You deserve what you get, you get what you deserve
An uncomfortable topic
“May all sentient beings be happy, joyful, safe, and healthy.”
May — all — all beings, not just the ones who deserve it. Not just the ones who have earned it. All. Everyone.
Joyful and safe people seldom commit crimes. Nobody ever beat up or shot anybody because they were safe and joyful.
Even the people who have done horrible things deserve to be healthy and happy. I believe it’s very difficult for healthy and happy people to harm others.
“We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person” — every person. Not just the elect, the deserving, but everyone. The snitch, the sneak, the pickpocket, the liar, the manipulator, the drug addict.
I don’t feel respect for liars. I don’t like being manipulated. Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting both things. And yet —
And yet I fall back on the foundational principle. Respect.
My strongest urge is to wish everyone to be well and happy even if I want them to do it far away from me.
Through time I have made an effort to only say true things. (Sometimes that means I’m vague or silent.) I don’t do it to earn respect. I do it because I’m rather reflexively respectful to whoever I’m talking to.
Earning respect … or not
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that you must earn your respect or have it because of a certain configuration of DNA.
Respect doled out based on your skin color or bank balance? I find that idea to be … vile. The reason I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking about this subject is because I want to learn to refute the idea of the “deserving” and the “undeserving.”
The general idea is if you are rich it is because you deserve to be rich. If you are poor you deserve your poverty.
You can deserve respect because you are a Winchester or a Simpson-Smythe.
If your last name is Miller or Cooper, what do you expect? The only reason you are even a member of the human race is because you work hard and don’t make trouble.
One of my favorite YouTube political commentators is David Pakman. He was interviewed recently by Joe Rogan and in the course of a long conversation, they discussed ways of refuting conservative ideas and promoting progressive ideas.
Those two things are basically David Pakman’s life work. He said he could answer almost every conservative argument except the idea of which people deserve what.
Conservatives not always — but often — object to universal health care, food stamps, SSI disability, and so on because “those people” made bad choices. They ate themselves into diabetes. They drank themselves into kidney failure. They’re just lazy and want to mooch off their betters.
“They just want free stuff,” Bill O’Riley once said when he was in between sexual harassment lawsuits.
The translation of that sentence is: “Those people want stuff they don’t deserve.”
Yes, even those people
An interesting example of this concept is needle exchanges and safe injection sites.
It makes perfect sense if everyone is worthy of being safe and healthy simply as a condition of being human. The reason people resist such obvious harm reduction practices is that “those people” don’t deserve help. I can remember thinking that once. They did it to themselves. They share needles, they inject drugs, for crying out loud. They should get off drugs and then they will begin to earn a bit of respect. Otherwise, they are scum. They don’t deserve help or even a membership in the human race.
Helping addicts be safely addicted seemed a bridge too far for me. But if you think about it … respect for someone’s personal autonomy is as foundational as any other category.
Another example is convicted felons. Nobody — almost nobody — treats convicted felons with respect. When they go to prison, they are being punished for their crimes. They are getting what they deserve and they deserve nothing more.
They lose their membership in the human race. When they get out, they don’t regain their humanity. Sometimes they can pass as human if they can hide the fact that they deserve nothing. They don’t deserve housing, they don’t deserve job-training, they don’t deserve to work here, they don’t deserve friendship or the benefit of the doubt…..
What you have is what you deserve — thus it is demonstrated. If you are in a hole, you deserve a hole. If you can claw your way out of the hole, then you will have earned a bit of respect. If for some reason, you can’t climb out of the hole, then you deserve the hole … see above.
Not even those people
The crazy idea, the subversive idea, the Bernie Sanders lunatic idea, is that nobody deserves a hole. Not even people who dug the hole themselves.
And, like the addict, you even have to be respectful of people who want to stay in the hole. You can lean down and offer to help them out. They may stand there looking up at you covered with dirt and tell you to get lost. If they are a danger to themselves or others, call 911. If not, then the only thing you can say is “Yes, Ma’am. Getting lost, Ma’am.”
