Actively bringing about much needed change in our communities and hope to the broken and disheartened.
Take a minute (and 31 seconds) to watch this short video from the movie Network and then I’ll leave my thoughts below.
I have no idea what the context to this scene is – I heard it originally on the album of a band I like and bought recently. But the statement in and of itself got me thinking about a couple of things and I felt the need to talk about them. Is there inherent value in being a human? What gives you, as a human being, value? .
The man in the video above goes off on the idea that things are bad in the world – everything is falling apart – and as a human being we should not stand for it to be this way. As humans we have inherent “rights” to life – to live that life peacefully and free of fear – and when things start to fall apart around us or when we begin to start feeling oppressed or pain we ought not to stand for it because, as a human being, my life has value.
But how do we know that being a human gives us value? What is value anyways?
According to the dictionary, value is defined as: “relative worth, merit, or importance”
So the argument is that your life has value inherently because you are a human being. To have “inherent value” means that value is a base characteristic of life, that one does not have to do anything to have value (i.e. be a CEO of a big company or be worth lots of money or be a great athlete). But, if value is something that is “relative” – what is it relative to? Perhaps it’s relative to a “lesser animal” like a mouse. My life has more value than that of a mouse because of the superiority of the characteristics that I have that the mouse does not (ie. the ability to create, reason, converse, etc…). Therefore my value is found in the relation between myself and the other lesser creatures on this planet.
The only problem with that argument is that you now are assigning value to your own life – you are not objectively assigning value to things – because if the mouse were to have a voice in this conversation he would say that his life has more value than yours because of his superior skills (ie. an elite sense of smell, the ability to manuever in small spaces etc…) and thus causing us to realize that perhaps value is a subjective idea based on the desire to live. I think I have value because I want to believe I have a reason to continue to live. The mouse thinks his life has value because he also wants to continue to live. The mouse could care less if I lived – just like I would actively pursue killing the mouse because he is gross to me and a nuisance. If I did not value my own life over that of the mouse, then I’d let mice take over and kill me (because they value themselves higher than I value myself, therefore giving them the right to kill me because I am “less valuable”).
Perhaps the killer mouse example is confusing so let me illustrate it a little differently: We Americans value our way of life and will do most anything to protect that way of life, even killing other people to make sure it does not change. We will invade, coerce, manipulate and rob others of their natural resources to maintain the way of life we are used to, with no regard for the lives we take or the way of life we step on. That’s because we value ourselves over the lives of others. We are more important than they are and therefore have a right to persecute or manipulate because we have the power to do so and they do not have the power to stop us. But the people being persecuted would say that it is THEIR way of life that is more valuable and important than our crooked way of life. They would say that what we do to them is wrong, because their way of living is just as valuable, if not more so, than our way of life. The only difference is that they do not have the power to enforce their will upon us like we are capable of doing to them.
So if it is oneself that assigns value to things, based around the desire we all have to continue living, how is it that we came to have the ability or the right to assign value to things? Who told us, or by what law of nature or morality did we come to understand value? Or is it natural selection that would dictate to us that those who are capable of survival in this world are valuable because of their capabilities?
Can value truly be inherent then if it is not determined by some objective force? If value is not inherent in humanity then forget the whole argument above because you might as well kill anyone you don’t like because their life has no value. But we assume by our laws that say “don’t kill or steal or maim or abuse” that we shouldn’t do these things because other people are valuable. So we protect those who are vulnerable because of their inherent value, therefore flying in the face of natural selection dictating us to survive, not protect.
I could carry this argument out for much longer than it needs to go – but in order to save the reader some time, I will sum it up. I’ve argued that we often view value subjectively, and this is proven by our actions. We value ourselves over others based around our own subjective experience. But we turn around and have laws that protect the value of others more vulnerable than ourselves because we believe that deep down everyone has inherent value that they did not have to earn, but is in fact a base characteristic in all of humanity. If we are incapable of assigning this inherent value onto each other because of our skewed lens of subjectivity, then the question becomes what objective force is responsible for assigning inherent value to humanity? Could it be that we are given value because of a Creator – because this objective Creator values us and therefore we are valued not only by one another but by a greater source? What gives a household pet value? The owner of the pet. It could be the worst behaved pet of all time, but if the owner values that pet then the behavior is overlooked and the pet is loved and cared for. Could a Creator be the same toward us? Or is it a law of nature or morality that we have learned as a species over millions of years that causes us to value others?
I believe in value. I believe it is inherent in each individual based on nothing they have done to deserve it. I think it safe to assume that a Creator instills value into us simply by valuing humanity himself. So it begs that question, which I will not answer in this post, why is the guy in this video so mad? Because of injustice? Because of the way the world is? His call to action is to yell out your window that you are mad as hell and this somehow makes a difference. But it should. If you believe you have value and that others around you do also – you should care about injustice. But no one ever did anything to change the world without first having that moment of anger toward the problem.
So maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s time to get angry about something.