Cultural values, at the simplest level, are commonly shared concepts about what is right, wrong, possible or impossible, true or false and so on. From there, it gets complicated. The arena of cultural values can be as small as each individual’s personal set of decisions as to what is acceptable or not. The individual can be firmly set in deciding that existing cultural values are just fine and that no new or different ones are wanted or needed. The individual can be flexible, from being widely traveled, for example, and capable of adhering to the cultural values of many societies in the world. The individual can be required to adjust values as life conditions change.
This article will view American cultural values as externally imposed by decreasing sizes of social institutions that establish and encourage shared values. The relationship can be described as recursive, however, as the individual also has inputs which can be aggregated to cause adjustment and change in the social institutions.
The arena of cultural values can be as large as a continent full of people’s shared values about what is acceptable or not. In this sense, it is very rare for three hundred million people or so in America, for example, to agree on cultural values, but the cultural values that are externally imposed by national, state level, regional, and other smaller and smaller subsets of human and natural influences can become more and more shared as the subset of national identity becomes smaller and smaller, until we get to the family or individual unit of humanity.
The largest official and external imposition of shared cultural values as to what is patriotism, national identity, national threat, citizenship, legal or not legal, what is a crime, and what is encouraged or discouraged on a constitutional national level, is the national government and all of its institutions. Still, in a nation of three hundred million people, there is a lot of disagreement, which makes for an ever changing and evolving national set of cultural values that occupy the time of millions of people.
The next largest official and external imposition of shared cultural values occurs at the state level. There are natural, social, historical, political and other shared values of the residents of an individual sovereign nations that constitute the United States. In recent decades, internal migration, along with standardization of businesses and cultural elements is such that true state level history and cultures are constantly bombarded by newcomers who bring their own values with them. The natural features and historical nature of a particular state can still be quite imposing, however. A person who moves from New York to Hawaii, for example, will have to adjust some of those cultural values that worked in New York.
Politically in America, political thought is channeled through the grouping of the voting public into party affiliations or independent status; there are the political schools of thought, cultural value, and orientation which range from liberal to conservative, and there are the extremist elements which cause a lot of drama for such a small subset of the population.
After the state, religion is the next largest source of externally imposed cultural values. Who is the deity of choice, if a deity is chosen? What does the religion demand of it’s followers? What is the mythology or historical nature of the religion, it’s place in the world, and the relationship of the religion with other religions? Given the number of religions and their differences in beliefs and values, plus the religions impact on secular matters and thought, that it is a miracle that there are, overall, amazing shared overall cultural values in religion in a nation of over three hundred million people.
As we look at the various sources of externally imposed cultural values, we are actually looking at an ever changing aggregation of unshared and particular individual values which are constantly being examined in order to determine where the significant areas of agreement and disagreement lie in a national set of shared cultural values. America’s efforts in developing polling, census, voting and other aggregations of information have resulted in readings that identify specific values, any changes, and the prevalence of specific values by region and even by household, and their resulting impact on the nation as a whole.