Was there a choice involved in you being born? I know that when my wife and I wanted to have kids we ‘chose’ to try and have them which basically meant that we removed any kind of birth control and tried to increase the chance of getting pregnant. Still it took awhile and there were a few tense months when we asked the question ‘Can we have kids’. Thank God, we have three healthy children now, but it is not that easy for many people. In fact, it is down right hard. Infertility affects a lot of people. Some say 1 in 8 (12.5%) others say up to 20%. Now by all accounts that is a huge number. Especially, if you consider that there are two people who make up a couple. That means that at least a quarter of people in the USA deal with infertility on some level.
Now these are people who do not have a choice. I have seen this first hand with my sister and brother in law who had a hard time getting pregnant. In fact, it took a couple of years. Every month that they didn’t have a baby was like a jack hammer that drove them down deeper and deeper. It was heart wrenching to watch. You wouldn’t want to talk about someone who got pregnant around her and especially if someone got pregnant that wasn’t trying. Then, just to make life especially cruel they got pregnant! Yes, only to lose the baby. Now for people who ‘choose’ to have kids this is what it can be like. Your choice is superseded by some other ‘choice’ be it natural or supernatural. You are at its mercy.
I only tell these stories to illustrate that the word ‘choice’ is not conclusive. Whether someone chooses to bring a human into the world or not does not necessarily mean they will.
Another way to think about it is that we have a choice because someone else had a choice. Our choice is contingent on the fact that someone else chose to have us. If they would have chosen to not have us then logically we would not be able to choose to have someone else. So, the fact that we can choose is not because of a choice of ours. Your choice belongs to a long chain of causation of many, many choices either virtuous or nefarious. Whether you would like to admit it or not you very well might be the product of a rape 20 generations back. Either way if that did not happen you would not be who you are (this of course does not make it right but that is another discussion).
Looking at it this way can also be very sobering because logically the children you don’t have also means the end of that chain of causation. Your ‘choice’ is not just ending the chain for your children to be but also their children to be and their children to be. You essentially have eradicated a whole bunch of future people. Now this argument can also go to people who decide to not have more children. I myself am haunted by the fact that I was a fourth child and what if my parents had decided at three children (like me and my wife) that they had enough? Well, thank God they ‘chose’ different (I assume they chose).
The only religion that I can tell that indicates that a human can decide to be born is Judaism.
Unless I am wrong every other religion seems to indicate that you are born into a body due to some Karma calculation or that you begin to exist somewhere around conception. Atheism believes that you are product of chance so no decision there, you are a lucky accident. Really, from the naturalistic viewpoint, not only are you lucky, you are also a winner because your genetics have beat out other competing chains of causation (That rape 20 generations ago was a good thing for your evolution)
It is as if the world’s family tree was started by one domino (a couple) falling and that one domino knocks down a number of other dominoes with each one of then knocking down a bunch more. Hence, the tree metaphor. All human existence could be recursively iterated through like the directory system on your computer (if we had all of the data).
Essentially, all of that data does exist in our DNA in a form since it is passed on from generation to generation always changing yet staying the same (we are all humans)
You can think about it even more granular than that though using the domino illustration further. Any individual human life can be thought of a time dependent series like dominoes lined up , one for each minute of existence, ready to be knocked down and all that is needed is a push to the very first domino to cause the sequence to start. Now, the only rule is that two series must converge to start another series.
There is no limit on the amount of times two series can converge (and they don’t have to be the same series logically)
Now, unless you believe in Judaism you don’t have a part to play in what starts your series. Every minute goes by and another domino falls, crashing into the next minute to start it falling. Now, none of us know exactly how many dominoes are in our series but we are all time dependent which means that you cannot take any one domino away from the series without stopping it (some would say killing it). In other words, every domino in the series is as necessary to the series as any other. You could not remove a minute from your life when you were, for example, two and continue being a human (a second, a millisecond, a microsecond, a nanosecond etc.. for that matter).
All of us, every living thing, in fact lives in this exact way. The act of living means that you are existing in the present (your domino’s are still falling).
From a logical point of view then, an event that stops the sequence anywhere along the sequence would be considered something that stops that life, that kills that life. You can’t have the second minute without the first, the hundredth minute with out the ninety-ninth minute…
Every minute, second, millisecond, microsecond, nanosecond… is as necessary as any other and cannot be considered any less necessary than any other, logically.
