Friday, June 15, 2012

The metric of worth

Conor Friedersdorf reviewed a book about elites by Chris Hayes and he asked readers for their responses to the subject. He posted the response of one reader that I also want to post because I thought it was a very interesting analysis:

The root of this entire thing is the metric of worth. The metric of worth changes as culture changes and it should be done away with altogether, but it's too radical. Instead of acknowledging the huge spectrum of people and creating a dignified place for everyone, we have created a Gladiator Arena where the deserving win and the flawed lose. This is the basis of America.

We stole this land. But that's okay because the vision of the United States was so much more important and better than what the indigenous people were doing with it. Thomas Jefferson wrote all that bullshit about all men being created equal while being a slaveholder.

We accept and reinforce constantly that well, some people are just better, just worth more than other people. And we move this concept from one thing to another. Ok, you can't say that whites are superior to blacks, how about straight is better than gay? No? No good? How about smart people! Any color or sexual orientation can be smart! Even girls can be smart! Let's do that one.

Only let's redefine smart to mean successful. It's a shell game of oppression.

I'm not sure I would advocate doing away with the metric of worth entirely. To me that was one of the utopian aspects of communism (Marx's theory, not Lenin's application) that was appealing but seemingly unworkable. At least she acknowledges it would be radical. But the rest of her analysis is at least pretty accurate.

The part about there being a huge spectrum of people is something I've tried to talk about on this blog, though perhaps not in those same terms. I've discussed the fact that people are born with different abilities, and are born with those different abilities into different situations in which they can or can't take advantage of those abilities. And those people had absolutely not control over where they started.

Yet, as Beth (the commenter) points out, as a society, we interpret the fact that the person who was born under better circumstances and thus was more "successful" is smarter than the other person who was born under worse circumstances which made it much more difficult to be "successful". And it turns into a shell game of oppression (great phrase, Beth) because those people who become "successful", the elite, get to define or redefine the terms. They get to define how you measure worth. And not surprisingly, they define things in a way that best suits themselves and the people they care about. And that's where you get the problems we have that Hayes' writes about in his book.

I could go on and on about this because it affects so much of our lives and politics. But I guess I'll leave it at that for now. There are some more good posts from commenters in the link. So check those out as well.

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