May 10, 2021No Comments

Football: A narrow escape

Neo-liberalism has encountered a rare set-back in the attempts of owners of premiere football clubs to set up the European Super League. Even the most ardent proponents of greed have found it politically expedient to distance themselves from this proposal. 

Read more

March 3, 2021No Comments

What Is a Migrant Worth?

Communicating the value of people and nature in financial terms comes at a cost.

Originally published at Common Dreams, on Wednesday 24th February 2021.

In early February, a study was published that claims that UK towns with more immigrants do much better economically. Commissioned by anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate, the study attempts to challenge negative perceptions of immigration and concludes that "growing diversity is an inevitable part of increasing prosperity—and, potentially, a contributor to it." The claim that migration is economically valuable and contributes to productivity isn’t new; it’s one that’s repeated every couple of years (see here and here and here).

With refugees and migrants left to make perilous journeys across the seas to reach the UK, often dying in the process, and with our global measure of progress GDP and profit and growth at all costs, it might seem to make logical sense to justify the presence of marginalised people in society based on their economic worth. It’s a phenomenon that we’re well versed in when talking about nature; so much so in fact, that we might not realise we’re doing it—we talk of fish ‘stocks’ and ‘trading’ carbon. Many mainstream conservation organisations have actively campaigned for the financialisation of nature for many years in order to justify its protection—in an article published earlier this month, Tom Oliver wrote that proponents of the economic approach argue that if we don’t give nature a price then we essentially treat it as having zero value, which leaves it vulnerable to government and business decisions based on profit maximisation. This language might feel more jarring when applied to people and migrants (although it has been seen as widely acceptable when referring to enslaved peoples), but that’s because mainstream acceptability is further down the route of thinking of butterflies as fungible commodities in a way that it might baulk at when applied to humans. There’s nothing inevitable about this - it’s a reflection of a discourse which has become dominant in some Western cultures—many indigenous cultures would find this way of speaking about nature abhorrent.

Communicating the value of people, and indeed nature, in financial terms does come at a cost. At Common Cause Foundation we work to rebalance mainstream cultural values where, for too long, greater emphasis has been put on what we call extrinsic values such as wealth, power and social status, to our collective detriment and the expense of enabling intrinsic values to flourish, such as compassion, benevolence and unity with nature. There’s an extensive body of research that shows that when transactional values are invoked, such as the economic value of migrants, people’s intrinsic values are suppressed and they are left feeling less compassionate towards others and less supportive of action to redress inequalities or social injustices. Conversely, we know that when people act on social or environmental concern as an expression of their intrinsic values, this is found to lead to a deeper commitment to action (one action is more likely to propagate into other, more ambitious and effective actions) and their motivation is more likely to persist over time. In other words, framing things transactionally is corrosive to our intrinsic values, and risks undermining concern for social and environmental justice.

The root cause of our social and environmental challenges is neoliberalism and the fetish of the market, which values profit over people and sees nature simply as a commodity. Until this dominant worldview is superseded we will not achieve lasting and proportionate responses to the multiple crises we face. Unfortunately, as communicators continue to use extrinsic values such as wealth and power to motivate and justify, they inadvertently continue to perpetuate a world out of balance, aiding the neoliberal worldview in its drive to colonise ever more areas of public debate; such as a love of nature, or compassion for people as migrants. Instead, we could all benefit from being mindful of the values we espouse in our lives and work. And rather than accepting, and tacitly reinforcing, the prioritisation of economic considerations in discussions about migrants, it would be better to insist that this is one area of public debate in which the needs of the market have no legitimate role to play.

November 9, 2020No Comments

We’re recruiting!

Common Cause Foundation (CCF) creates public momentum for systemic social and environmental change by building on the psychology of shared cultural values.

We are looking to recruit a new member to the Common Cause team to help us build on recent successes and expand our work to strengthen shared cultural values across society. We’re looking for someone with interesting experience and insight, but most importantly we’re after someone who is convinced that the best way to meet today’s profound social and environmental challenges is by working with the compassion and connection that most people feel for one another, for other living things and for the natural systems we are a part of.

Because we’re a very small organisation (currently just two other part-time staff members) we can think creatively about shaping this role to suit the skills and motivations of the person excited to work with us. We expect this role to be 3 days a week, but if you’d prefer a different arrangement don’t let that put you off applying.

If you have skills and experience in one or more of the below areas, we’d love to hear from you:

  • Building networks
  • Supporting learning
  • Delivering compelling communications
  • Delivering on fundraising strategies
  • Assessing the impact of systemic change projects
  • Managing and administering a small not-for-profit

Click here to read more about the opportunity and how to apply here.

The application deadline is 9am on 23rd November, with interviews planned for the week starting the 30th November.


Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash

July 23, 2020No Comments

From neighbourliness to social justice

Most people prioritize concern for their friends, family and community

At Common Cause Foundation, we draw attention to the love and concern that most of us express for our families, friends and communities - in other words, people with whom we are in frequent contact. The Schwartz model of values, which we draw on extensively, defines a group of Benevolence values which includes items such as “true friendship”, “helpfulness”, “honesty”, “forgiveness”, “loyalty”. Values in this group are held to be very important for people across almost all countries for which we have data. 

Following the Schwartz model, people’s values are structured - that is, there are compatibilities and tensions between different groups of values, and these relationships can be shown spatially on maps (see below). Values which are plotted close to one another on the map are more likely to be prioritised by someone at the same time, whereas those that are more distant from one another are less easily held to be simultaneously important. While this basic set of relationships between different value groups has been found to hold across many countries, in both the Global North and the Global South, there are important omissions - for example, to our knowledge the model has not been tested with indigenous communities.

schwartz spatial

Schwartz Value Map


For those many cultures in which the model seems to be useful as a way of exploring the relationships between people’s values, the group of Benevolence values is flanked (moving clockwise in the map below) by Tradition and Conformity values, and on the other side (moving anticlockwise) by Universalism values. 

This reflects the relative compatibility between these groups of values. Academic researchers use the rather unappealing term “bleedover” to describe this compatibility. Experiments - including ones we have run ourselves - find that by drawing attention (even implicitly) to values in one group, people come to attach greater importance to values in the adjacent groups. 

Schwartz defines Tradition values as “respect, commitment and acceptance of the customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion provide the self”, and Conformity values as “restraint of actions, inclination and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms”. It seems intuitive (from my cultural perspective at least) that values items such as “loyalty” (“faithful to my friends, group”) and “responsibility” (“dependable, reliable”) at the clockwise edge of the Benevolence group would be associated with Tradition and Conformity defined in these ways. 

On the opposite side of the Benevolence group, Schwartz defines Universalism values as “understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature”. Here a person’s concern for their “in-group” bleeds out into wider concern for an “out-group”. One might imagine a continuum, from concern for my friends and family, my community, people more generally, and other species. 

In essence, this implies that those Benevolence values (concern for the welfare of our “in-group”) can pivot in one of two directions. In one direction a person’s sense of their “in-group” softens and enlarges; in the other it hardens and becomes more clearly defined with respect to “others”. 

We call this the Benevolence pivot. Benevolence values can pivot anticlockwise, towards Universalism values. In this case, a person’s sense of their “in group” enlarges and they are likely to express deepened concern for the wellbeing of people who are different to them, or other living beings. Or, alternatively, Benevolence values can pivot toward Tradition and Conformity values. In this case a person feels a heightened sense of the importance of delineating their “in-group” by asserting defining traditions and customs. Moving further clockwise, these Tradition and Conformity values bleed over into a feeling that one’s in-group must be protected from out-groups - and hence Security values. 

The Benevolence pivot, then, is potentially of great political significance. It provides a framework by which socially conservative politicians can build on the Benevolence values that most of us prioritise, into Tradition, Conformity and Security values. Socially liberal politicians, on the other hand, have the opportunity to build anticlockwise from Benevolence into Universalism values.

The Clockwise Pivot

Interest groups which work to deflect public expressions of concern about global social or environmental problems often work to drive public debate clockwise from Benevolence values. 

Consider press coverage or political debate arguing that migrants are likely to take local people’s jobs, local kids’ school places, or increase pressure on local health services, and that migrants present a threat to (for example) “British values”, customs and ways of life.

Such arguments have the effect of deepening an association between Benevolence and Tradition values, and driving a wedge between Benevolence and Universalism values. It is a short step from here into the Security group and heightened support for social order and national security to enforce these “ways of life”. 

Wielding an understanding of values in this way, a person’s concern for the welfare of members of their immediate community may actually become a means to undermine their concern for the welfare of other people, who they are now encouraged to see as part of an out-group, and a potential threat.

Clearly this is a move that’s seen in a great deal of contemporary political debate. For example, racism is fuelled by deliberate strategies to drive a wedge between white working class people and working class people of colour: two groups who may otherwise be expected to establish a strong sense of solidarity. Or climate action is opposed on the grounds that our communities will suffer economically if we take meaningful action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

A fisherman stands in yellow overalls by a harbour holding a rope in one hand and fish in the other. Next to his head reads the words ‘Gutted: Tony’s business has been ripped apart by the EU”. The right hand side of the image shows UKIP’s logo and the slogan “Only one party will stand up for you”.

A poster produced by the UK Independence Party, which campaigns against immigration, appeals to Benevolence values. It features a seemingly avuncular and artisanal fisherman, with coiled rope and one small fish, standing on an ancient quay. The image invokes family, community and traditional ways of life.

