On destiny, the value of human life, and justified conflict

In modern sedentary society.

Danial Shariat
May 14, 2018 · 16 min read
Photo by paul morris on Unsplash

The concept of destiny can be expressed most commonly in two ways, a divine destiny, and a secular form based on the idea that we are products of our environment (deterministic destiny).The divine notion is the belief that a supernatural being imposed a destiny onto each individual. The following argument shows that divine destiny is a non-absolute force in our world.

Firstly, we assume that divine destiny is true. The notion of a divine destiny is inherently orchestrated. If our lives are arbitrated then there must be something that does the arbitration. This could be a being, a force, something ineffable; nevertheless it must be conceited that there must be something greater than us if divine destiny is true.

In order for that arbitrator to have control of our lives, it must be in control of every aspect of our world. This is because there is more to our lives and paths than ourselves. If the arbitrator had only control of our minds and decisions, and the rest of the world was left to chance, it would not be able to control how that world interacts with us. It could plan a singular path for an individual only for lightning to strike them and end that person’s life, causing the arbitrator’s plan to be mute. It must be concluded that, in our world, the arbitrator has total control and is omnipotent. It does not have to be concluded the arbitrator is omnipotent in all ways, as there may be ways it is not all powerful in its own world, but in our world, which is the only that matters to us, it is all powerful. If it is not, there is no concept of divine destiny.

After concluding that the arbitrator, assuming it exists, is all powerful, a logical paradox arises, similar to the logical/theological problem of evil. If the arbitrator is all powerful in our world, then it must be possible for it to orchestrate all possible outcomes within our world, however, if it has decided a destiny for all of us that can not change, then that would mean the arbitrator is no longer able to cause any other outcomes, therefore it is not all powerful.

The only logical solution to this is that the arbitrator is able to change its decisions on destiny at any point, so all outcomes are still possible, but until the arbitrator decides to change said destiny, some kind of destiny still exists.

This means that divine destiny can not be absolute. Furthermore, (again assuming divine destiny is true) we can not know whether the arbitrator has changed its mind, or if anything influenced it. Perhaps even ourselves have influenced it, but it is impossible to know. This means that in the pragmatic implication of these conclusions on our lives, divine destiny, even if it is true, is non-absolute and non dependable, therefore it makes the most sense to conduct our lives without it in mind, as the aforementioned characteristics make it not possible to rely on it.

Now regarding the concept of a destiny influenced by their environment (people being slaves to their conditioning):

After two decades of development, people form personal characteristics. Some are given to them by their parents and family (physical characteristics, religion and such). Many others are influenced by their environment: the issues of their times, the cultural zeitgeist, the philosophies of their peers. For this reason there is a deterministic aspect of life. These influences from early age lead people to be predisposed to certain activities, skills, work, etc. This predisposition creates an idea of a secular destiny and questions regarding free will.

From early age, we are not in a place to make our own decisions. We are at the mercy of our parents or guardians as to what they decide is best. In this aspect we have no way to exercise our free will even if we have one. The only party making decisions are our elders, who may be argued to have free will. However it could also be said that they are only acting on what they were taught was right, by sources or people outside their own decision-making. Elders, in the same manner as younger individuals, do not make personal precedent on entirely their own accord. As humans are social creatures, we base our decisions on one another. Only if one is brought up in complete isolation since birth may they be completely free of external influences. In this way elders are predisposed to raise their posterity a certain way. And logically their posterity shall continue the cycle, only leaving room for minute changes. But even those changes are due to external influences. The internet, new forms of travel, general scientific advances, all alter the way younger generations are brought up. But still, inner principles of the parents are the basis of their upbringing. Even if the child decides to reject some teachings, it is not as if he/she then exists as someone who has never experienced that teaching. It still influences them some way, either subconsciously or consciously. All this suggests there is little autonomy in the upbringing of children.

This chain of arguments presented can be paralleled to most decisions. Decisions are based on outer influences, and even rejection of any one influence still has some kind of effect on the individual’s future decision making. This all suggests that the secular notion of destiny is true, and we are slaves to our environment. However the same concepts can be used to show the opposite when analyzed with more depth.

