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Worthless, or priceless?

Fairly often my writing can drift, a little unexpectedly, into some quite weighty concerns about humanity and modern life. And while I generally try to lift things toward being slightly more optimistic, at times what’s emerged seems pretty valid. Like last week’s post on Value and worth in our relationships, asking about how we relate to others.

I’ve talked before about how modern society often equates our worth with financial considerations (see Notes One), which could be seen as almost undeniable at this point in time. But is it truly the case, or is such thinking merely the product of our social ideas and systems?

Not wanting to get drawn into political issues, I’m simply asking about the worth of a human life: is our value as a person in any way to be equated with money? Money being a system for valuing goods, property, assets – does that have any place in estimations of humanity? It might be quantifiable, it might be how we’ve come to manage society, but surely a line has to be drawn somewhere.

Of course, practically speaking, money does shape our lives: our opportunities and difficulties; goods and services we have access to; how others tend to treat us and the power we have as a result. All of that’s “true”. Within our societies and between them, money carries weight and influence people won’t want to relinquish. But beyond understanding “how things are”, are we really evaluating people on this basis?

I get that we need ways of relating, of differentiating our positions within society. Human community is clearly a set of relationships and a way of coordinating our activities to support the needs of that collective entity. Historically, social structures have reflected the power individuals have had in controlling key aspects of that system, guiding or dictating how people related to one another within it.

My question, if I’m allowed to ask it, is whether we might be sorely mistaken in thinking this way. It’s not an easy question. My writing here’s always most difficult when touching on modern attitudes that seem to be passing unchallenged (Notes Two). It’s hard to write when my point seems to be that “the elderly are still people, deserving of respect”. Surely such things shouldn’t need to be said?

But apparently we live in a world where we can talk of people “adding value”, “being a drain on society”, “costing others dearly” or not being “worthwhile” in various ways. Can we apply maths to humanity in this way, or are we crossing a line when we do so?

When my thoughts amble in this direction I find myself wondering if I should pursue them or cut them short. Is that even a valid question? Can such concerns be left unraised or, as a human, would I be inhuman to not consider them worthwhile? We, as people, live in a world of things and, therefore, money; but surely we’re wrong to think a human life is anything less than invaluable.

Notes and References:

Note 1: The value of each human being
Note 1: Economy & Humanity
Note 1: I am not just a sum
Note 2: What inspires all of this
Note 2: Morality and modern thought
Note 2: “Wisdom” by Andrew Zuckerman

Looking to how we might respond differently in life, see: Need to stand alone & think for ourselves, The idea of self reliance, or The human spirit.

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