Nathanael Garrett Novosel, March 27 2024

On Value, Worth, Self-Esteem, and Objective Standards

There is a major equivocation/conflation of the words “value” and “worth” going on, and wherever there is a confusion around meaning with regards to life, you know I’ll be here covering it.

Let me give you some background on what is going on: millennia ago, humans were not too much more civilized than animals, and so we did have very much a “survival of the fittest” approach to life out of necessity: women mated with the most capable men; less fit men died single either alone or for the group; and women had greater intrinsic value because of their ability to create offspring. The problem occurs that we’re not talking about modern “value as a human being”; we are talking about objective reality of how humans judged each others’ worth in the social and reproductive marketplace. It’s neither good nor bad; it just is.

In more recent times, society has become much better off, and as a result we have the luxury of governmental systems that recognize everyone’s individual value and worth—what philosophers call “people are an end in and of themselves”—meaning that they deserve equal protection under the law and equal rights and freedoms. Contrary to popular belief, men benefitted from this more than women, as women had more value in the reproductive marketplace and so the 90% of men who were expendable didn’t have to be enslaved, put into war, or otherwise forced to serve or die for others. Even the right of all men to vote only preceded the right of all people to vote by several decades (in the US, roughly the 1860s for all Caucasian men, the 1920s for all women, and then protections for African-American men were solidified in the 1960s after many laws were put in place to infringe on the right that they had to vote). In short, it took centuries and millions of dead people—the majority men, who fought and died in wars—to give everyone equal treatment under the law.

Now, it is common to assume that everyone has equal value under the law, and this is a great win for the common person, who before often lived in a caste system where they had fewer rights and opportunities from the day they were born. However, there is still the original definition of “value”, meaning contribution, utility, reproductive fitness, or a variety of other meanings that are in modern times quantified in financial terms given the existence of a monetary system (though, to be clear, trade would exist without it and value would just be determined via barter vs. product-currency exchanges). Unfortunately, people have now conflated and subsequently equivocated on these terms, causing confusion as to what rights people have versus what privileges they are demanding. Because of this, people are claiming they want rights when they want privileges and, inversely, they are claiming that equal treatment is oppression. Let’s clear this up and get these meanings as they pertain to life straight.

Everyone has equal value as a human being, meaning that no one should be allowed to force, harm, or kill them. People should be free to live as they please as long as they don’t harm anyone else (yes, no government is perfect, and there are plenty of instances of citizens having to pay money, give up their property, and other things that violate their rights…but we’ll assume that people are free as long as they don’t harm anyone else for simplicity). That is one definition of “value”. The other definition of “value” is financial worth, often dictated by a combination of how desirable or necessary something is (demand) relative to its scarcity (supply) as long as the price exceeds the cost to produce (or else no one would produce it because it’d lose money and the person or company would go bankrupt). This is a completely different definition of value that people conflate due to it being the same word, and there are gross societal consequences for doing so.

Let’s start with the number one fear that people have according to psychologists: feeling “not good enough”. This is the first consequence of conflating the two meanings of the word “value”: deserving basic rights as a human versus contributing enough to earn what you get as a person. Yes, everyone should feel like, as a human, they are deserving of rights, the ability to live as they see fit, etc. That’s the right messaging to overcome the “not good enough” mindset, and it’s something that everyone should strive to hold for the purposes of living a happy, fulfilling life. However, that is different than whether you paid enough to sit in first class versus coach or if you contributed your portion of the household chores. If you made a commitment but did not hold up your part of the agreement, then your contribution is “not good enough” to earn the privileges that come with that contribution. That’s the difference between rights, which you have by existing, and privileges, which you get by earning them.

The second example that has become prevalent recently is people calling special privileges “rights” and saying that they are entitled to things. There are several things that are prominent: the right to someone else’s labor for no cost on their end, the right to special accommodations without the requisite compensation, or the privilege of others treating them in a certain way while they are allowed to act insufferably without consequence. These are not rights, they are privileges. Someone’s “worth” as a person does not dictate their “worth” in these real marketplaces. Let’s take several specific examples trending in recent times:

People demanding free additional seating because, due to their increased caloric consumption over an extended period of time, they require more space to fit comfortably. The conflation here is one of everyone having the right to be treated equally, which in this case is that everyone can buy an airplane seat for the same price under the same conditions, and that “seat” guarantees X amount of space, with the privilege of additional space to fit themselves comfortably for the same price that someone else paid to fit themselves comfortably. These are two different definitions of “value”: the reality is that everyone has the same right to pay for space at the same rate, and if you require more space then you have to pay more. That is equal treatment under the law. Additionally, the reality is that space and weight cost the airline money. The more weight and space required, the more it costs the company and, therefore, the more it should cost the consumer of the product. People pay more to ship larger, heavier packages and larger, heavier suitcases, and everyone understands why.

