You are undeniably valuable.
When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights. – G. K. Chesterton
Intrinsic value differs from extrinsic value in the sense that your intrinsic value is present and unsullied, independent of whether you continue to have societal worth or not. What many of us tend to exhibit and promote, and this outside of our conscience sphere of daily operations is a mode of living and a value system based on merits alone. If someone performs a service then that service and that person as a consequence of that service is worth something.
Let’s elaborate. And by ‘us’ I mean you, dear reader because I’m not writing and communicating with myself here. This is a mutual avenue of communal growth. Therefore, understand that we must work together to better understand the harmful effects of a society that functions within a paradigm of extrinsic values while believing that people have intrinsic value and losing their minds when people begin to live out a lifestyle that devalues life altogether.
While in conversation with a co-worker about this conundrum, she mentioned a study, which, I couldn’t find, where researchers found that we determine someone’s financial potential or their intellectual prowess based solely on a short conversation. Whether our perception of the person is true or not is crucial because we tend to believe our preconceived notions about someone without truly knowing them and attributing to them certain stereotypes, usually harmful ones, that aren’t true at all.
Normally, when we meet someone at a venue, a social networking event, or at a dance hall, you name it, we interact with them to get to know them. We tend to force ourselves to ask such dishonest and uninteresting questions because we want to one, connect with that person; two, see if they’re relatable; and three, see if they add value to our social circle.
We ask things like, what do you do for a living? Where do you work? Where did you go to school? What did you study while there? Are you married? How many kids do you have? And questions like these or similar ones help us determine if the person we’re talking to is worth something or if their value matches or supersedes our own. If their answers are satisfactory enough we then add them to an invisible group of people we would like to add or have the potential of adding to our friend’s list.
Example A – Satisfactory Sample Answers To The Questions Asked Above:
“I’m a psychology magazine editor and I spend my time selecting which mental health-related articles and interviews my company will publish to our network of two million magazine subscribers. I earned my clinical psychology degree from Harvard. I’ve been married for twelve years now, have three kids; two boys and one girl, and we own a house in town by the river and a beach house in Miami, Florida/cabin in Boulder, Colorado, which we visit thrice a year.”
You will assume this individual earns well over six figures a year, is highly educated, has a stable income, and has an enviable autonomous lifestyle. You also assume their intellect is equal or superior to yours therefore you’re further enamored by or made jealous of their academic success. Your posture toward them is one of reverence, honor, respect, or simply amicable. You’re more open to discussing other things with this person because they, according to our extrinsic value-centric society, are worth something or are deemed a valuable individual worth adding to our social circle.
Now, consider you meet the same individual at the same function, everyone is dressed business-casual and you bee-line to the cash bar for another therapeutic beverage or, if you’re at church, you bee-line to the coffee station (megachurch scenario) and once there you meet this person. The person is dressed in casual style, their hair is well kept but you can tell it has been a few weeks since the person last got a trim, or, if the person is a woman, you can tell her hair is greasy. (I’m speaking from ignorance here. I’m not sure what greasy or non-greasy hair looks or feels like and if it’s even a bad thing so please, pardon my ignorance). And you introduce yourself to avoid the awkward silence that exists between adults when they notice each other but intentionally avoid one another without cause.
The same questions are asked and these are the responses you get back from this new face in town.
Example B – Socially Unsatisfactory Sample Answers:
“I’m currently between jobs but I’ve been looking for the next best thing. It’s a tough job market at the moment but I’m giving up. I dropped out of college halfway through due to financial instability and emotional stress. I didn’t get far enough to determine what it was I wanted to be. I’m still not sure. I’m separated from my spouse, with no intention of restitution there. And no kids. I decided early in life I didn’t want any. I’m between places as well. Living on a friend’s couch and hoping to get a better paying job soon to then get my own apartment.”
Many of us would sympathize with this second person and hope to generate a connection that extends beyond the material value of the first person. But the problem is many of us don’t. We see the first person as emotionally healthy, financially stable, an academic erudite, a family man or woman, a father or mother, and worth having around because of their stability and social capital which extends beyond financial capital alone.