I want to learn to refute the idea that if you’re in a hole you deserve a hole. If you’re in a Mercedes you deserve a Mercedes. If you are poor, you deserve poverty. If you live in a castle, you deserve a castle.
I want to refute the idea that some people count and the rest don’t. I want to refute the idea that you can lose your membership in the human race.
Those ideas are in the water all around us. The inherent worth and dignity is a difficult concept because we all keep lists of people who don’t deserve respect. Some people’s lists are longer than others. I hope you have a very short list. We are always working to be respectful of everyone even while we all fail to some extent….
Respecting people who don’t deserve it
Respect Trump? Why? I used to use Bin Lauden when I made this argument, but I have updated to our current president. We respect Trump because his worth and dignity are inherent.
But. Failing to hold people to account for harm to others isn’t respectful. First of all, it’s not respectful to the victims. But then there’s the harm to the perpetrator themselves. There are only two classes of people who are not held to account for bad, harmful behavior — children and the mentally ill.
Trump is neither a child nor is he ill. Some people have tried to prove he has dementia, but I didn’t I don’t think he’s impaired. I think he sucks at political glossolalia. That’s where a politician babbles platitudes and stale cliches until the interviewer gives up and asks another question.
It’s not respectful to allow a child to storm around breaking things and hurting people. They deserve to learn empathy and self-control like everyone else. Requiring those things of children are not punishments. They are gifts. Our morality is their legacy. It’s a legacy that some people deserve but were deprived of.
So if you are poor, you deserve your poverty. If you are a billionaire it is no less than your due.
I deserve respect, of course
Oh, and all this stuff only applies to “other people” not to me. I don’t deserve my poverty. I’m poor because I can’t get hired. I’m poor because I got sick. I’m poor because I work so many hours I’m too tired to train for a better job. It’s those people over there that deserve their property.
And obviously, there is an intersection between respect and deservingness and privilege.
Privilege means “private law.” These ideas and qualities apply to me and people like me and not you and people like you.
It’s where racism enters the pattern. You don’t deserve anything because of your color. If you worked hard and made a lot of money — well, it doesn’t make you white. You still don’t deserve it. Because of your skin color, country of origin, religion, sexual orientation… Because of those things you do not have inherent worth. No dignity. No respect. You don’t matter.
I can do things to you that I would never do to a dog because you don’t matter.
And that that bites on a person’s conscience so hard, almost nobody can own that notion.
When some people don’t matter they can be thrown into a concentration camp. Their children can be torn away, it doesn’t matter what happens to them.
But here’s the problem. Saying some people don’t matter is so horrifying, so monstrous and so evil, almost nobody can believe they ever think that.
So instead, they say it’s because those people broke the law … or something. It’s not a lie they are telling you. It’s a lie they tell themselves. The idea that brown people don’t count is shameful. It’s wrong and everybody knows it.
People are shocked and angry when you point out their racism. It’s one of the worst insults in our culture because it’s shameful.
People who believe that some — and not all — people are worthy of respect are worried about losing respect themselves. They don’t have inherent worth. They only have value if certain boxes are checked. To have value they must be moral and upright. They know racism is immoral and so they can’t own up to it.
Therefore we must believe this hated group is dangerous, they are violent and lazy. They are leeches. They are diseased.
Since those are lies, they are irrefutable. A transparent lie easily replaced with another. Which is it? Violent or diseased? Lazy or stealing our jobs? Anything will do.
The belief that humans only have value earned or bestowed and without that, you have no value as a human being — that belief is foundational. It’s not an argument. It’s so foundational that it never gets examined. Giving out respect willy-nilly to just anybody is downright offensive.
Therefore the lies get repeated with greater volume and force. And around and around we go and it doesn’t come out anywhere.
That everyone has worth
I can argue against the flat Earth (yes, that’s a thing now). I can argue against creationism — the Earth did not pop into existence the geological equivalent of yesterday.
But I don’t know how to argue that every person has value and is worthy of respect. To me, it’s so foundational that I can only state it as true. I don’t know how to defend it. That’s not an argument. It’s just a shouting match.
I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this. If it’s something you’ve thought about — or not — let me know how you would approach it, even (maybe especially) if you disagree.