Value collapse

Oliver Roeder’s Seven Games took me down a fascinating rabbit hole to the concept of value collapse. As every aspect of life becomes quantified, we have fewer values. Previously a university would have had a tapestry of values such as a strong liberal arts tradition, or graduates that tend to work with local organizations. None of these are easy to quantify, especially when comparing and ranking different universities. Thus nearly every university has switched to de facto collapsing their values to such things as GPA, graduation rate, number of papers published by faculty, etc.

Here’s a lecture by C. Thi Nguyen, the philosophy professor who has made value collapse his central research topic: it’s really worth a listen.

This feels like the missing piece that I’ve needed to better understand what I’ve been calling Western Consensus Thinking:

  1. Every institution that is overrun with Western Consensus Thinking exhibits wide-scale value collapse.
  2. James Thrower (a really interesting philosopher of religion, his books on atheism are fascinating) points out that modern fundamentalist movements almost always arise from engineers applying a scientific methodology to religion. One example he used to make this point was that all of the leaders of modern Islamic fundamentalism come from backgrounds outside of traditional Islamic scholarship. In this sense, fundamentalism is a type of value collapse: picking a few points of religious texts to the exclusion of a broader culture and centuries of a rich tradition.
  3. There’s something very out of balance in some Western and western-influenced Buddhist traditions. The sole goal has become meditation attainments to the exclusion of the rest of path.

It’s interesting how a book about games got me here. I’m definitely going to do a lot more reading about thinking about value collapse.