always great to see one of the things that airplanes and our communication systems have done is to bring India so much closer to an American so that of course Christianity will survive but it will not survive by dismissing or eradicating everything else if we're all going to have to survive. All of us whether we're in Christians or not Christians and we are getting there. It's and I think that they're all in tremendous fertile invention of the 20th century has done this motion pictures airplane the automobile. Well do you really think that motion pictures are set standards. Well I think motion pictures have the greatest influence at least I did in my generation and I think in my children's generation they are having it in another way because I include television in motion pictures it's a visual thing that I grew up together.
But I take influence I knew as a country boy I learned more about life through the motion pictures that there was a way of living I didn't know anything about that way. The automobile helped me to get to it and my children watch things on television which I was not even aware of as a child and they know it and they can discuss what's going on in Mississippi because they watch the news and they see it and there is a great kind of an outside of this country this is even more. Yes. Where it's needed so much more desperate need or not you'll destroy the local values noser here but clearly the. Just the United States after all has been fairly parochial Now as you say Indian influence among the intellectuals and the influencers and the enormous influence of variety of writings that come in now regularly in this country has all affected the kinds of values we have. And but they our values have to be affected because the world the structure the world we live in has obviously changed. You would say wouldn't you. Both of you. That moral values
come within the polarization of good and evil. And do you think that we have by and large the same concept of good and evil to have a concept of good and mysterious results here. You know but it seems to me that it's very difficult to talk about good and evil now that we can or shouldn't be eternal now that we can no longer turn to the Gospels because life is much more complicated than it ever occurred to people but it's never less good or less evil and I don't agree with that. And I think that also what you think is good I may not think is good what I think is good you may think is evil. But the point is we have a concept of it which we do I think almost all of us have concepts of what we may be thwarted we say that's the nature of human society to have conceptions of good and evil. But that's what it's based on. Well that's an interesting part is that we're hearing from what I think I used I said our listeners Take for instance things that you know I think back to the Winter of Our Discontent the book that was mentioned by the Nobel Prize about honesty in American society today. That was an indication that we have no sense.
Well James will because he said the same thing and by a lover possessed continued. Do you really think it has become worse and I think political corruption has decreased considerably compared with what I know of political corruption in the United States in the 1890s 19:00. Well I'm afraid we can't go on anymore it seems as though you had said that standards and values are set more or less by a consensus somewhere but not by any particular group of people upon any other group of people and thank you very much indeed. Dr. Hopkins and Mr. Le May for being with us. You have been listening to gateway to ideas a new series of conversation in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading today's program. Who set standards and values as presented Dr Terrence Hopkins associate professor of sociology at Columbia University and Harding Lemay lecturer critic and publishing executive. The moderator was the Julia Petersen noted author and critic. To extend the dimensions of today's
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