Greetings, Gentle Reader,

In all societies, there is an implication, even an acceptance, that some people are of greater value than others. My question is simple; is it true? Are some people, intrinsically, more valuable than others? Is a constructive, hard-working, sober, responsible citizen of greater intrinsic value than a destructive, lazy, drunken or stoned, irresponsible one? No. Let's see why:

The answer is no, because when dealing with intrinsic value, as opposed to extrinsic value, we can't count one's worth to the community; much as we might want to, we cannot even count one's tendency toward virtue or vice. In fact, we can neither add to nor subtract from intrinsic value, because, being a constant, it is unaffected by behavior.

To better understand, let's go to a hospital's newborn nursery and stand over the bassinets, without knowing where the babies' fathers work or even whether some of the fathers or mothers are criminals. As we look down on those tiny, squalling bundles, can we assign greater value to some and lesser value to others? I think that we cannot. Each is a 100% human being, bringing with him nothing but potential - potential for good and potential for bad.

Therefore, the intrinsic value of each baby is identical to that of his tiny neighbor, whether he is the offspring of the President of the United States or a prisoner on death row.

I am not saying that the babies' potential is the same, because it is not; I am only saying their actual value as human beings is the same, and when we ignore or deny that, we begin to think as the Hitlers of this world think. We begin to decide which child we would throw overboard first, if we were all floating on a lifeboat and rapidly running out of drinking water. Remember, when those who think like Hitler are in a lifeboat-type situation, the strong dispose of the weak; their only dilemma being which of the weak is the weakest and, therefore, the most readily disposable. It is an unnerving fact that the weakness we are talking about is physical and/or political. If Sister Teresa were in a boat with 10 huge drug dealers, she would be the weakest and would be thrown overboard first. Like it or not, with that type of thinking, the law of the jungle applies.

There is another factor: If one of the babies in the nursery is anencephalic, meaning that its brain is only partially there, is its value the same as it would be if its brain were perfect? What if one of the babies is irreversibly blind, does that lessen its value? What if the baby is blind, but is curable; does its curability affect its worth? Suppose it can be cured, but at an astronomical cost - then what? Difficult questions, indeed.

If our sample babies are of differing worth, who determines the worth? The parents? The government? The Doctor? Let's face it; once we decide that humans have differing degrees of value, SOMEONE must determine it.

My conviction is that each of the babies has the same intrinsic value; their futures may be markedly different, but their value is not. This thinking is outdated today. Now, school children are often led, by their teachers, through the lifeboat scenario and are required to decide who must die first.

The world assigns importance according to one's ability to make money, therefore, a rich man is greater than a poor man. But, if we accept that concept, it means that a filthy rich, murderous drug dealer is greater than a poor, honest, hardworking man with a wife and two kids. Do we agree with that? Is that really what we think, or has our value system become so complicated, so confusing, that, though we reject such an evaluation consciously, we have acquiesced to it subconsciously? Have we been enticed into thinking that a big-time drug dealer is to be admired,
provided he gives millions to charity? Likewise, have we come to the point of thinking that an innocent person is expendable, if his continued existence creates a level of inconvenience that cannot be tolerated with ease?

These kinds of questions cause confusion, if our value system is relative - in essence, floating free of any concrete convictions of the intrinsic worth of humans. Society's expanding level of corruption causes its citizens to abandon the concept of intrinsic value and, instead, define value by using increasingly selfish parameters. "What's in it for me?" " What's it going to cost me?" "How long am I going to have to put up with this?"

This confusion of values is visible elsewhere: Violence is often classified as entertainment. When the Romans used to throw people to the lions, they did it for entertainment. Now, if throwing people to the lions was entertaining, did that make it right? Does a particular activity change its properties, depending on whether the spectators and/or participants are paying customers? No. If it is good when we pay to be entertained by it, then it is still good when we become its victims. If it is evil and we hate it when we're its victims, it is still evil when we seek it out and call it entertainment.

Human life is sacred; it always has been and it always will be. Each of us is of inestimable value, and we ignore that irrevocable truth at great national peril.

Return to the Neighborhood.

Until next time,

Muriel Sluyter


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