Common Sense Comes to Town!

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have. (Descartes)

What Matters

Posted on | July 11, 2011 | No Comments

Does life still amount to something nowadays? Many persons openly asked the question after the surprising twists of the Guy Turcotte trial in Canada and the Casey Anthony case in the USA. Does life have any value? I have not found a universal answer to this question. I only have an intimate and personal conviction which I will happily share with you.

As an atheist I will not be looking for answers outside of the crudest aspects of our existence. From a purely mechanical point of view, we are a more or less random assemblage of particles, atoms, molecules, proteins, enzymes, cells, flesh, blood, bones, and neurons. We are not extremely efficient nor durable (on a cosmic scale). We can be recycled in other materials; the shape in which we appear does not seem to matter.

On the individual level though strange phenomenon occur. Millions of years of evolution have shaped us to desire the company of our brethrens, to not only reproduce but also help one another in another strange phenomenon: the transmission of knowledge. To favour the presence of our family, our siblings, our clan and ultimately our species. But with seven billion human beings have we reached the stage where sheer quantity brings individual value down to nothing?

We should ask ourselves this question : what is value? Economy tells us that value depends on choices in a context where desires are unlimited and resources, limited. The same logic applies to the diversity of the human species. Theoretical combination of physiological, psychological, cultural (and so on) criteria ending up into one very specific human being are indeed infinite. We
can always dream or fantasize about the ideal companion, perfect, unique: the obvious truth is that we must deal with people the way they are. Seven billion people is not that much compared to infinity.

This is what give life its value : scarcity. The intimate knowledge that each human life is precious, unique, one amongst myriads of possible combinations, of course, but at least a very tangible combination. That we make amongst these tangible combinations choices (conscious or not). A choice to allow each life to reach its full potential. A choice to support through adversity those we
love. A choice sometimes to act against our personal instincts in order to improve collective well-being. A choice to look reality straight in the eye, to ignore our immediate reactions and to make the decision which is most appropriate to all persons involved in a given situation.

This was the choice made by eleven members of a jury in the Guy Turcotte trial. This choice does not rob victims of their value, quite the opposite. This choice does not value the murderer above his children. This choice is recognition that this man, this murderer, is a unique combination of cultural, physiological and psychological factors. Unique but deeply flawed. This choice allows other experts – public health experts – to make their own choice in turn on the fate

of the assassin. Will he be allowed to walk free or must he be isolated for the common good? This is the ultimate judgment on one’s value: that it is found wanting to a degree that prevents one from joining a community. Let’s also not forget that the door is still open for an appeal.

Life as we see keeps its value. We have determined as a society guidelines to evaluate it respectfully. This kind of society is many times preferable over a society where such judgements are made at random or in the interest of those making the judgement.

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