The anticlockwise pivot

People working for social and environmental justice aren’t usually very good at working in awareness of the connection between different groups of values. At their worst, social and environmental campaigns may retreat from connecting with either Benevolence or Universalism values, seeking to reframe social and environmental imperatives in terms of economics. Here communications connect with Power values on the opposite side of the values map: values which are actively antagonistic to social and environmental concern.

But even when social and environmental campaigns avoid this trap, they are often still not very effective at building upon the natural resonance between Benevolence and Universalism values. Rather, they often overlook Benevolence values and jump straight to Universalism values, asserting the moral imperative to address social and environmental injustices, while failing to build out from people’s concern for their friends, family and communities. 

Why should the move from Benevolence to Universalism values apparently prove to be so difficult for so many social and environmental campaigners? 

One explanation is that campaigners have come to mistrust Benevolence values precisely because these values have so often been successfully wielded by their political opponents. I remember, when working for mainstream environmental NGOs, the derision that was often reserved for people who campaigned about dog muck on pavements - as though anyone expressing concern about an issue as parochial as this couldn’t possibly be moved by ‘real’ environmental threats such as climate change. 

Here’s a second possible explanation. Most people, regardless of political orientation, tend to underestimate the importance that our fellow citizens place on Benevolence values. But this misperception is particularly pronounced among people who self-identify as socially liberal. If a typical environmental campaigner self-identifies as socially liberal, then he or she is also more likely to mistakenly believe that an ‘average person’ privileges concern about money and public image above community. Why, given this misperception, would such a campaigner seek to forge a connection between community and a global environmental threat?

Whatever the reason for this oversight, it is possible to “bridge” from Benevolence to Universalism values. Doing so can generate moving and resonant communications – testimony to the compatibility of these two value groups. See, for example, this powerful video produced by People Like Us and Mums 4 Refugees in Australia. The video begins by connecting with Benevolence values (the love and appreciation that most of us feel towards our mothers) and then pivots toward Universalism values (empathy for refugees and asylum seekers held in detention centres).


Keyboards have been worn out writing about the outpouring of community concern and neighbourliness that we are seeing during the coronavirus pandemic. 

How does this map onto the Benevolence and Universalism values groups?

A great deal of this compassionate response seems to be motivated by Benevolence values – care for our loved ones, the vulnerable in our communities, and the frontline workers who are working to protect us, our families and our friends. 

Covid-19 Face Mask Graffiti, Unsplash.

The point at which these Benevolence values have begun to “bleed over” into Universalism values is often the point where the debate - at least here in the UK - has become more contested. A xenophobic and nationalist government can only survive if it is successful in establishing and maintaining this split, and the UK government has risked a great deal of political capital in trying to hold these two groups of values apart. It is not a natural split – it requires an ongoing investment of energy by government spokespeople and sympathetic media in order to maintain it.

Consider, for example, the NHS’s reliance upon migrant staff. Here’s a point at which our Benevolence values (concern for those in our communities who are sick) become aligned with Universalism values (concern for the welfare of migrants). In a particularly conspicuous failure to read the public mood, the UK government tried to insist that migrants working for the NHS should have to continue to pay a surcharge in order to access the medical care that they were helping to provide to others. The government strived to hold Benevolence and Universalism values apart from one another, but on this occasion – unlike in so many other instances – it failed.

Black Lives Matter

Clearly, the success of the Black Lives Matter movement is attributable to the tireless work of many Black activists over many years. But given an understanding of the relationship between Benevolence and Universalism values, it seems possible that widespread public expressions of support for the Black Lives Matter movement could have been further strengthened at this time by the particular salience of Benevolence values under the coronavirus pandemic, which would have created a different context in which messages about racism were received. 

Black Lives Matter protest held in London in 2020, Unsplash.

People from all communities were provided an opportunity to make a connection (consciously or otherwise) between the concern for other people struggling under COVID (something that had preoccupied them for months during the pandemic) and concern for other people who are oppressed by structural racism.

Before the pandemic, the people comprising these two groups would be seen by many white people living in the UK as very different from one another. As a result of a worldview cultivated and upheld by both the media and structural racism, one group would be seen as an in-group – their family, friends and others like them struggling under “lockdown”; the other an out-group – people of colour often living elsewhere. But those perceived differences may have been eroded by a bleed-over between Benevolence and Universalism values, perhaps made more likely by the salience that Benevolence values have had in recent months.

Maintaining the shift

If recent months have marked a qualitative shift in people’s openness to experience emotionally the strong resonances between Benevolence and Universalism values, even in the face of divisive political debate and media coverage, how can this shift be maintained?