If our lives were fully subject to this notion of predisposed destiny, there would be clear reasons, paths, and decisions that lead to an outcome that could not have occurred in any other way. In other words, if secular destiny is true, then an individual’s life would be theoretically repeatable.

However, even if we assume this to be true, if after a decision has been made, if the individuals who made the decision is able to view with hindsight how he/she would have preferred to have conducted themselves, or if they are able to use the memory of that decision to better judge a future one, it must be said that the seed that would have allowed him/her to have acted differently is within them, and the possibility that the decision turned out differently is also there.

Furthermore, if we are simply the collection of previous experiences, creating decisions from previous influences, the years spent by each individual to develop fully would have lead to a very complex array of influential factors. If such a complexity exists, then by mere concept of probability, how can we say there was no other choice?

To explain, an allegory:

A lion and a gazelle are in a field. The lion lies in the tall grass waiting for the time to strike. The lion has millions of years of evolution to be perfectly designed to do this action; the lion’s greater knowledge of the situation gives it the advantage (it is the more influential factor). The gazelle also has the benefit of evolution, being the best it could be at surviving its predators. The gazelle is unaware of the lion’s presence.

Who shall win the fight? If the scenario is repeated exactly will the lion always eat the gazelle or will the gazelle always escape? Does the lion’s advantage mean the gazelle will never be able to escape, no matter how many times the situation is repeated?

It is clear to see that the result is not definite; the two complex creators in a complex environment lead to a non-absolute outcome. The same can be said of a complex network of influences that lead to a decision being made.

In the same way the influencing factors that lead to our decisions stem from different areas, and have months, or many times years to fester and grow in our minds, they are complex, varied, and are cultured to be as influential as possible, just like the lion and the gazelle. When the time is nigh for one to weigh heavier than the other, multiple could have the possibility of succeeding in this ‘fight’.

If we add the concept of influences mixing with one another to create an amalgamate, it creates another entire layer of possibility as to the outcome and it is never clear that one may be the superior, or only a single form of decision is possible. There is much flexibility and malleability behind decision-making, and with a complex ‘fight’ occurring, what agent leads to the final decision? What weighs the options and declares the ‘winner’? There is enough flexibility in the complex network that I believe it is valid to say that final decisive force can be described as a will.

As it was concluded on the topic of destiny, divine destiny, if it exists, is not an absolute factor, and secular destiny is also not absolute and leaves room for a form of free will. This would mean people are theoretically free individuals, with the possibility to lay their own paths.

The freedom of individuals is further enforced by the real life example of the effects of the protestant ethic and capitalism in the United States.

The embracement of the notion that each individual is free and capable of movement within a society has had lasting effects. The loss of feudal systems allowed individuals to be free of the burden of being forced in the same roles as their predecessors. They have the ability to move through different geographical areas, economic classes and careers. Even if any one individual in this society decides to join a group such as a church, which some would argue eliminates the mobility with commitment and responsibility, the individual in the modern society has the choice to join and leave any group. They are never bounded to a group as in the days of feudalism, where it was unspeakable for a commoner to leave the church of their society.

It is also clear that Tocqueville’s idea of the tyranny of the majority has not manifested itself. Although people are opinionated, as there is no perfect communication and perfect, symmetric information, there is not a great threat of being shunned and abused into compliance by the majority. This is due to the ability of groups to begin in near isolation, and then grow slowly until a local majority is unable to force the group to cease existing.

Now a discussion on different forms of value, in which the conclusions on destiny and freedom will be vital:

Of all tangible objects there exists two ways to discern its value; intrinsic value and its value as a whole. Of these two categories there are two further categories that apply to both, that being monetary value and practical value.

