Tuesday, October 11, 2005
What is life worth anyway?
colors: the colors of pizza
thoughts: well, today i was driving home from the grocery store -- in addition to getting lots of juice, lemon-lime soda, and soy milk (the safeway in our nbhd is frequently out of rice milk) i picked up some breakfast of champions ingredients, which we'd gotten rid of prior to the move.
my grocery list is irrelevant though. sorry to throw a curveball on that one. actually, where i was heading with my story was to notice that while i was driving home with my groceries, there was a school letting out with lots of kids on the sidewalk and some crossing, with a crossing guard. they were crossing in the same direction as i was going, but still i was trying to be careful so was driving a bit more slowly. not one, but two vehicles, a blue car and a white van accelerated around me, even though i wasn't exactly puttering.
in that case, people in a hurry felt that getting to their destination sooner outweighed the risk of mowing down schoolchildren.
in the case of war, there are likely statistical analyses done to figure out how much soldiers' lives are worth, and how much civilians' lives are worth as well. certainly, through the use of actuarial science, insurance companies and large manufacturing companies have a very good idea of the value of a human life.
Military: "How much shall we spend toward soldier pay, compared to cost of weapons, compared to paying for reparations to the country we're bombing? How much shall we pay on healthcare for wounded soldiers when they return?"
Insurance companies: "At this person's current age, how much do we need to charge them for insurance to make sure we make a profit, compared to what we'd have to pay out if they die?"
Large car company: "How safe do we need to make this car before the cost of making it safer outweighs the cost of paying the lawsuits of people injured due to defects in design?"
I'd like to put forth a different way of looking at life.
There is only one life.
We join into it when we are born into this world.
There is only one death.
We are a part of it before we are born, and after we depart from this world, but that's not really the important part as far as I'm concerned -- did I mention yet that the concept of going to a separate eternal extreme afterlife, based upon one's beliefs and actions in this world, is one of the most powerful "gifts" the devil ever tricked us into receiving? For now, let's just say we die and are "no longer endowed with this current sentience* in this current location" when death happens.
OK, on to the only one life aspect: we are all a part of life. How valuable is it? How valuable is life in general? For those drivers who went zooming past the kids, or past bicyclists, or for leaders who allocate resources to that which destroys life, rather than sustains, improves, or preserves it (obvious example in the US: iraq war vs. emergency preparedness back home), or for soldiers whose jobs require them to destroy life, from their individual perspective, they may say "Well, if it were my life, that would suck, but i'm glad it's not my life." In other words, being self-interested we care more about our own lives than the lives of others. Driving in the car, we'd get in trouble if we hit kids, but not killed. Living in our part of the world, we're not individually suffering from Katrina, starvation, earthquakes, so it's not as big of a deal to us. Yet, that IS life. There is life there, and it is suffering. The amount of effort we make, the amount of resources sent toward alleviating or preventing suffering, is in direct correlation to how much we value life. Perhaps one may value life more in their own community, family, or self than in other places. That's just another indicator of how much self-interest one has, and how far we still have to go until we each see ourselves as part of the universal spirit -- that which is in charge of caretaking for the universal soul, I suppose....
Another, more callous, way of finding the value of life is monetarily. For example, in US dollars, say the average person in the world earns $4000/year (just a very rough guesstimate for purposes of this example), and there are 6.6 billion people on the planet. The value of life in a year would be about $27 trillion.** If we blew up the planet, or went extinct somehow, we'd be missing out on that much life every year. But of course one can't truly measure life according to money. On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to rent yourself out to some corporation from age 25 to age 65 for $50,000/year, your life-energy (and peak production potential) will have been sold for $2 million dollars. Talk about selling your soul. I wonder how the planet would feel about all this if it could talk. I'm just saying bro...
*Actually if one considers Piaget, and Alzheimers and other incapacitating diseases (including standard forgetfulness) we have to look forward to as we age, we are in a steady state of change wrt the amount of life and awareness we possess throughout our existence.
**In case you're innumerate (the mathematical equivalent of being illiterate), to envision one billion people, consider one thousand people standing in a line (a pretty long line, but easy enough to imagine), now imagine one thousand lines next to that one line (quite a mass of people, but they'd all be able to stand a meter apart and only take up one square kilometer (about a half-mile by a half-mile, give or take a little fudge factor). So far, it's at a million. To get to a billion, imagine one of the two following scenarios: you make a 1,000 story building (a little over a mile high), and have 1,000 lines per story, each with 1,000 people per line. That's quite a lot, but can likely be grasped with a little concentration.
together in life, together in death...
A bogus googlewhack.
here's to a great big bus hug,