I am not talking about when a so called soul is attached to its body here. I am strictly talking logically about the sequence that we call life. If life is valuable at all, it is valuable continuously and consistently. At different stages of development in any kind of life it may require different resources to facilitate its continued synchronization with the present. But, by its nature, to be alive and to continue being what it is (human, dog, fish, plant) its point in development in the now is as necessary as its point of development in any point in the past (or the future). Although its usefulness and functionality (value) might change with its development, since its usefulness and functionality are dependent on the antecedents of prior less useful and functional development times those prior times have absolutely the same value as the subsequent times should there be any value at all.
Which then of course leads to the real issue – Do any of us or does anything really have any value at all? Now talking about value is hard because it is one of those words that can mean different things. For example, value can strictly mean what amount of money someone will pay for something. It also can mean how much money a person might have; like “His personal fortune is valued at” or “My Net Worth is”. Or, someone’s value might be by what they can give to a society; their productivity and utility. Or, we can have value to each other, like how I value my family or I am valued by my parents. But apart from individual value based on quantitative and qualitative properties we may have do we have value by simply being human?
And, if we have value, do we all have the same value? Because value is not necessarily a constant, it can change (as mentioned above). You may be the love of someone’s life only to become their enemy. Your parents may not have shown you love and affection as evidence that they valued you.
In America, a society that is the first of its kind in history, our founding fathers tried a radical approach to this human value question. It essentially is the idea that every citizen has equal value and because they have equal value they intrinsically have equal rights. (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness)
So, no matter what value your parents, your friends or even you have of yourself, your country gives you value for just being human which is pretty cool (Yeah America!). Just because you began to exist in America means that as long as you are human (that is the only stipulation) you have value and consequently civil rights.
What are those intrinsic rights? Well, life for one. You exist and since you exist you have the right to continue existing. No one can take your life from you and not face severe punishment (lose all of their rights).
The right of liberty, which basically means that you are free to do what you want to. If you want to move across the country you can. If you want to color your hair purple you can. Essentially, inside of the laws of not hurting others and decency you can do and believe pretty much what you want. You can pursue ‘happiness’ whatever that means for you.
Now, it was not always that way. In fact, you had no value unless you were related to the royal family in some way or were useful to them. In the 13th century one document called the Magna Carta started to change all of that. The one thing the Magna Carta did was limit the value of the nobility and at the same time give value to normal people. It, in effect, provided a solution to the paradox of humanity where there are people that seem to be worth more and rise to the top along with their family while all of the people underneath them are worth less and oppressed. This has happened since monarchy was invented, which goes way, way back in human history. Every truly free democratic country mimics the principles of the Magna Carta in some way with America being the first country to fully embrace civil liberty. Hence, the Statue of Liberty.
So, you have value and rights bestowed on you if you are American (or Canadian, or Australian etc..) Now, where does this wonderful concept of the basic concept of our intrinsic value and consequent rights come from? You see one of the issues with people (call it a law) is that they start to act a certain way when they are in a position where their value is perceived to be greater than the value of others. Throughout history this human law has been in effect. It is the law of pride. Whatever gives you an advantage over another person (strength, intelligence, beauty, wealth, religious piousness, family born into, what country one is from) can make you perceive (and believe) that you are more valuable when juxtaposed with others.
We all have an internal rating system that continually compares ourselves with other people on the properties that we comprehend are the most valuable to us – “I am more wealthy than him” or “he is wealthy, but he cheats on his wife” or “I am hotter than most people I know”. We size people up when we meet them to see if they are worthy of our time and friendship or if they are a threat (nothing worse than a genius who doesn’t have to work to be smart). Are they friend material or a project? Are they intelligent or a dumbass? Do they know how to have fun?
That what gives us value can bring us together but can also isolate us. A pretty girl might have lots of friends and companions because she is pretty until some accident takes her looks away and then those same people who valued her for her beauty find it hard to be seen in public with her.