Monetary value in most societies, besides planned economies, is decided by market forces, and is visibly seen by the price of obtaining the object. Practical value is the value that can be obtained by using the object and fulfilling any purpose it was made for. Its value as a whole treats the object as a single complete entity with no concern for its construction or components. Its intrinsic value is the value of its parts irrespective of the object those parts have created. An example would be an axe. It’s monetary value as a whole would be the price of the axe, it is important to note that monetary value is not universal but is subjected to the owner of the object and what they deem its price ought to be. Its practical value as a whole is the ability to chop wood or trees with much greater ease than with cruder tools. Note practical value need not necessarily by written as a quantitative, currency based value and can be more abstract. Also just like monetary value, the weight of the practical value is different for each person. The monetary intrinsic value is the cost of the steel and the wood used to make the blade and handle respectively. The practical intrinsic value of the axe is the practical value of the steel and wood itself. Note the monetary value as a whole can be generally level and predictable, however the practical value as a whole is much greater in the hands of a lumberjack than a layman. The monetary intrinsic value of the axe is also rather level and predictable, however the practical value of the steel and wood is next to nothing if the effort and capital are not implemented to change and form the material into something useful.

Let us discuss the implications of the loss of an object. To continue using the axe as our example, if an axe is broken beyond use, its monetary value, as a whole is zero. Its practical value as a whole can be said to be nothing as the thing it was designed to do can no longer be done, and any use of it would be in a crude a strange manner. Its monetary intrinsic value remains the same, unless the material has become unworkable, the same applies to practical intrinsic value.

We may now discuss the value of human life.

As a human life is not tangible like the example used before, some differences must be stated. Firstly monetary value is nearly entirely irrelevant. The monetary value of a human life cannot be discerned as to have market forces decide would practically mean to be in content with slavery, as this is immoral and illegal everywhere in this age, it need not be considered. The only possible application of monetary value in this context is intrinsic monetary value. This would only be the case if the culture the discussion is being had allows the sale of organs for means of transplants or anything similar, as was the case in the United States many years ago. But this also is less common in the world and can mostly be ignored. Therefore the best and practically only way to evaluate human life is with the notion of practical value.

Firstly the intrinsic value: the practical intrinsic value includes the practical value of both tangible parts of the body i.e. organs, as well as conceptual ideas such as the mind and the subconscious. This is because all are what a life needs to exist, and without both the tangible and conceptual functioning simultaneously, the life ceases to exist. The practical value of each of these components is their ability to sustain human life as this is what each is designed to do. Designed, meaning whatever origin story/science you believe (both creation and evolution are in compliance with this idea). If the intrinsic aspect fails to sustain human life, it is practically worthless.

Before continuing, I must address one aspect of intrinsic value, that being why I do not consider the value of the skin cells and bone material in the same way I considered the steel and wood in the example of the axe. This is because, for practical reasons, it makes sense to consider the next lowest tier of composition. To clarify, a life is composed of body and mind, the body is composed of cells and microorganisms, and these microorganisms are composed of atoms and molecules. It is impractical to use the value of the molecules to discern the value of life, in a similar sense it is more practical to discern the value of life from the value of the body and mind rather than the value of the cells.

Returning to the previous train of thought. The practical value of the organs and mind is in how they maintain a human life, if they maintain a life of greater value or importance, it can then be said those parts are of greater practical value. Therefore the practical intrinsic value is tied to the practical value as a whole.

As we have stated that monetary value is irrelevant to the judgment on the value of human life, and practical intrinsic value is directly tied to the practical value as a whole, we may now discuss the practical value of the human life as a whole to discern the final value of human life.

Practical value as a whole is discerned from what the thing in question is capable of doing, or what its purpose is. If we were destined to conduct a certain act or activity, our practical value would be just the value of that one act or activity, our practical value would be just the value of that one act or activity. But as has been discussed, divine destiny, even if it is true, is non absolute and non dependable, and can not be used as a factor when assessing the capabilities and opportunities of any one person. As this is the case, people have the potential to do an infinite many acts or activities, and therefore their practical value as a whole is exuberantly large; larger than any tangible object or non human animal. For this reason, as it is the only method that we are able to discern the value of human life, the value of human life is the most valuable one thing in our world, and therefore the loss of human life is the single greatest tragedy in our world. For when it occurs, there is an incredible number of opportunities and paths that could have been taken, but instead were never allowed to prosper.

It must be said that as all individuals have the capability of acting as a free individual if they live in a system that allows it, an individual in a non-free society is not worth less than one in a free society, but instead their value is hidden and prevented from fully flourishing, like a diamond painted black.

