[lit-ideas] Re: Disintigration of values, British TV, Heidegger

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 9 Feb 2010 23:44:33 -0800

You write "Perhaps the subject line had been changed by the time I wrote


What does this mean, Robert?  "subject line"?   There are two separate blog
notes involved - not a change in subject line.  You reference one blog note
and respond to the other.  I thought I made that clear in my note, but
perhaps not.





From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Robert Paul
Sent: Tuesday, February 09, 2010 11:35 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Disintigration of values, British TV, Heidegger


Lawrence wrote

You have written a strange note, Robert.  You reference one of my notes and
seem to reply to another, except you reply to just one part of that, a sort
of "aside" and don't address main emphasis which provides Kundera's 5
choices for "possibilities," that is, what one can do in the face of the
(assumed) decline in values.  My example of the lawyers arguing for the
right to lie was something I happened to read in the paper that morning, a
clear indication of a decline in one value, reminding me of what Kundera

Perhaps the subject line had been changed by the time I wrote this. I
offered a 'short response' to what I found on your blog at the address
provided in your note. I argue, simply, that there has been no 'decline in
values' during the past four-hundred years (400 years from the year
Kundera's book was published) and that indeed there has been an increase in
values, a phrase that I really don't understand, unless it means that some
values (in the West?), values that were salient during the Middle Ages,
e.g., have been lost. Your example of the two men who impersonated veterans
of the armed forces cannot be an instance of the loss of any value; for the
value of truth-telling and honesty in this regard had been ignored many
thousands of times throughout history; hence, their 'violation' now cannot
be a recent loss of those 'values' for, to repeat, they were 'lost' long,
long ago.

To suggest that I took you to be 'groping' for what Kundera had in mind in
that muddled generalization, would be to insult you, something I would never
intentionally do, for I am often informed by and am always interested in the
topics you so tenaciously pursue. It would be an insult, because the
sentence itself is meaningless.

So, although I did not reply to the whole of your blog entry, I replied to
Kundera's claim that there has been a general decline in (loss of certain?)
values, and I did so by presenting instances (there are plenty more) of
there having been an increase in areas where 'values' matter. Instead of
trying to respond to what I said, you tell me what I should have said, had I
read the entire blog entry. My purpose was to suggest that insofar as
Kundera's incoherent sentence can be taken as a claim that during 'modern'
times, certain 'values' have somehow disappeared, that claim is false or


Your note implies that I didn't cover what I had in mind by values - or that
I had nothing in mind and was merely groping for what Kundera had in mind.
The note you reference, not the one you responded to, should clear that up -
or at least point you in a more promising direction.


From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Robert Paul
Sent: Tuesday, February 09, 2010 9:23 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Disintigration of values, British TV, Heidegger


Lawrence Helm wrote 

I posted a note with the above title at

This is a short response to what I found at that address.

Lawrence wrote (Milan Kundera and the decline of values) that in 1960,
Kundera had written that [the] 'world [was] in a process of the
disintegration of values (values handed down from the Middle Ages), a
process that stretches over the four centuries of the Modern Era and is
their very essence.' 

We are not told which values Kundera had in mind, but I should think that
they were the big capitalized ones epitomized by the four (or six, or seven)
values set forth in the Cardinal Virtues of the Roman Catholic church, as
adapted from Plato, and variously amended-Justice and Courage, e.g.-and not
such 'values' as the Divine Right of Kings,  the subjugation of women, or
the right of some men to own other men. He [apparently] offered no evidence
that a 'disintegration' of any sort of value was taking place in 1960, let
alone that it had been going on for four centuries before that. Of course,
this barbarous sentence doesn't say that a disintegration of values had been
going on for all that time, but that the world was in a 'process of the
disintegration of values.' Had one of my students written such a sentence, I
might have asked 'what, precisely, does this mean?' only in politer terms.
(One thing that I value that is being lost is the ability to write plain

Lawrence, by way of providing an example of the sort of thing Kundera had in
mind, adduces two cases in which the attorneys for two men charged under the
federal Stolen Valor Act, are arguing that, as neither benefited from his
false claim, they are guilty of no more than lying and pretending to be
something they were not; more or less a 'no harm, no foul' defense. (One of
the men apparently did benefit from claiming falsely to have been a veteran
of the Iraq war: he was able to live in veterans' housing, and once obtained
a discount on an airlines ticket.) If I understand Lawrence, he is upset by
what these men did, and by their attorneys' reasoning. The deeds and the
defense are apparently evidence to support Kundera's general claim-as if
impostors of this sort had never before been seen in recorded history. I
don't want to argue with Lawrence about this, i.e., whether such pathetic
goings on signal a 'decline of values,' or a 'disintegration' of them. My
suggestion is that such behaviour, however it is viewed-and if it is all
that is viewed-is as nothing when compared with real advances in 'values,'
such as the banning of slavery, and the advancement of women. If one wants a
value of which these are instances, it is surely Justice.

Each generation seems to believe that the new is the enemy of the good.; but
pretending to be what one is not is hardly new.

Robert Paul
Reed College



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