One lesson, surely, is for people, networks, and organisations working for social justice to begin to communicate more consciously in ways that deepen our emotional awareness of the resonances between Benevolence and Universalism values – taking communications of the kind produced by People Like Us and Mums 4 Refugees (above) as an example of how this can be achieved. It would be possible, for example, to build on the deepened relationship that many people experienced with their immediate family under “lockdown” in order to highlight the UK government’s inhumane refusal to allow child refugees in the UK to be reunited with their families. 

Campaigners for social justice would do well to embrace the potential to build on Benevolence values, and to develop a fluency in achieving this. The alternative is a capitulation. It would be to accept that their political opponents have captured these values. And that would be an admission of hopelessness. 

Common Cause Foundation will be running a morning workshop on the Benevolence Pivot at 9am BST on Thursday 27th August. Places are free. If you would like to participate, please book your place here.

June 17, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Values & Covid-19: Feel the pain: systemic racism and the social conditioning of our values

About a month ago, we reflected on what the pandemic has been revealing about the values on which our society is built. We focused on the fact that many of the “essential workers” who keep the country running, often at great personal risk, are also people who experience one or multiple forms of systemic oppression, making them even more vulnerable to contracting coronavirus. But, despite their “essential worker” status, our society places little value on their physical, emotional and financial health. As Gary Young writes, “it’s not the virus that discriminates; it is society”.

Even before the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minnesota last month, and the shooting of Rayshard Brooks a few weeks later, it was clear that systemic racism is a significant determinant of people’s health outcomes. With protests now sweeping across the world, this reality is becoming increasingly undeniable. These deaths were not isolated incidents, but consistent with over 400 years of violence against Black people, which the British were pivotal in helping to invent. They have elicited a primal scream of pain, grief and rage by so many people of colour across the world because it starkly symbolised what for generations has been an unspoken fact in our white dominant world - that the lives of people of colour, and Black people in particular, aren’t valuable.

Why were white people carrying guns being allowed to protest against the lockdown in Michigan in April, but multi-racial, largely peaceful protests against the daylight killing of unarmed Black people were met with the National Guard? The last two weeks have woken many people up to the understanding that systemic racism is not a matter of the past; it has pulled back the curtain on the values that drive American society. US racism was inherited from the British, so this very much concerns us in the UK too. Slavery was an economic institution designed for resource extraction and wealth accumulation for the white elite. Black people were seen as a cog in the machine; the human cost was negligible to the oppressors. The police force was created in part to quell rebellion and control Black bodies. The American constitution was written to protect property, not human lives. British and American racism are inextricably linked. So where does that leave us now?

Psychologists have long pointed out that a system of violence that considers Black people to be expendable was only tenable on the basis that they were seen as less-than-human. At Common Cause, we have talked a lot about the priority that most people place on compassionate, or ‘intrinsic’, values. What this doesn’t explain, however, is how these compassionate values can co-exist with the systemic dehumanisation of people of colour? This disconnect, or cognitive dissonance, is rarely mentioned in the discourse about values we’ve been a part of, including our own. Recognising this contradiction can give rise to a lot of discomfort, but it’s important to start peeling back the layers so we can see what’s underneath.

What we’ve realised over the past month is that there is a disconnect between how people see themselves and the systems of structural violence they normalise and benefit from without questioning. The social conditioning, which serves to minimise this cognitive dissonance in turn shapes the values of our (white) society. The way this functions is to maintain the safety and comfort of those in power. A great deal of energy goes into sustaining this separation - from the normalisation of violence against people of colour to the collective amnesia of Britain’s colonial history and the current negligence by the British government to protect people of colour from covid-19. To maintain itself, the system is reliant on the silence and complicity with the status quo of those who benefit, whether that’s intentional or not.

Throughout history, we’ve seen mass movements for change being led by those experiencing oppression, and this time is no different. People who for centuries have tried to carve out a life for themselves in a society that doesn’t see them as worthy of living have had enough. They are willing to pay the cost of freedom, which for many is high - more police violence, incarceration, trauma as well as contracting covid-19.

To those of us who are white, those of us with class privilege, educational privilege, those of us who are cis, straight, able-bodied, thin, neurotypical, in good mental health, those of us with secure immigration status, those of us who have a safe home and access to food, those of us not experiencing violence and trauma - this isn’t primarily an intellectual endeavour. Our response cannot be confined to reading and educating ourselves, although this is important. When we talk about dismantling systemic racism and oppression, we are dealing with over 400 years of social conditioning. Our emotions are the location of change, because one of the most powerful tools we have to counter dehumanisation is by tapping into our shared humanity and allowing ourselves to feel the pain of the thousands of people who are marching across the world.

The solidarity we’re seeing right now is showing us what is possible. It goes beyond the compassion and kindness people have been giving their neighbours and to strangers during lockdown. It shows that many more of us, in numerous countries, are starting to see the foundations on which our world order has been built  - and that to create a society led by compassionate values first requires the dismantling of the systems that systematically undermine them.

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

handmade by