The Value of Life and Death
All too often, we allow various biases to affect us – bias towards cultural mores and values imparted to us, bias towards notions of “morality” regarding the nature of “good” and “evil” (however those are defined), bias towards or against certain individuals and/or people groups based on personal experiences with them, etc…
But could we be overlooking the greatest bias of all time – the one thing that makes the concept of a “bias” possible in the first place? Could it be that all forms of value stem from one single chemical reaction that occurred about 3 billion years ago in a pool of primordial soup that everything we know came from?
Could it be that the greatest bias of all time is towards life itself?
“Ridiculous” one might say – “how can life be a bias of any kind?”
Does anyone really stop and think about the origin of value itself? Since the concept of value is meaningless apart from a given mind that ascribes it to that which is around it, it’s only natural that the mind that goes about ascribing value to existence would forget about the effects that being alive have on its own mental state (after all, life is what makes the mind possible in the first place). Hence the rise of all sorts of concepts that have never been seriously questioned by society: concepts that have led to all manner of vain pursuits and disappointing fantasies that left us as a culture unprepared to handle reality…
Myths of self-esteem:
How many people have been told growing up that “everyone is special?” That there is no one else on earth at any point in time like you? In the end such talk is little more than ego masturbation – life is ultimately little more than a chemical process that produces a biological entity that is self-contained, possesses a metabolism and can replicate itself. If one considers that there is a finite level of matter and energy in the universe that perpetually assumes new forms, then there are only so many combinations that matter and energy can assume: therefore it’s rational to assume that the present material forms we know have existed at some point before – that all of existence just continually recycles and repeats itself (something akin to the notion of the eternal return).
If this is so (and there’s little reason to doubt it – not unless you can come up with a mechanism to spawn brand new matter and energy into being…), then it’s possible that an infinite number of life forms akin to yourself have existed at some point. Therefore, you are not really all that special as far as your place in the universe is concerned.
And yet this myth continues to perpetuate – why? Because we have been socially conditioned to believe that we exist to serve some external force to ourselves, we have to curb our own selfish impulses. If we are to act according to our interests and desires we need some sort of belief that allows us to esteem ourselves: an idea that gives us a reason to behave selfishly – and what better idea than to think that you are one-of-a-kind in the world, set apart from all others?
By no means am I against selfish behavior, but I ask that people at least be honest about it – we don’t value ourselves because we are unique, we value ourselves because we *are* ourselves. If one embraces his own sovereignty as an individual he does not need another reason than that to act in his own interests whilst fully aware of his place in existence.
Myth of the life-death dichotomy:
Too many people, especially in modern society (one largely divorced from nature), embrace this notion that life is what is “good” and death is “bad” – in a Manichean fashion they have separated two parts of whole in their own minds. Such a view rejects the reality of a complex relationship between life and death.
Consider the basic nature of nourishment – all life forms depend on the death of other life forms to sustain their own metabolisms: the predator consumes the flesh of its prey, the herbivore consumes the living cells of plant life, plant life depends upon the death of other plants and animals to replenish nutrients to the soil (and some have even resorted to predatory tactics themselves – a la the venus flytrap) and all manner of bacteria and fungal life forms colonize the bodies of dead multi-cellular organisms (and sometimes the living as well – resulting in infectious diseases). Like it or not, all life depends upon death for sustenance.
Of course, being sentient life forms with an exaggerated sense of our own self worth as a species, we have come to recognize the end of life as a “bad” thing as we have become self-aware – for we are all too easily reminded of our own mortality. This condition has become further exacerbated in modern culture due to the fact that we are so alienated from nature: most modern people no longer produce their own food, chop their own wood for fuel or construction, deal with predators or even rely on themselves for their own safety (we’ve been taught since childhood to call 911 at the first sign of trouble, which impacts our own ability to handle a life-threatening situation – why learn to protect yourself when protection is just a phone call away?). All of these activities involve dealing with death in some form or another, but since modern man no longer performs them regularly he loses his appreciation for death’s benefits and remembers only its cost (which evokes the specter of the grim reaper).
I’m not suggesting that we all go back to a primitive form of living (I doubt that is even a possibility for most right now – although a little wilderness survival training might serve you well when modern society collapses…), but is it too much to ask that you recognize that the food on your plate was once alive? Would it kill you (pun intended) to remember that death is an essential for life to exist?
Myth of life’s sacredness:
Over and over we are told that human life is something special – that we are more than just animals that learned to use bigger and better tools that all the others: that we are all made in the image of some “god” that has placed us in dominion over the earth. Even among those that have rejected religion there is a tendency to elevate human life to a sort of sacred pinnacle and assert that its value cannot be challenged.
Ok, let us just assume that there is some being out there that can be called “god” (something which can’t be proven as their isn’t even a consistent definition of what such a thing is) and that one day it decided to create a masterpiece of life: a superior race of beings to rule over all its creation. Tell me, would a being with such intentions create a physically inferior specimen (as humans are pound-for-pound one of the weakest life forms on earth) with all sorts of design flaws that would hinder its ability to live a full and satisfying life (a head that rest directly over the spine with little muscular support, inefficient criss-cross wiring of the nervous system that requires for the left hemisphere of the brain to control the right side of the body and vice versa, spines that are prone to degeneration of cartilage disks, etc…) as well as a maladjusted psychology (particularly herd mentality and a tendency to favor short-term ambitions over long-term best interests)? This kind of life forms sounds more like the work of a blind, amoral watchmaker called natural selection than of some almighty deity.
But as I previously stated, even among those who don’t believe man was the product of divine authorship there are those who continue to assert that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other forms of life – of course, when pressed to substantiate why this true they don’t have any real answers. Without some assumption that humans have some kind of “special destiny” laid out by some power beyond human comprehension all one really has to appeal to is species loyalty: humans value human life because they themselves are human – which essentially reduces the value of human life to one of opinion based on membership of a group, which is anything but objective (if cockroaches were sentient they would likely hold cockroach life as being more valuable than all other life, etc…).
So, objectively speaking, life has no more value than the mind that ascribes value to it – meaning in turn that there is no objective reason why any life should be held as being “sacred.” But this is exactly what we are supposed to believe when various issues relating to human desire vs. the natural world come up: that we should support destruction of the ecology through such means as clearing more land for farming and industry because it benefits humans. Granted, the benefits are more than a little disproportional (as the social elite get the lion’s share of the resources exploited this way, whilst the average Joe gets next to nothing out of the deal) but even if the benefits were spread more equally why should we just assume that human needs and desires take priority? What about the needs and desires of non-human life forms – why they matter less?
In the end, it’s questions like these that will not just go answered but unaddressed altogether by the social mainstream – as the society we live in itself is built upon all manner of unchallenged assumptions about the nature of value: were the values of society ever to be challenged on a level playing field they would fall like a house of cards.
Naturally, it’s in the best interests of society to keep the field tilted in their favor and avoid questioning of the most fundamental biases they hold concerning the nature of life itself. Only when the fundamental assumptions of reality are questioned can one finally escape the super-imposed paradigms of the established order and begin to assert his own sovereignty: saying “no” to the traditional concepts of life and death and create new ones to serve his own purposes without compromising his intellectual honesty.
Azazel- Is it too much to ask that you recognize that the food on your plate was once alive? Would it kill you to remember that death is an essential for life to exist?