Too often, we find ourselves degrading someone who just so happens to be in a less fortunate situation because, in a society that operates with a social metric based on extrinsic values, your worth is measured and determined by what you have to offer the world, not by the fact that you’re on this world.
Meaning, what you do and what you can give us is more valuable than who you are as a person independent of all those other things.
This extends into the medical-social sphere as well when we begin to discuss human values concerning the right to life and the right to death, namely, euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.
I’m extending my reach here but hear me out.
We use terms like “die with dignity” as if someone loses their dignity from being ill, or terminally ill. We presume that it is okay to end one’s life if one is in pain – as if pain or pleasure is the only sentiment by which we determine if life is worth living. Under that idea, we’re hedonists (the pursuit of pleasure is the meaning of life) more so than we are idealists and it shows.
And allow me to interrupt my thought process here to say that I am not in a position to fully understand the many challenges someone in this predicament faces. Especially when they’re close to death, dealing with cancer or whichever disease that cripples the body with pain, diminishes the will of the heart, and destroys the mind of the individual dealing with it. These things are beyond my purview of experience because I am relatively healthy and I write these words from a place of comfort and health. I can sympathize with someone who is in that state of mind, seeking to ease their dis-ease because no one likes to live in or with pain and no one should. I’m not arguing or promoting an idea that dismisses the final wishes of a dying soul when all they know is horror and pain.
What I am calling or attempting to call to our attention is how we can so easily shift our ethics to remove someone’s dignity because of the pain they’re in or because they deem themselves no longer worthy of living due to depression or some other mental health complication.
As if human worth and intrinsic value are things we can inject or reject on a whim or after years of scientific extrapolation to determine that one can simply refuse to live because they have deemed their life unlivable.
I firmly believe, and my belief is irrelevant here, but I believe and independent of my belief, I know and am convinced that human beings have intrinsic value.
Meaning, they have a value imbued to them by someone or something outside of them that grants them this sacrosanct value from inception to death, that cannot be degraded, substituted, added to, or subtracted from them because their value is not theirs to tamper with.
This someone or something outside of us in my worldview is God. I believe God implanted every single one of us with His Image, meaning, our humanity, our worth, our value are inviolable. And alongside that, certain aspects about us are inviolable because they are sacred and have been imputed with a worth so great that to tarnish or tamper with them is considered sacrilegious and a crime against humanity.
These include but are not limited to life, autonomy, personhood, safety, and more.
You can consider any human rights charter or document in the world and you will find that they have added to the list of things I mentioned above but please understand that human rights charters can vary based upon which entity is in power and is writing those codes into law.
We needn’t go too far back in history to decipher which laws were objectively emblematic of human dignity and which ones were subjective and morally corrupt. We consider Nazi Germany’s 1930s and 1940s Nuremberg Race Laws which legally prohibited Jews from mingling with and marrying German citizens because Jews were considered subhuman to the German culture. They were later denied the right to German citizenship and later yet, considered rats worthy of extermination. Laws were created to elevate the humanity of some while diminishing the humanity; and value, of others.
We also consider Jim Crow laws and policies which extended beyond the reach of law and ebbed into cultural and social norms of North American life. Black Americans weren’t allowed to vote, to ambulate freely within certain cities and towns, were given curfews otherwise they were arrested and beaten by police officers and later imprisoned without cause. Some were lynched for simply talking back to a white person or looking at them the wrong way. Police officers, lawyers, and judges were seen to participate in lynchings while others looked on, giving their consent to the crime. White Americans of English, Dutch, French, and German descent in power were valued above Chinese Americans, Native Americans, Black Americans, Mexicans Americans, and Irish Americans. Anyone who did not fit into this racial hegemony lost their worth in the eyes of the law, economics, mortgage approvals, military service, citizenship, loan applications and approvals, higher incarceration rates for the same crimes their racially superior counterparts committed, and more.
When we have laws, rules, ethics, and standards that are created and promoted by humans and are derived from a horizontal humanistic foundation then it is easy to shift their meaning and purpose depending on who’s in power and control at the time.
When inalienable rights such as value, worth, dignity, and life are determined by finite beings then intrinsic value, worth, dignity, and life are all subjective whims subject to change within a generation or two.
