Save Your Receipt

One headline stood out as I browsed the news online: “The Obama Administration Values Human Life More Than the Bush Administration Did“.  This opinion piece from NYMag.com and written by Dan Amira compares the monetary values the different governmental agencies within the administration place on human life.  The figures the agencies arrive at really are not intended to place ontological value on people, but rather are for the purposes of policy regulations.  I don’t have a problem with that, per se.  After all, there needs to be some method for determining whether certain policies and programs are fiscally responsible.  I am not a fan of “if it helps just one person…it’s all worth it”.

My focus is on Amira’s take on the principle of determining human value:

Is the guy who wipes his snot on the walls of the subway train worth the same as Minka Kelly? Is a blogger who comments on the news for a living worth the same as someone who actually betters the world in some way?

And:

Oh, we’re pretty sure we could justify a number under $5 million for a lot of people (we refer you once again to Subway Snot Man).

Whether Amira is offering this in all seriousness or it’s just for the sake of playing to his audience I don’t know, so to be charitable, I will assume Amira is offering his comments as literary flare.   But I think there are many people who do judge human value this way.  That what a person can contribute to society is a direct correlation to their value.  But with lack of value comes lack of protection.  Slowly the dregs of society become marginalized.  If value is derived from qualities which come from outside the person, people are treated as means rather than ends. When these extrinsic qualities (financial burden, intellectual ability, or even inconvenience) dictate value, we end up with events such as the Holocaust and American slavery.

People are valuable by virtue of their being human, it’s an intrinsic quality.  It is this possession of  human nature which makes us all of equal worth.  It is not derived from size, level of development, where we live, or aesthetic appeal (as mentioned above by Amira).

If we were to someday judge ontological value by these extrinsic qualities, you had better pray the one in charge is not more handsome, more wealthy, or smarter than you.  And if you have ever picked your nose in public, add to the prayer that the one in charge never finds out.

Comments

  1. I agree with you! It is a growing trend, that Celebrities are worshipped like gods and rich shareholders seem to be able to justify “earning” ever increasing part of everyting with monetal value, while there are people dying of starvation and the lack of pure water. For what do the rich need money so much on their bank accounts? We should not evaluate everything by money, but the true lack of it, is a terrible state for a person to be in…

    Obama administration has valued people when they got the health insurance to cover also those wery poor people who were outside it. Still, to give Obama the Nobel peace prize was somewhat premature and futile. It could have been given to a number of people who have done more and could make more use of it. Bush administration did put an astronomical amount of your taxpayers money to wage wars abroad in their own private busines intrests. That does show a certain lack of disrespect for human life.

    Sometimes people are valued more by their deeds. Many societies value the soldiers who have sacrificed their own safety for the safety of other people, but I hear 2/3 of all your homeless men are veterans in the US. Is this really so?

    • Well, for starters, it’s not about how much money the wealthy need, it’s theirs and quite frankly it’s nobody’s business how much they have, nor is it for anyone else to decide whether they have too much.

      This is not about the politics of either administration, it’s about a utilitarian approach to determining human value.

      • Is it not determining utilitarian approach to human life to send an army to invade a nother sovereign country on falsified reasons? Is it not determining utilitarian approach to human value to leave the injured (physically or mentally) veterans on their own devices, after their usefulnes has been spent?

        Human value can not be evaluated on monetary terms. However, it is possible to put a price tag on every Iraqi citizen killed since the invasion, and on every person who dies in the third world out of starvation to be saved from that destiny. Wich one would you gues is cheaper? At the same time, the ultra-rich people have enough money to solve the problems of starvation and lack of pure water. They do not. In fact they are quite eager to create more misery and death, if it happens to serve their business interrests. In this respect, they are showing such disregard on human value, that it is not only their private matter how they spend their “own” money, or rather, it should not be.

  2. John I agree with your position. To optimize coexistence, it would benefit us to have a starting point that recognizes we are all connected, thanks to our human nature. Unfortunately for many, the starting point is cemented in superficiality, superiority, jealousy, and other detrimental conditions.

    I’m reading a book entitled “Plantations and Death Camps” by Beverly Eileen Mitchell. She focuses on Religion, Ideology, and Human Dignity. In her discussion about human dignity, she shares:

    “When we lose sight of our value and worth of that of others, it becomes ever so easy to treat others as less than human” (Mitchell 46). —- Beverly also states: “If in some way, we image the creator God, this implies that some kind of dignity or glory surrounds who and what we are and that in some way we can (and must) recognize that dignity as something of value, something that warrants that each person be treated with respect and honor” (Mitchell 43)

    Those quotes further support my perception. In the book, she analyzes Slavery and the Holocaust to share lessons learned from those tragedies and the implications they give about humanity. How we see ourselves and others is instrumental in our behavior.

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