When we talk about the value of something, we mostly think in terms of exchange. I have [commodity x], you have [commodity y], and we exchange these at a rate determined by our economic system. That rate is the value of [x/y]
Is there a way of looking at value that accounts, not for the rate of exchange, not with a number, but for the substance of an object? For the experience of a phenomenon?
I'm not talking about a factoring of hidden values, nor a Marxist revision of the exchange system to better account for the value of labour. I'm talking about seeing a thing for itself, rather than trying to see past it, or through it. We make materials and labour and product into factors in an equation. We functionalize value.
What I'd like to know is whether we can actually say “that [object, task, or whatever it is] has value in and of itself.”
Robert Pirsig wrote his own “Inquiry” in 1974, but he was asking about rationality and quality. Pirsig asks Plato's age-old question: “what is written well and what is written badly—need we ask [anyone] to teach us this?” Pirsig wrote about trying to make Quality free from our systems of rationalism, to better understand it while leaving it undefined.
What I'm asking is much different: while Pirsig tried to have an understanding of Quality for itself, basically without value, I want to do the opposite, to know if it's possible to find a value-system that is free both from rationalized factors and from Quality.
Value without comparison.
Value without qualification.
What I'm asking is, of course, absurd. How can we have value without comparison? Comparison is the basis for value.
And yet it is exactly this value that seems to drive the world as I know it.
I've started working for a show production firm in the city. We have small offices and equipment rooms on-site in many of the large hotels, and there are probably four or five events going on during a given day that we're responsible for setting up and operating.
This is a lucrative industry: I could be working 80 hours per week and making a lot of bonus wages if I wanted to, and I've only been with the firm for one day. There's opportunity for advancement, opportunity to network and make connections in the industry.
That's not why I'm working with this firm. I'm working with this firm because I love coiling audio cable.
I delight in the coiling of cable.
Isn't that absurd?
My delight has nothing to do with how well I can coil cables. There are plenty of people in the world who can coil them with more Quality than I can. I'm not really even interested in the Quality of the work anymore—more often than not, I settle for the “good enough” rather than spending an extra five minutes on perfection.
Still, I delight in the coils.
Value-free value isn't limited to my cable-fetishism, though. I think God does the same thing.
God doesn't value his children because of Quality: that would imply that the people God loves are higher in Quality than some hypothetical group of people who aren't his children.
God values us, Delights in us, because we are. The only Quality we possess is that we exist; God loves us more than the people he didn't create.
In God's reckoning, Existence is in and of itself a kind of Quality.
Existence has intrinsic Value.
That can work in an almost-reasonable way for God/people, because God created people and didn't create other things. We can say, as an absolute, that God values everything he created because everything he created is good. It's ultimately tautological, an ever-circling loop of justification out of necessity, but it's a kind of reason.
How does it work for me and coiling cable?
Why do I value the coiling of cable as an activity over, for example, the shovelling of snow?
It's absurd. My mind and my reason have nothing to do with it. My personality, perhaps, but not my mind. Coiling cable is a mindless activity once you learn it. (Yes, even over-under coiling, which I still can't get 100% of the time.)
Is my delight somehow separate from my reason and from whatever-it-is-that-lets-me-know-quality? If so, how does it operate?
Maybe I'm just re-inventing Pirsig's Motorcycle. Maybe I need to read more Kant, or more Aquinas, to distract me from all these silly post-modern questions.
If anyone has an answer, let me know.