I had a very interesting dialogue on Twitter with a friend today. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a good philosophical/theological discussion with someone, and I really enjoyed it (probably more than all the people who read both our streams, sorry guys!).
We began the conversation discussing human rights, and the idea that in a godless universe (aka “the universe” to me), people do not have inherent rights. I agreed with this assertion (his), and continued to agree with him all the way through to the conclusion that humans have no inherent value at all and are essentially worthless. I believe our worth comes from being valued by other humans and that, generally speaking, we (as most species) are wired to value each other to a certain degree. Obviously there are many cultural, situational, & biological exceptions to this “rule” – again, just as there are with many other species.
What I couldn’t quite gather was why it mattered. What benefit was there to the idea of having god-given rights, if humans are the only ones with the power to violate them?
He said that god-given rights “give you an unchanging basis for valuing humans. w/ implications for, say, slavery, torture, treatment of women, the poor…in the absence of such valuation, the social compact is tenuous and toothless, really, because there’s no reason I should care.”
Yes, I thought. That last part sounds pretty much like what we’ve got going on here on planet earth. A lot of people are being valued, a lot (more?) are not being valued. Our social contracts (governments) are constantly changing and shifting, and things get really ugly when people who don’t value other humans – or only particular humans – are put in powerful positions. In an high level view of human history, I see very little consistency at all, except that we seem to value each other just enough to not wipe ourselves out of existence (yet).
“So”, I said, “the world would look like it looks?” I mean, it seemed immediately obvious.
But he said, “no. the world would look demonstrably worse.”
Which is not at all what I expected he would say!
We left things there, because it had been a long conversation, which is challenging via Twitter for many reasons – and he acknowledged that this was the point at which we would hit an impasse.
So, if I’m understanding Joshua correctly, he’s saying that the current state of the world is evidence for the existence of inherent human rights bestowed by a creator. Because if there were no such rights, the state of things would be much worse. (I guess this is a bit of extrapolation – Joshua, feel free to correct me if I am wrong here.)
I will admit that I have been feeling pretty negative about the state-of-the-planet (SOTP) lately, and admittedly, my knowledge of world history is pretty weak overall. But still, things look kinda crappy from over here. Which is funny, because I am probably one of the luckiest motherbitches on the planet. The closest I ever feel to having my rights violated is when they are out of Snowville Cream at Kroger, for pete’s sake. Although, maybe it’s because I have it so good that things elsewhere look so bad? No, no…I’m pretty sure the horror of rape, torture, slavery etc. are never a matter of PERSPECTIVE.
But I am left wondering what some of you think. Would you have been as surprised at his response as I was?
I know that for some people, it sounds really bleak to say that I believe people have no inherent value. But I’m not saying people are worthless, just we’re worth something only to each other (though really, my dog likes me a helluvalot). This, of course, really gets down to the nitty gritty of morals and ethics and all that big philosophy stuff that you studied in college and people have been pondering since the beginning of time. And honestly, as much as I enjoy a little existential pondering, when it gets to the really tough stuff, my brain starts to hurt and I have to stop. (I am this way about most things. I blame my parents for not fostering in me an ethic of persistence and follow-through).
I think mostly, I’m just fascinated by how differently we all see the world. We all have to build some kind of framework that helps us make sense of “reality”. And even more interestingly for me is that I tried to adopt a framework of faith for a long, long time and it just never “stuck”. It was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole…it just didn’t fit me. And I know people who’d say the same about their faith – that it doesn’t make sense and they can’t logically explain it, but nothing else feels right.
What’s my point? I don’t even know anymore. I am starting to feel trapped in a Pink Floyd movie. Time for bed.