Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If human lives were quantifiable.....

If alien beings from outer space  were to travel to our neck of the woods and form an opinion about our priorities, they would surely conclude that the most worthless and expendable commodity is the human life.

A question like “what is a human life worth?” seems more of a philosophical query, inviting a vigorous debate, rather than a mathematical problem followed by a calculation and a dollar amount. But, believe it or not, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget puts the value of a human life in the range of $7 million to $9 million or around $8 million, if we are talking averages. I am not qualified enough to wade into the quagmire of economic parameters and channel my inner Adam Smith for an explanation but I will pose this question: If people were required to pay this amount for every life they were responsible for terminating, would they be so disregardful of their actions?

What is a human life worth? I posed this question to a friend of mine who is a very passionate pacifist and a humanitarian. She said, without any hesitation, that the worth of one human life is the same as the worth of all mankind. That is a mind blowing amount if we look at it numerically. It means that we would have to multiply $5 million by the number of people ever born and those that will ever be born. By these specific guidelines the human life is priceless.

Everyday we come across accounts of neglect, atrocity and pure greed which result in the loss of life. This is only if we are very lucky. Some among us actually experience these events first hand. We hear of hundreds burned in a preventable factory fires, scores killed in sectarian, bigoted violence, thousands of lives cancelled because their thought was different, they looked different, they were different...

One wonders how much fire alarms and proper fire safety measures would have cost in the ill-fated garment factories. If the factory owners were liable to pay for each life lost due to their greed and neglect, would they have been so careless with hazard-proofing their workplaces? What would it be worth to have a visible police force that actually serves and protects? Would it be outside the realm of imagination to ask for public servants that actually serve the public?

Maybe the problem is that there is no accountability for the elite class and no one to pay heed, let alone take any action, in response to the pleas and cries of the working class. How else could a society explain the ruthless beating of a young man just because he denied a “begum sahib” some baked goods. How could the murder of a Swedish missionary, working only for the well-being of the needy, be justified?  Most of these are not spur of the moment emotionally fueled incidences. Rather they are planned and dramatic measures to instill fear and discourage any others who might want to stand up to an oppressive elite. But if these “untouchables” had to pay  for every person they roughed up or, worse still, killed, would they be so gung-ho about it?

Entire sub-nationalities are staked out to be massacred. Religious sects are marked for death because they have a different ideology and mass murder is validated and justified by closed-minded men with personal agendas. And then there are those who take up the savage war-cry , without any question or thought as to the cogency or the repercussions of their actions, and cut down lives with the abandon of an unholy crusader high on crack. The Grim Reaper would cringe in fear and loathing at such wanton waste because even he has rules. Nobody pays for these innumerable lost lives: lost in the name of profit, in the name of power and the most vile category for justifying gratuitous killings--in the name of God.
It has been said that those who stop fearing God, fear nothing else. Maybe that is the problem. God has become nothing more that a word, an abstract idea that can justify all misguided agendas. Everyone believes that they wield the sword of the Almighty, but whose side is Allah really on?

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