Let me ask a very well known question. What is the reason behind predominance of any vice ranging from corruption, theft, war, violence, erosion of faith? A general discussion will lead us to the common root cause- "degradation of values". Let me dwell into the definition of value and its associated phenomena.
[One may ignore this section, just given to provide insights into the differences between practical scenario and theory.]
Dictionary/Wikipedia defines value as a broad preference concerning appropriate courses of action or outcomes which reflect a persons' sense of right and wrong or what "ought" to be. Values vary in contexts ranging from ethical, ideological, social and moral. In psychological context, it is the enduring belief about the way things should be done or about the ends we desire. In ethical context, value denotes something's degree of importance, with the aim of determining what action of life is the best to do. Value may be absolute or relative, objective or subjective, personal or universal.
Value can be defined as worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor; it is the utility or merit of something. Value of something varies from person to person, i.e., perception basis. For example, clay is of no use for a miner, and coal is of no use for a potter.
How do we associate value with a certain entity?
Utility is the most basic measurement unit. It varies with time and context, yet present and personal utility is preferred. Past symbolism(lal batti of an IAS officer), traditions . Instrument to live(money is its classic example)- a survival entity is preferred over personal moral values (e.g.,corruption for making livelihood). In the past, the measurement unit was the contribution, a person or an entity makes towards society,(i.e.,welfare approach), e.g. a vaidya was respected for being a life savior. Yet the criteria are getting diluted over time, and materialistic factors are taking the place of contribution in other terms. Eg. Scavengers and Dalits got pushed to the city outskirts and faced discrimination just because, the "dirt" word was associated with them irrespective of their role(in cleaning the surroundings of all).
Power (physical, financial, social and political) has been associated with symbolism, and materialistic things have been sanctioned because of the value attributed to it.
The debate of “value this not that”
The differentiation of value attributed to different things is the reason behind almost every possible vice. Inequality, poverty, difference and gap between haves and have nots can be attributed to the value attached with money. Riots, wars, terrorism can be attributed to the value attached to one's own ideology, ethnicity, religion, caste etc. Internal conflicts in mind like jealousy, comparison, unprecedented competition, ill will towards others is the result of importance given to what others have and you don't. Differences are bound to happen among the entities as explained by the theory of identity, yet associating values with some of them causes imbalances, skewed priorities, leading to conflicts and race conditions.
Valuing a particular occupation (doctor, engineer, IAS officer) over others (arts, social sciences, police, army) results in the phenomenon of problem with plenty- dilemma of plenty in jobs yet deficiency in number of skilled workers (i.e., disguised unemployment).
Another example of skewed values is valuing economic benefits over ecological benefits. Indiscriminate exploitation of nature for keeping the economic engine running is causing long term unsustainability.
Skewed priorities are resulting in alienation within the family, nuclear families, mental problems- depressions, building up of suicidal tendencies, social evils like old age problems, gender discrimination, dowry violence etc.
Value of money over morals, ideals and principles is the most widely accepted and understood root of societal degradation making a blot on humanity.
Contemporary perspective- the plight of humanity
Today, respect and reverence is only for who possess wealth. Human values have become meaningless, for human beings have become the means for the rich to earn money. Dignity is attached to a post or a rank.
The rich, having purchased the human mind with their money, are busy playing a game of chess with the other members of the society. Those who are at the helm of society, constantly suspicious of others, forever count their losses and profits. To gratify themselves, they are ready to chew the human bone, and suck the human blood. The two sides of the social coin are visible in unfulfillment of basic needs (food, clothing, dwelling place) on one hand and justification to the luxurious needs on the other hand.
These contrasts ridicule the present human society.
Associating value with materialistic entities over spiritual entities is the most acceptable norm. Howsoever, each type of philosophy tried to deny this fact, it has become the bitter reality of life.
“Degradation of values” or “degradation by values”
Sometimes, it seems that degradation of values is because of "the differentiation of value granted to an entity". One can argue, “Won't it be desirable to have an absolute equality of value?” and to associate value with the existence of the entity itself while not imposing one’s own perspective towards certain values on others. But won't that be a chaotic life as well, without any direction (for the sense that nothing has any value associated with it)? It would result in aimless and demotivated life with no desire to achieve any good (of higher value). It will contradict the most valuable entity as well,i.e., time, and will interrupt the process of nature as well. So, one thing is clear, differentiation of value in itself is not a vice. Then what is the problem?
True value and apparent value
What I have seen as problematic is the perception and imposition. First, perception, i.e., how we perceive an object? Let me explain this by a recent development of recycling of waste and litter. Till a few decades back, residual waste, litter etc. were never viewed as a resource and considered as useless, valueless things. But when human tried to change their perception by seeing it as a resource, they were able to find its value- W2E generation plants, biomass, recycling of plastics etc are few of such examples. Thus, one way to avoid associating falsified value with an object is to keep the perception flexible and liable to change by keeping the gates open for new knowledge. As the value of a diamond is nothing in a desert in comparison to a drop of water, one needs to accommodate the flexibility while imparting value to a substance.
Second is imposition, what we see in society today is imposing of one's view on others. If I consider it as valuable, then you should also see it as valuable (generally parent's view, society's view). If parents consider it important to get married at 25/29 (for girls and boys respectively), it is not necessarily the view of their children, same is the case with occupation, earning money, pursuing only what is popular or trendy. This is just an apparent value (to someone) and not the actual value. The definition of classy should be personal and sufficient space is needed for the same. Though, I am not against the value of money as "instrument of living", but I sincerely want something else to come along with it (personal preferences).
Thus, imparting value to objects in itself is not an vice, but imposing this value on others using power or influence is. Value of an object or an entity needs to be interpreted correctly (this correct interpretation is quite subjective, but it should not be biased with personal prejudices).