Before applying these conclusions to significant implications, it must be analyzed what exactly was found. This is not the first, or by any means the most commonly used evaluation of human life. Many groups and individuals in society create evaluations of any one life, often a discrete, monetary evaluation. Governments often need to create some form of financial evaluation in order to justify a cost analysis of particular policy, or to estimate damage that war or natural disaster has caused. Private firms such as insurance markets do the same. These evaluations are of course lower than what was concluded in this essay, but it does not mean they are immoral. Often pragmatism is necessary and seemingly cold and calculated measurements are necessary to create a fully functioning society. There are of course key differences. The evaluations of human life we have used rely on the existence of society and its systems. Often they rely on how much money a person is likely to have raised, or how much they produce. This would mean clearly that the evaluation relies on the existence of the market based economy and need to earn and gain wealth. The military creates evaluations on soldiers in different branches of the military, but this relies on the existence of an organized military, its functions, and its capabilities.

For this reason I would call this form of axiological evaluation, sedentary evaluation.

The conclusions this essay has reached only require one thing to be true, that the people are free and mobile. If that is true, no matter the economic, social, or political system, the evaluation is true. Furthermore, it is a more universal evaluation that individuals may use when assessing the ethics of situations that revolve around human life, (One incredibly important one will be discussed momentarily) more so than sedentary evaluation can.

Furthermore, the existence and use of sedentary evaluation causes us to conflate the value of a life and the value of the institutions that life represents. For example, we often think the life of the President or leader to be more valuable than others. When we discuss this, we do not discuss what only the president, as an individual, can do that would be lost if they died, rather the implications that it would cause. What is valuable, and what increases the sedentary evaluation, is the institution of the executive, governing office, which would be shaken and unstable if they were to die.

The super-societal aspects of the individual that would make their life worth more or less than any other are not discussed, so it is inaccurate, if we are attempting to be as exact as possible, to say we are evaluating their life.

For the sake of this essay we will classify both large-scale warfare and two-party disputes (as well as everything in between) as conflicts. This is because the argument applies to any situation where one person must consider ending the life of another.

To clarify first, any conflict is a tragedy as it results in a life being lost, and a justified conflict is not a righteous conflict, but a begrudgingly conducted one. Also, this is a discussion of when it is just to engage in conflict. While there are few things one may agree with Hobbes on, the right to defend one’s life is very agreeable, and there is no ethical reason to not defend oneself if attacked. Although we have clarified that human life is the most valuable single thing in our world, it does not mean there are no situations where conflict is just. There are two. This first instance where conflict is justified is if appeasement would lead to a continuous and greater loss of life afterwards. While the conflict will bring tragedy, if it prevents greater tragedy, or worse a continuous tragedy, it is a conflict that must be begrudgingly done.

The other form of justified conflict is one where appeasement would lead to the elimination of the opportunities that grant people incredibly large practical value as a whole. If appeasement leads to leadership that forces the people to be of a single role, with no chance of movement, reduced to the status of a tool, the practical value as a whole, which we have established is large and the most important measure of the value of human life, would be reduced to a point of near depletion. And while life itself may not be lost, it is only a stone’s throw away from being such.

It is important to note the previous discussion did not include non-violent means of confronting disputes, such as diplomacy or bargaining. It is of course preferable if diplomacy can be used instead of physical conflict, however much of the time the two forms of reaction are done simultaneously. This is due to a multitude of reasons such as latency, differing opinions as to appropriate reaction by different members of a group (in large scale conflicts) etc. At this point evaluations must be made with both the aim of minimizing the loss of human life and maintenance of individual freedoms and mobility. At times this might mean no attempts at diplomacy if it is clear it would not succeed. Sometimes it would mean no physical conflict is needed. Many times it results in a distribution of resources to non-violent and violent responses, the ratio of which is dependent on the organizers and is not always greatest, as it does not always follow the concepts of minimizing loss of life and maintaining mobility and individual freedoms. Nevertheless, these conclusions present a groundwork of inquiring into the appropriate, ethical action.

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