In our text, it discusses how the United States is a society that is made up of many different groups, or a pluralistic society. These groups are diverse in their religious beliefs and come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Because of so much diversity, identifying the core values of the society in the United States can be difficult. Many sociologists have worked at identifying the underlying core values that are shared by the majority of groups in America’s society and a Sociologist by the name of Robin Williams (1965) identified twelve. In an earlier edition of this book James Henslin, the author, had three core values that he identified and added; education, religiosity and romantic love.
The first, achievement and success, shows that Americans place a high value on personal achievement; this would also include outdoing others. Examples of this would be getting ahead at work or school and getting wealth, power or high esteem. Individualism is the second. Americans prize success through individual success and will fault someone who is not able to get ahead. The blame will lie with the individual instead of possible fault with the social system. The third would be that Americans are to work hard or keep busy even when not working. But this value is becoming less important in the United States. Americans value efficiency and practicality. An award for such things as getting things done efficiently, as fast and as well as possibilities for the increase of efficiency is always valued in American society. New technology and science is extremely important to American culture. Americans also expect this technology to come at a rapid pace, progress. American’s value material comforts, whether they are need or wants. Humanitarianism was identified as the eighth. This would include helpfulness, kindness and aid during disasters. Freedom is a major core value in America. Any kind of personal limitations is unconceivable in American society. Robin
Williams believed that equality was a central core value Americans shared. With democracy the belief is that the majority rules in the United States. Racism and group superiority is also a core value for Americans but in the United States Americans will place a higher value on some groups more than others (Henslin, 2004).
Education for Americans is a very important core value. “Americans are expected to go as far in school as their abilities and finances allow” (46). A college education is an expected and accepted goal of most Americans. Religious beliefs in the United States have every true American as being religious. Individuals don’t have to belong to any certain church or synagogue, but members in this society should have a belief of a higher being and follow matching sets of perception. “This value is so pervasi8ve that Americans stamp ‘In God We Trust’ on their money and declare in their national pledge of allegiance that they are ‘one nation under God’” (46). In the United States marriage should only happen when people are in love, or romantic love. This belief is imbedded in American songs, literature, mass media and folk beliefs. Americans have a strong belief that love will conquer all.
No core value acts alone and cluster together to make a larger whole. This is called value clusters and is very important to understanding core values and how they work. Examples of this might be that hard work, education, efficiency, material comforts and individualism are all connected. Americans are expected to go as far in school as they can, work hard after graduation, making sure they are efficient and to gain a large amount of material gain which will show success.
Value contradictions will play a part when studying core values. James Henslin used the example of group superiority which contradicts freedom, democracy and equality. “There simply cannot be full expression of freedom, democracy, and equality along with racism and sexism” (48). How Americans have overcome this problem is by giving one group more of a status than another. New and emerging core values and core value clusters have been seen more recently in American society they include leisure, physical fitness, self-fulfillment, and concerns for the environment.
Growth in the recreational industry has given way to an emergence of the concept that leisure is a core value in America. Computer games, boats, recreational vehicles such as R.V.’s and off road vehicles, sports arenas, vacation homes and the travel or vacation industry has helped to make this value grow within the society. Physical fitness is stressed even more today in our society. Just look at some of the reality shows like “The Biggest loser” or the one where Shaq helps kids get fit. The term “all that you can be” best describes the self-fulfillment value Americans have, the text lists books and talk shows that focus on self-help and relating, along with personal development. This cluster of values is a switch from creating a nation or fighting for economic survival to now centering on living longer and more leisure time. With environment as a new emerging core values in America the development of environment issues is up front in today’s society, but still only after basic needs are met within that society.
Changes in core values are not welcomed and individuals in American society see this as a threat to their way of life. When people hold dearly their value beliefs and don’t feel threatened then a feeling of well being will prevail in the society, but if change is immanent then a feeling of crisis is felt. I can see this more in our society with the idea of marriage and religion. In recent times marriage or the institution of marriage has come under fire in America. The issue being should gays be allowed to legally marry? This brought a storm of controversy that continues today and upsets the basic core values Americans have on marriage. Another core value that is changing and is causing clashes is religion. When the war in Iraq began the spreading theme that seemed to cause a stir was the possibility of Muslim faith dominating Christian faith. In my opinion this became more of a religious war, rather than a war for oil. With this war there is also crisis showing up in Iraqi society, meaning the United States pushing for democracy in that country, this would be another example of changing core values that would cause crisis.
Values and their beliefs can show a very different picture of reality in some societies and give a view of how life ought to be that isn’t real at all. This will tend to make one society blind to another’s values. American society has a tendency to think that anyone can do anything with effort. Our society tends to focus on the precious few that are able to do this, but if someone was on the outside looking in this would not be the picture the other society would see. Instead they could possibly see that Americans are unrealistic with an egocentric concept of the world around them.
Henslin, J.M. (2004). Essentials of sociology: a down to earth approach, 5th. Ed.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon
Henslin, J. M. (1975). Introducing sociology: Toward understanding life in society.
New York: Free Press.
Williams, R. M. (1965). American society: A sociological Interpretation, 2nd. Ed. New York: Knopf