Intrinsic value is universal and supersedes temporal law and social norms.
Some may argue that the universal aspect of this idea does not require a God and to them, I say that if God does not exist and the universe is impersonal or without intellect then following universal laws without universal consequences leads a person to functional nihilism.
We then determine our purpose, worth, value, and dignity because there is nothing above us by which to determine whether up is up and if theft is still theft. After all, it is theft today but tomorrow it’s Peppa Pig.
Things will only have meaning if we determine their meaning based upon cultural and societal consensus.
If that is how we determine value then most definitely we will live in a society that prizes extrinsic values and nothing else.
The homeless, the poor, the broken, the uneducated, the lower classes, the racially disadvantaged, women, women of color, and disabled people will be worth little to nothing at all.
We will call a custodian who works well at their job an ‘entry-level employee’ who isn’t motivated enough to succeed by getting a better job. We will then devalue their work, thus devaluing their social status because custodians are all at the bottom of the social scale are they not? Once that person loses their job because of economic woes, the person loses their capital value, thus, losing their ultimate value since they have nothing else to offer us or their immediate circle of extrinsic friends now that they’re unemployed. Because worth is connected to a degree and a high-paying job, marital status, progeny, and more, once all those are gone or they’re not as socially acceptable as what we deem socially acceptable, the person loses their value to society.
A person’s worth is quite independent of their usefulness to society. – Kjell Magne Bondevik
We will call a sick man a man who ought to end his life because there is no dignity in defecating in one’s pants as an adult. We will tell them it would be better if they would just die because caring for them is too great a burden and we would like them to die sooner so that we can go back to not dealing with someone else’s pain and misery. Their worth is connected to their dignity and their dignity is connected to their health and once that goes, all else goes with it.
If our worth is not connected to something outside of us, something universally larger than the universe itself, because if the universe is finite then our worth is finite as well. And it’s only a matter of time before we are worth nothing at all. If the universe is infinite but impersonal then our worth is subjective because it means much today but tomorrow, it may mean something else altogether; for better or for worse. An impersonal universe cares little for our value.
Lastly, if the universe is finite but there is something outside of it that transcends time, space, matter, and whatnot, and that thing is a person that transcends all matter, then that means we have a universal constant or a universal foundation by which to determine what is good or bad, valuable or invaluable.
That is why I resort again to the conviction that we have intrinsic value that is inviolable because our value was imbued in us, it was gifted to us, transferred to us, and implanted into our very being by God.
So, what I want to say is you have intrinsic value.
You are valuable not because of your career, your intellect, your academic history, your worth to your workspace or your worth in your marriage, to your kids, or your singleness with or without kids. You are valuable when you are housed or homeless. You are valuable when you are emotionally healthy or emotionally broken. You are valuable in wealth and poverty, in health and sickness.
You are valuable, you have intrinsic value because you were made in the image of God.
God has granted you and me with an inviolable value.
It does not come from your boss, your spouse, your social group, your community, your education, or wherever it is you tend to seek validation.
It comes from God, whether you accept this gift or not, it was yours from birth. It will not diminish with time. You cannot get rid of it. No one can distort your worth with laws or policies. No one can rob you of your universal God-given value because no one can take anything away from God.
So we must confront and push back against the notion that our society thrives within a system of extrinsic value. It is detrimental to our well-being, our mental health, and induces anxiety we can go without.
Our social media sphere has promoted this harmful understanding of value (extrinsic value) by showcasing and advertising lifestyles of wealth, health (beach-bod/pro-anorexia), greed, exorbitant luxury, affluence without accountability, infamous influence, and power as means by which we’re judged and counted as worthy or unworthy.
Our world disintegrates a little more every time we promote extrinsic values. We kill one another. We commit mass genocide. We pulverize entire cities with atomic bombs when we live by this metric. Our anxiety goes through the roof and our neighbors become strangerd. “Othering” becomes the norm as we see ourselves as superior to “them”; whoever “they” may be and we eat ourselves until all that is left of us is a venesected blob of carmine mush, plus chance, plus time, plus matter.
You have intrinsic value and no one can take that gift away from you.