My point is that human value to other humans is a setpoint on a sliding scale based on an aggregate of what is valuable to them (at that time in their life). Ones own value is a recursive feedback loop to that same setpoint. The writers of the Declaration of Independence came in and said “No, everyone has a base level of value” to put a low limit on everyone’s sliding scale but also “Everyone, has an upper limit to their value (and consequent power) as well”. It is like it is a mathematical constant similar to PI or the speed of light in a vacuum or like how everyone gets the same amount of money in the beginning of monopoly. Why? because human societies successful functionality is a phenomenon like any other scientific phenomenon. Why do light photons travel the way they do? Why does electricity behave according to certain rules? They are phenomenon that can be hard to understand from a common sense point of view but that is the way they work. When human society is run giving the lowest members the same value and freedoms as its highest members an odd thing happens – it works a lot better. Call it forced humility or maybe forced pride depending on how you look at it. Now, to be clear, this is not the same as communism that applies this principle to economics.
Chesterton speaks of this paradox of the “moral dilemma of balancing pride with humility” and our Constitution and Declaration attempt to balance that paradox with equality and civil rights. They can only limit it, though, so that the system will not spiral out of control (and end up at something like Fascism). It is each individual’s job to enforce that balance in their own life.
It is important to note that pride generally is not a choice where humility is. All humans are born with a default sense of pride. Pride, by its nature, is irrational. I see this with my son who says ‘I am a really good at ‘ – FILL IN THE BLANK. He is at the age where in his mind he thinks that he is good at everything even though he is not. It is not that he won’t be but his pride is irrational. He thinks himself the best at something he really knows nothing about.
Now, I didn’t teach him this it is just how he is. Kid’s (humans) are braggers by nature they have to learn (generally through losing) that they need to practice and work hard to get good and then as they continue to grow up, depending on their exposure, they learn that there are even more people out there that are better than them which continually provides humility. Ignoring humilities lessons leads to irrational pride. Irrational pride is dangerous because once reality sets in and one truly realizes that their value is based on a prideful mirage your value setpoint can drop quickly causing you to lose control.
Many people have to readjust their personal value setpoint when they start college and find out that even though they may have been the most popular, the best looking and best at sports in high school in reality they may be just average or a bit above average. This can suddenly make you question your value. A readjustment of what makes up your value setpoint is needed.
Which leads me to the choice to not exist. I think that generally most people commit suicide because they believe that their life is not worth living – that they have no intrinsic value. Something has happened that causes them to spiral out of control and their personal value setpoint has gone below the low low limit where even the very value of their life is in question. This can be caused by a number of things but usually it comes from the personal value property that is the ‘value we have to others’ or even worse ‘the value we perceive we have to others’. The opinions (their value properties in relation to us) of other people (especially people that contribute lots to our aggregated value setpoint) can have a devastating effect on our own value. That is why caring too much what people think can be very very dangerous. Maybe you find yourself in severe debt or you made some really foolish decisions and now you are in a hole and are trapped because you don’t want people to know and be devalued in their eyes. Or, you are depressed and don’t know why. Maybe it started from anxiety when someone of value to you died and you were faced with your own mortality. Maybe one of your parents never demonstrated that they valued you and you can’t understand how they could do that. Maybe you are stuck in a nihilistic loop. Maybe you have just been diagnosed with a disease
Listen, if your country says your life has value then maybe you should too. The Low Limit on your value needs to be in place that no matter what you have done or what anyone else has done to you or thinks about you or what is going on in your life – YOU HAVE INTRINSIC VALUE!
I have struggled with the concept that we are all valuable to God or God loves everyone. It seemed like one of those things you always hear but that doesn’t really make any sense. That was because I thought that if we all have the same value to God then really no one is valuable since value to me is a setpoint on that sliding scale biased by my own version of what is valuable. This is irrational, though, and can only be possible because of you guessed it – my pride.
In reality, we all have a base level of intrinsic value to God that is the same Lo Limiter on your value but like the value and rights your country gives you – you can choose to believe in it or not (they are yours whether you believe or not). It works in society and it works in the life of a single person as well. Believe and focus on the fact that there is nothing that you can do that will bring you below that threshold of love and value God has for you and it will be a philosophical and emotional anchor that a weary, seemingless valueless mind may need.
Oh yeah, about my brother and sister in-law. They ended up adopting a pair of beautiful twins (one boy, one girl) and just before the adoption was final they became pregnant and now have 3 beautiful children all within one year.