I woke up this morning feeling worthless. There was a hole in my life that I couldn’t ignore. The curious fact that I produce nothing of value and no one would really miss me if I were gone. Perhaps for a while but they’d get over it. I told myself it wasn’t true but that didn’t feel very convincing. I told myself that it didn’t matter but it felt as if it did. I told myself I could change and do many things of great worth and it felt, skeptical, a worn out formula covering for the inescapable truth that none of us really change. We just keep treading the same ground and making the same promises and, look, you’re a few years older. The hole in your life will always be there.
I woke up this morning with a particularly neurotic obsession. For some reason, pieces of my mind were trying to convince me that people have ‘worth’. Despite being relatively easily dismissed as a childish fear, it incessantly returned. The notion is absurd, what measure could reduce any person’s life to a single metric of value when doing so must necessarily compress all the myriad values of life into one form? It doesn’t mean anything to say the life of a 12 year old Bavarian school girl with good grades is worth more than a Canadian pilot who enjoys cooking Bolognese. That’s the grand lesson of existentialism. So the correct approach to my obsession is to deflect it like an annoying dog, offer it neither love nor hate and it will go away.
Value is a legitimate output of your social-moral framework. If you’re proportion oriented then you believe that we can compare any two objects and probably believe that money is the ideal tool for the task. If I could calculate how much money would be paid for my life, I could know my value. To the hierarchy oriented then my value is my status. To feel better about myself, I should contemplate the group with whom I hold the greatest status. To the unity oriented, my value to my main group is the most important. This is different from rank in a hierarchy as the value tracks how well I carry out the rituals of the group and police its boundaries. Perhaps my feelings of worthlessness stem from being apart from my family and weakly obtaining social approval from a comparably tight knit group. To the equality oriented, value is meaningless! I don’t have to justify anything here. That’s implicitly what I’m invoking above and, you’ll notice, the only framework that I could have done so in. Lucky for me that my culture doesn’t encourage the other frameworks more aggressively.