Only economically ignorant people demand more “free” bags because the price will just be incorporated into the ticket and so the idea of “free” is a misunderstanding of the reality of, “no additional cost to the price you already paid for the ticket, which included the cost of carrying your bags”. In the exact same way as packages or luggage, humans need to pay more for more space. Everyone has the equal right to buy as many seats as they want to be comfortable on a flight—they could even buy every seat and fly alone. That is their right. But having additional space for no additional cost is a privilege demanded, not a right, because their intrinsic value of a human is different from the cost incurred and value provided by the airline of hauling additional size and weight for one person than for another. The only other option is—like an all-you-can-eat buffet where everyone pays the same amount—the people who consume less of the product are paying more for their food than the people who consume more of the product (i.e., some people are paying for other people’s consumption). In effect, a person demanding more space than their fellow passengers are asking others to pay for their space instead of simply them paying for themselves, which they have an equal right to do under the law.

People who say, “I’m worth it” when talking about deserving a mate who is amazing-looking, high salary, and will pay for their extravagant lifestyle without them having to work—or sometimes, even, take care of their own kids. Again, the intrinsic value that one has for existing and not deserving to be harmed is completely different than the value someone has in a reproductive marketplace. Yes, women have intrinsically higher value than men in said marketplace, but that’s doesn’t mean that every average person is entitled to this perfect mate who will do everything for them—that’s not a partner, that’s an indentured servant. Yes, there are people who are so attractive that someone less attractive will, in fact, have to provide a significant amount of utilitarian value to make up for that gap—see wealthy-but-unattractive men with attractive women—but an average person with no utilitarian value in the marketplace is not entitled to someone who provides everything for them by default.

People who demand products and services without paying for them. Their intrinsic value as a human does not entitle them to take other people’s property. Unfortunately, this is the one that is becoming more true, as a society that becomes more successful eventually feels obligated to provide for everyone, and then a large portion of the population—with an equal vote—becomes accustomed to the “free” benefits and wants them to continue indefinitely and possibly even increase over time. I once went on vacation to Mexico where the tour guide explicitly stated, “Don’t hand anyone money. First, they’re pleasantly surprised, then they ask, then they expect and the whole experience is ruined for everyone.” She explained that they had to completely change the tour because the people who paid for an authentic experience of daily life in the area were receiving a line of people sticking their hands out for free money. Again, the equal value of every person under the law is not the same as being entitled to other people’s labor, money, or property for simply existing, but it is becoming quite clear that more and more people will conflate these two things for the foreseeable future.

Finally, people who think that not being as successful or capable makes them less of a person. This goes back to the “not good enough” point earlier. If you are not tall enough to ride a roller coaster, that doesn’t make you a bad child. It simply was designed for taller people, and if you’re not tall enough, then you could get hurt and so you can’t ride it. If you can’t make the football team, it’s simply that you are not the best option for the team compared to someone else with greater ability, but that doesn’t make you a bad person; you just can’t play for that team.

The most common example of this in modern times is where people want to compete with a group of people who are clearly biologically inferior to them so they can win—what they call in sports a “ringer”. Wrestling and combat sports have weight classes and other requirements for a reason: larger, more capable people can exert more force and possibly kill a smaller, less capable person. There are leagues, classes, and other divisions for a reason: to protect people, to make the sports fair and competitive, and to allow people of all types to compete with people who are equivalent to them. There are amazing instances where teams allow someone with a disability to play for a down and experience running for a touchdown or scoring a basket because they otherwise can’t compete at that level, and those are feel-good moments. But people have exploited systems since the beginning of time, and in recent times people are exploiting the willingness of people to try to include others as a way to dominate inferior opponents on an unfair playing field.

It works both ways: not meeting some objective standard or qualification does not make someone a less valuable person in terms of rights or protection under the law; it simply means that they don’t qualify due to some objective, measurable quality or attribute that they don’t possess. Conversely, they are not better than someone else just because they are more capable in an area, and them getting excluded for being too capable is equally following an objective standard and not an infringement on their rights. They have a right to exist and live their lives; they don’t have a right to force people to associate with them or get dominated by them.

In short, make sure that you are not conflating or equivocating on the word “value”—value as a person is not the same as the financial value of the product or service you provide to others or the qualifications you have for particular activities. When people conflate them, they are (knowingly or not) asking for special privileges that others do not have and acting like they are equal (though, to be fair, they often use the correct term, “equitable”, but equal value means entitled to equal, not equitable, treatment under the law). Sadly, everyone looks for ways to exploit the system, and this is the latest one. The sadder part, however, is that this equivocation (i.e., using “value” as person one moment and then demanding monetary or marketplace value the next) is so subtle that most people—even the people doing it—might not even realize what is going on and so they fall for it and grant the special privileges in the name of “equal value as a person” when they are not the same thing.

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Nathanael Garrett Novosel


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