Sunday, October 02, 2005

Post No. 33: I'm Worth $1,767,018...

Here’s an update for you all, I’m worth $1,767,018! Or at least that is the monetary value assigned to me by the website: (though, strangely, it didn’t specify what currency the $1,767,018 would be in so I’m assuming it’s in US dollars). This was done so after my answers to questions, ranging from the ordinary e.g. height & weight to the kinky (guys who have done the test at this website will no doubt know which question I’m referring to), were analysed by the website’s system. Although I am of the opinion that it is perhaps an utter mockery that, not being satisfied with affixing a price tag to almost everything around them, people start assigning monetary values to those around them & themselves, this website got me thinking about 2 questions. One, is it possible for a person’s worth to be measured and defined? Two, if it is indeed possible to measure a person’s worth, how do we go about doing it i.e. what factors and/or standards are we to consider? Well, by this point in time, it should be quite obvious to you all that I will be attempting to provide answers to these 2 questions.

Okay now, it seems to me that it would be more appropriate for me to attempt answering the second question first because if the answer for the first question turns out to be in the negative, it would be hardly necessary for me to me to answer the second question, wouldn’t it? Hence, with this in mind, I shall be examining the second question first before moving on to the first question.

Well, how should I proceed to answer the question of how to measure the worth of a person? Perhaps you all can come up with a better way to do so but I will be employing the method of proposing possible criteria of measuring a person’s worth and examine whether they are indeed able to define a person’s worth. Okay now, here goes nothing…


Hmmm… If we are to abide by the saying of: “Money makes the world go round”, it would seems that an appropriate standard to judge a person’s worth by would be his/her wealth. In other words, looking at how much a person own in monetary possessions and/or how much a person is able to earn would be a good way to measure that person’s worth, wouldn’t it? Surely, nobody will argue to the contrary if we are to claim hat a millionaire is worth more than a penniless beggar, would they?

Well, I’m afraid that I, for one, find fault with the proposition of using how much a person own or is able to earn as a standard to measure a person’s worth. Why? For the simple reason that we humans are more than economic beings. There is much more to our inherent worth than our economic/monetary networth. Perhaps a millionaire is indeed more “valuable” than a beggar if we are only looking at their economic/monetary value. However, in this little thought-experiment of mine, I’m looking at more than a person’s economic/monetary worth; I’m attempting to look at a person’s total worth as a human being and not just as an economic being. Anyway, after the much publicised Enron scandal saga, can anyone truly say that Kenneth Lay, multi-millionaire ex-CEO of Enron, is a “valuable” human being without hesitating?

Hence, it would seems to me that we should strike “Wealth” out of the list…

Education/Intelligence Level

Ahhh… I suppose that for those who pride themselves on being highly-educated and/or having a high intelligence level (in other words, a high IQ level) would most likely agree with the idea that a person’s education/intelligence level should be used in evaluating the worth of that person. Yes, indeed it could be reasoned that the better a person’s education or the more intelligent he/she is, the better the prospects and benefits that person would be able to enjoy. With no intention of criticism, such a perception of highly-educated intelligent people being more “valuable” than the common man in the street could perhaps have more currency in our own society. This is considering that, for ill or for good, our society seems to place a greater emphasis on those possessing a certain level of academic aptitude (in other words, “scholars”). Of course, it must be noted that this is a perception which the Government have been and is attempting to discourage among us citizens with their often reiteration that everyone of us is important and valuable in our own way. Yet, despite this, it may be observed that anxious local parents still nonetheless hope that their children would be able to make it into the highest echelons (and in their eyes, more respectable) of education. Also, it can be observed that most of us still prefer to have some sort of academic/educational qualifications (the higher the better) as we deem such qualifications as a tool to improve our prospects in society. Hence, considering the heavy emphasis that society places on a person’s educational/intelligence level, surely no one would question the idea of using a person’s educational/intelligence level to measure his/her level of worth?

