The other day I became involved in one of those conversations that starts out very small and casual and progresses through a series of seemingly innocent tributaries until eventually what you've got is a roaring class 5 rapids of big ideas and very opinionated positions, all tearing and lashing out in an attempt to solve the world's problems. It was late at night and my sister and I had somehow found our way onto the topic of "humanity", or more specifically, "human value." We were in disagreement.
Before I continue I feel I must clarify exactly how we are defining the concept of humanity here. We are not arguing the concept of mankind or the human race in terms of it's existence or lack there-of. Neither my sister nor myself is irrational enough to argue against something as concrete as human existence. What we were tangled up about was the concept of humanity as it applies to man's unquestioned and unconditional deserving of sympathy, love, and resources regardless of effort, morals, or contribution to society. In tandem with this, the discussion included the debate of whether or not these qualities can be used to determine an individual's worth, or value, or if value is inherent simply because one exists.
My sister's stance on this is that all individuals - from the lowest crack-head infant killer to the most brilliant medical scientist months away from developing a cure for cancer - all have the same value, and in turn have equal claims on love, accolades, and the comforts that are available in today's world. In short, these things need not be earned but rewarded based solely on the achievement of being alive. We should love and reward everyone unconditionally. Put yet another way, we reap what we do not sow.
And my sister is certainly not alone in this view. Our current Robin Hood system is designed to take from those who have produced and give to those who have not; to penalize those with skill and drive and reward those who have neither, nor the desire to attain these qualities. The problem is that resources, like energy, cannot simply be created. If one consumes more than he has produced, this difference must be found somewhere.
I believe that man is the summation of his actions, morals, and contributions, and should be valued on the merit of these things. Love is not a flippant commodity to be doled out to anyone who may happen to pass by. It must be earned. And this is, in actuality, how we live our day to day lives. People typically do not walk the streets hugging and loving up on every stranger along the way. This would not only be very time consuming, but highly irrational. As a people, we have a natural air of indifference toward strangers until we have cause to feel otherwise. This is normal and rational. It is not until we are confronted with the ideological aggregate of "one love" that we switch gears to comply with social and religious statutes which hold us responsible for "loving our fellow man."
The issue has of course been debated extensively on both sides of the aisle. In fact, one can take it a step further, as Robert Pirsig did in Lila, and separate value into social value and biological value. Taken this way, our crack-head infant killer certainly has biological value as he is a living, breathing being. But it proves difficult to argue that he provides value to society in any way, and in fact could be said to have negative value in terms of contribution to the world around him. But in my opinion this is too easy as it gives us a means of breaking the issue down into unrelated segments, when what we're really after is a solution in it's entirety, which can only be achieved through examination of the person as a whole.
So does a crack-head infant killer have less value than our medical scientist with the ability to improve the quality of life for millions of people now and in the future? I do not hesitate to say that Yes, he does. As a people we have countless systems in place, both qualitative and quantitative, for measuring the value or "quality" of everything from fruit to financial systems. We do not hesitate to value dog breeds based on coloring or gait. Human athletes are measured by speed, accuracy, endurance, etc., and ranked accordingly. Students are rated by test scores and rewarded for superior performance. Yet when it comes to determining the overall value of an individual - something that should fall into place fairly naturally given the multitude of factors that can called into consideration - we stop short. That voice of reason that we use for virtually every other activity in our lives tries to pipe up - "Of course there's a difference! Isn't it obvious!!", but it is quickly and efficiently stifled by socially and religiously imposed thought structures which prohibit the use of reason for answers to all but the most insignificant questions.