Doctrines are not values!

Mike Flynn
5 min readNov 3, 2020


Values — we’ve all got them, they’re the principles or standards of behavior we deem to be important in our lives.

They come in two flavors —personal practices and ideals.

But there’s an interloper in our values: Doctrine.

A classic example is Capitalism. On face value it seems like an easy way to reference to a set of values, but is capitalism a practice? Not really. I can engage in exchanging money for a product, but that is commerce, not capitalism. I don’t “capitalize” dinner for my significant other, I pay for it. I don’t capitalize to advance in my job, I work at it. In short, capitalism is a concept. And even more specifically in typical practice it is a doctrine, a belief. Then we get into really dark circular argument territory when we talk about theories of beliefs..

Generally when someone says they are a capitalist they want their own merit to dictate their future. There are obvious examples otherwise, but that’s the most common value that is meant, but obscured, by using the concept/doctrine of capitalism to express it.

Nor is socialism a value — it is also a doctrine. There are specific practices that people identify with the doctrine socialism. Often people ‘identify’ with socialism a value of kindness, which manifests as a practice of generosity when someone is in need. This is not to say socialism is the means to generate kindness. Our actions generate an environment and an experience in which we live, our concepts do not. It is misleading to use the word socialism to connote valuing kindness to those without resources. More on that in just a moment.

In reality, people don’t live day to day according to doctrine, they tend to live by practice (what they actually do), experience (the feelings from what they’ve done) and yes to a degree by shared social norm “values”. Values are a way of organizing the types of practices and experiences that a person finds desirable or acceptable.

Most people are not doctrinal if we can coax out their underlying values instead of incessantly debating concepts. When we confuse doctrines (systems of ideas developed by someone else, often in an artificially abstract manner) with values, we lose sight of the person and their commitments. Instead we admire or attack our understanding of what we think they mean of an abstract concept.

I’m going to make three statements based on my own life experience:

People’s values generally include wanting those around them to be happy Generally, people want some degree of support
Generally people want their own merit to dictate their futures to some degree

I believe we do share a lot of values, but we get frustrated when we debate doctrines.

In the Meaning of Meaning by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards a crucial distinction is made.

Figure taken from page 11, The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism, 1923, was co-authored by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

There is the word we use to describe something, there is our thought about the thing, and there is the thing. When I say “dog”, I think dog, and there is a Dog. We humans with our language think that our word “dog” references the Dog. It DOESN’T. My word “dog” references my thought of the dog, not the actual Dog. Consider that. How much trouble have we gotten ourselves into as a result of this misunderstanding.

Now imagine how bad this gets when we diverge from talking about our practices and start discussing something as abstract as a doctrine.

How easy is it to induce fear by planting the seed that someone is attacking your idea. This is the classic “if everyone did this, or did not do this, what would become of me”. That is an artificial and often deeply panic inducing modality of thought.

So often there is no specific tangible threat, there is simply the thought that our doctrine is under attack. Because it is a concept and not tangible there is no such thing as a physical attack on an idea, but the idea that a concept is being attacked is nearly impossible to refute and and it generates a terrible feeling.

Wisdom is required to see through the charade and realize no one can tangibly attack a concept.

To actually evaluate the likely effect of someone else’s action on one’s self requires taking the time to evaluate how in actual practice another’s actions will impact me. Generally, for instance if someone receives a lighter or harsher sentence of for a crime — call it a non-violent drug carrying crime — in another part of the country, it in fact won’t directly affect me. If that becomes legal precedent, then yes, it could in fact affect me in some general way, but only if that type of crime is prevalent where I live, and only in the absence of other circumstances.

To color ones experience and daily actions based on a perceived threat to a conceptual ‘way of life’ is an artificial and unstable approach to living.

Western society has time to time become utterly crippled debating these mental ghosts. Western civilization on the other hand is based on theory, experiment, observation and analysis, which are excellent insulators from such conceptual paranoias.

For us to survive, our minds must open out and beyond the rigid strictures of paradigms. Max Weber, a german academic, believed that modern man required a doctrine. This is simply not the case. Humanity needs natural practice, experience and ideas (not the inverse as we’ve spoken of above). When natural experience, we can more easily open up our minds to explore in theory, experimentation, observation and analysis. Only through these healthy approaches can we avoid becoming eternally stuck in a ping-pong of thoughts.

To sum it up

Natural learning:

Natural Abstraction/Idea

This is healthy science:


Unnatural doctrinal approach:

Regimented Practice
Desired Resulting Idea
Desired Feeling

Clearly there is much to consider, and much to be done.

A natural approach to learning and living must be utilized in the various phases of human development.

Birth to Age 6 (Early Childhood) — physical independence
Ages 6–12 (Childhood) — intellectual independence
Ages 12–18 (Adolescence) — emotional independence
Ages 18–24 (Maturity)— financial independence
24+ — ongoing learning if an individual’s flame of interest has been developed, else after schooling adults tend to lose interest in learning outside of work

I’ll be following up with more detail on tangible examples of these in a subsequent article.



Mike Flynn

For whatever it's worth, I'm seeking to share any wisdom, insights and gifts of learning I've been fortunate enough to receive.