Again, I have to say that I disagree with such an idea, although I could, with a very loose definition, be included among those considered as highly-educated and intelligent. Lest anyone be mistaken, I do not disagree with the notion that having a better education and being more intelligent could help one’s prospects in society. However, it is my opinion that this doesn’t mean that one’s educational/intelligence level should be used as a standard to determine one’s worth as a human being. With no intention of offending those who take pride in being highly-educated and/or intelligent, the question I would like to ask is: “So what if you’re highly-educated and/or intelligent?” Does having a university degree really make one more “valuable” than another person whom only has “O”-level qualifications? I sincerely doubt so. Yes, with better educational qualifications, one’s prospects are also better. However, I fail to see the link between having better prospects and having a higher worth as a human being. In my opinion, one could be the most intelligent being on the planet and/or have degrees from the most prestigious universities in the world but if he/she hasn’t contributed anything to society, that person is no more “valuable” as a human being than an illiterate uneducated person. In the words of MM Lee: “It is amazing the number of highly-intelligent persons in the world who make no contribution at all to the well-being of their fellow men”.

Well, I’m quite certain that you all will agree with me that a person’s educational/intelligence level cannot and should not be employed as a standard to determine a person’s worth as a human being.

Job Type

Okay now… Let us now look at whether what type of job a person has could be used to evaluate his/her worth as a human being. Superficially, it would seem that this could be an acceptable way to measure the worth of a person. Surely, a person who works in a more prestigious job has more worth than a person whom doesn’t? Isn’t it obvious that a doctor would have higher worth than a road sweeper? How can it be possible that an ordinary hawker is more “valuable” than an eloquent lawyer?

However, looking deeper, I have no doubt that you all, like me, would recognise the invalidity of such an argument. Hence, I would like to refer you all to 2 wisdom-laden Chinese sayings: “行业不分贵贱” (“There is nothing such as an ignoble profession”) and “行行出状元” (“In every profession, there can emerge cases of success”). It should be quite obvious what I’m trying to point out to you all, hence, respecting the collective intelligence of you all, I shall not belabour this point of mine any further (for those that are more interested, you all may refer to my Post No. 11: The Forgotten to read a more detailed elaboration on my thoughts about linking a person’s worth with what he/she works as).

So it looks like “Job Type” is also out…

Nationality/Ethnic Group

Cough… I must be careful now as I will be stepping into dangerously politically incorrect and sensitive waters here with this point. A single mis-step and I could be mistaken for being a racist or a Western-phile. Well, for my own sake and the sake of you all, I would like to unequivocally proclaim here that I’m no racist and am no Western-phile either (or at least I think that I don’t exhibit any obvious traits which could qualify me as either). I’m just playing the role of a devil’s advocate (don’t know what this means? My advice would be for you all to check a dictionary to find out) here. That aside, I will move on.

Well, perhaps you all may argue that this idea I am proposing no longer hold any currency in the colour-blind world of today but I beg to differ. From my humble (and probably mistaken) point of view, there still exists the notion in some of us that people of a certain nationality and/or ethnic group are better than that of another nationality and/or ethnic group. Putting aside notions of racism and ethno-centrism, it is possible that such a perception could be accepted as reasonable…

How so? Well, let’s face it. There are countries which are more developed and there are countries which are less developed or even underdeveloped. Hence, with this in mind, is it so unacceptable that a citizen of a rich & prosperous First World country has greater worth than a citizen of a poor & backward Third World country? Wouldn’t an American citizen have greater worth than a citizen of a country like Afghanistan? Looking at how coveted an American passport is compared to a passport from Afghanistan, it would seem that the answer would be in the affirmative. Okay now, after coming up with a possible explanation for why people of a certain nationality could have higher worth than that of another nationality, I shall move on to the more sensitive point on ethnicity. Well, to keep a long story short, I would just like to refer you all to a most recent & illuminating example. I suppose you all have read or heard about (please, don’t tell me you are all so ill-informed) how the poor & black (ok, the more politically correct term to use here would be “African-American” but I don’t suppose anyone would seriously object to me using a more commonly used term) citizens of hurricane-stricken New Orleans are supposedly abandoned to their fate partly because of their skin colour. There is a speculation, not created by me, going around that if these people were white (and if they’re rich, even better), the emergency rescue response by the American administration would have be more prompt than it was in reality. Taking this example at face value, it would seem that, in America perhaps, the colour of your skin could determine your worth (or at least in the eyes of your government. No offence though).

