This article will be a brief, semi-philosophical paper about a concept which I call the unity of value and action, a principle which I use to interpret human interactions. I conceived it with influence from Occam's razor as well as the work of existentialists and (to a minor extent) Ayn Rand. The essential meaning of the unity of value and action is precisely how it sounds: that one's action is a value and that one's value is an action.
For a useful example let me provide the story of an old friend. This friend (friend1) had another friend (friend2) who frequently did things that offended friend1, to the extent that friend1 would often come and talk to me about friend2 behind friend2's back. But week after week, no matter how many complaints friend1 brought against friend2, and no matter how many times friend1 would tell me that he was absolutely done with friend2, and that he never wanted to interact with friend2 again, I would continue to find the two of them hanging out. During these periods friend1 would act as if nothing whatsoever was wrong, and would never confront friend2 about the issues between the two of them. What is the point of this example?
The purpose of friend1's gossip was essentially to make the point that friend2 was undesirable and that friend1's values were such that they were incompatible with friend2's. Yet this was constantly undermined by the way in which friend1 would continue to interact with friend2 as if nothing was wrong. In these cases the justification is always that while friend2 is awful, a douchebag, an asshole, etc., friend1 has some other ulterior motive in interacting with friend2. Maybe it's because friend2 has something that friend1 wants from him, or because circumstances were such that friend1 didn't want to be rude or uncouth himself by outright rejecting friend2. But in this case, as with all cases, friend1's actions spoke louder than his words.
The unity of value and action makes the statement that all values are actions and vice versa. What this means is that while friend1 was constantly telling me that his values existed in one manner, his actions betrayed that these values were actually quite different. No matter how many times you tell someone that you hate a person, it is clear that you don't hate them very much if you continue to keep them in your life. Of course there are reasons for why you keep them, and of course they can be ulterior, but this doesn't change the fact that these reasons are precisely the real values that lead to this course of actions. In short, friend1 really did value friend2, and his actions would prove so no matter how much shit he talked to me behind friend2's back.
Of course, this doesn't mean that in choosing this course of action, one is wholly and completely endorsing it. Just because friend1 still hangs out with friend2 doesn't mean that his complaints to me cease to exist or become meaningless. It simply means that friend1 has weighed all options and judged that friend2 is worth hanging out with despite these issues. Perhaps friend2 is rude and deluded by friend1's standards, but friend1 enjoys hanging out with friend3 and friend4, who are more closely related to friend2 and thus would be offended if friend1 rejects friend2. Perhaps friend1 decides that friend2's virtues make up for his vices, or that friend2 has some other thing which friend1 will have access to only by continuing to be friend2's friend. Whatever the case, each time friend1 continues to interact with friend2, a statement is made: that friend2's friendship is worth more than his enmity.
This principle is heavily founded on existentialist principles. Heidegger uses the example of a man chasing a bus; as Dasein (being in the world) this man is not a distinct man with his own characteristics who also happens to be chasing a bus on top of that, but rather, this entire scene can be considered as man-chasing-bus, that the man and the bus are unified by the action of this chase and therefore the man ceases to have his own distinct qualities as he chases the bus, instead choosing to be caught up in this unity of multiple constructs which thus creates the greater construct man-chasing-bus. He cannot be disengaged from his actions, in acting he unifies himself in acting towards another object in the world and therefore becomes his actions, rather than simply doing or undertaking them.
Rand made the statement that if ever one's principles and their intended results are not in sync, it is necessary to check one's principles, as one of them must therefore be wrong. In essence this has a similar meaning to the principle of Occam's razor, which states that the theory with the fewest presuppositions (principles) is superior to another, so long as they are both equally effective at explaining the theorized. Occam's razor encourages checking one's principles to a similar extent, and is one of the major influences on my theory of the unity of value and action; if it appears that one's values are in direct contradiction to one's actions, then one must check their presuppositions, at which point one discovers that in reality there is no contradiction, as one's actions must always be an expression of their values.
There are two major implications of this theory. First is that human beings are actually much more changeable in their motivations than they like to believe. This isn't necessarily a huge philosophical statement, as it functions more as an illusion-shattering critical statement. When friend1 comes to me to complain about friend2, his actions are stating that in that moment he prefers to focus on friend2's shortcomings over his values. In compliment, when friend1 goes to hang out with friend2, his actions state that he has rejudged friend2 and decided that his values are more important than his shortcomings. Friend1 changes opinion thus every time that he goes back or forth. People like to think of themselves as highly stable, but this is not the case; at all instants we are undertaking different actions, even if we like to think that these actions are related to previous ones. Our values are not set but are constantly shifting, always adapting themselves to the present circumstance. (I plan to speak about my theory of circumstance in a future post.)
The second major implication is that each and every action is a choice. This is in line with the existentialist view that man's actions are the sole way of making his own meaning in the world. In acting, the existentialist believes, man is always already making value, he is stating that he prefers this action to all others, bestowing that action with meaning. If value and action are unified, then each and every action is also a value choice. What does this mean?
It means that action and choice are also unified in a certain sense. If each action is a choice, then it could be said that even a slave chooses to continue existing under slavery. The slave continually chooses to uphold the institution of slavery by continuing to exist under it, rather than be punished or killed. Of course, the tragedy of slavery is that this choice is always a forced one; between annihilation and oppressive work regimes, most will always choose the oppressive regime, for they judge continued existence to be preferable to death. Indeed, most people are at all times (except in the case of those few reckless people who act without any regard for their own safety) choosing to continue living over all other things.
As life is the basis of expression for all choices, so the primacy of continued existence is unquestioned as the creator of values. Even most major religions acknowledge this by condemning suicide, the potential for non-living value creation, as a sin; in this way they recognize the primacy of existence even as they claim that their afterlife is superior to this one. The suicidal man or woman presents the greatest threat to existing ideological systems not because it is a sin or because it contradicts God, but because it represents a massive paradigm shift of which all ideologies created by living humans are incapable of following. Heroism or overflowing courage often puts other values before life and thus puts the hero in reckless disdain for his/her own well-being; this represents an effort at making values universal even beyond the point of death, a respectable but ultimately always impossible undertaking. Death represents the death of action and therefore the death of value and meaning, the death of choice.
Every choice is also a negative action in the same way that it is a positive one. In order to uphold this one value, this one course of action, it is necessary to discard all other possibilities. For each action taken there are a practically infinite number of actions which could have been taken instead, even if many of these are minor variations on each other. In choosing this one action, you are also choosing above all other potential actions and thus discounting them. This is the meaning of Sartre's belief of the negative dimension of human existence, in his claim that humans are the source of all negativity; human choice is negative far more than it is positive, for in making one choice an infinite number of other choices must be discounted, and one is nothing to infinity.
Friend1 remains in a state of bad faith, of refusing to not be what he is not, so long as he truly believes himself to hate friend2 despite their continued relation. Friend1 achieves a state of good faith (or rather, better faith) by either amending his values to be in line with his actions (admitting that he really does appreciate friend2, and thus in the process ceases to talk about friend2 behind his back) or amending his actions to be in line with his values (by refusing to interact with friend2 anymore). He has thus grasped life in the right way, without illusions, and achieved a unity of facticity and transcendence, the existentialist ideal. Apply the unity of value and action to your own life, and you may be surprised about what your actions say about you and your values.