For those who have a short memory span, let me iterate that I’m just playing the role of a devil’s advocate and I don’t believe in the arguments which I have put forth in the paragraph preceding this. To me, the worth of an American, stripped of external circumstances and conditions, is no different from that of an Iraqi or an Afghan. A life is still a life. There is no basis to the notion that an American life should be more “valuable” that that of an Iraqi or Afghan life. Also, though superficially our skin colour may differ, we are nonetheless the same inside. If we are pricked, do we not bleed blood of the same colour? Talking about blood, it has been scientifically proven that the DNA in our blood differs from one another only by perhaps a mere 1%. Unless you all argue that 1% difference makes all the difference, I would say that we are more alike than we are different, genetically speaking. And idealistically speaking, are we not all part of a common humanity?

Well, looks like we’ll have to reject a person’s nationality and/or ethnicity as a standard to measure that person’s worth as a human being also.


Sidetracking, this is getting way longer than I initially thought it would; hopefully, the ink in my pen doesn’t dry finish before I finish (Yes, I’m writing this in long hand before I type it out).

Getting back on track, I now put forth the idea that by looking at the contributions of a person to society, we will be able to determine his/her worth as a human being. I don’t suppose any of you all will disagree with me on the point that a person who has contributed to society would undoubtedly have a higher worth than a person whom lives through Life without contributing at all. Thus, it would seem that we have found an answer to the question of how to determine a person’s worth as a human being.

Unfortunately, as much as I would like to accept the idea of using “contribution” to measure a person’s worth as a human being, I sadly have to reject it also due to practical considerations. Practically speaking, using whether a person has contributed to society as a yardstick to measure a person’s worth has both quantitative and qualitative problems. Let me tackle the quantitative problems first. Most of us would no doubt agree that there are many different spheres of human endeavour in which we can contribute something in. There lies the problem of how we differentiate whether a person contributing in one sphere contributes more or less than another person contributing in a different sphere? For instance, who do we say contributed more: Karl Marx or Beethoven? Shakespeare or Mother Teresa? Also, it is truly difficult to judge on the level of contribution that 2 different people have made in a similar sphere. Who do we judge as having contributed more to the sphere of music? Beethoven? Mozart? John Lennon? Who do we accord the honour of being the greatest writer? Shakespeare? Tolstoy? Tolkien? Who do we call as the greatest philosopher? Socrates? Hegel? Nietzsche? Hence, quantitatively speaking, using “contribution” as a method to determine a person’s worth doesn’t really work practically.

In addition, qualitatively speaking, there is a practical problem. To keep a long story short, quantity doesn’t always equal to quality. For example, we cannot all donate a million dollars at one go to charity by ourselves unlike what billionaires like Bill Gates can do. However, if we all give to charity from our hearts, what difference does it make whether we donated $10 or a million dollars? So, while “contribution” may be a good way to measure a person’s worth, I’m afraid that it isn’t a practical way.

Well, I suppose that my answer to the question of how we can measure a person’s worth would be that there is no single definitive standard we can really use. Also, by giving such an answer, I suppose I have to answer in the negative to the question of whether it is possible for a person’s worth to be defined since there is no standard we can rely upon to do so. So, what has this little thought-experiment of mine achieved? Nothing much, I suppose. However, if one looks deeper, there is nonetheless meaning to this thought-experiment of mine. In a way, it has shown that our worth cannot be determined by any external circumstances or conditions. Each of us is unique, thus making us all important and valuable in our own way. Nobody can call us worthless. Only we can know how much we’re worth. We may not be “valuable” in one sphere but we can be in another sphere. All in all, what I want to say is that all of us are priceless. Never forget this.

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