Moral Dilemma: Subjective Inequality or Objective Equality of Human Value

civfanatic

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
3,311
Des Moines, Iowa
#1
Assume you are given the following two options, and you are required to chose one:

1) Sacrifice your family and close relatives in order to save 100 million strangers living in foreign countries far away from your own home, with whom you have absolutely no contact.

2) Save your family and close relatives, but at the cost of not being able to save the lives of 100 million foreign strangers.


If you don't have a family, or have poor relations with them, you can substitute "family or close relatives" with "people who are close and valuable to you," as the fundamental dilemma would still be the same.

If I personally was presented with this dilemma, I would chose Option 2 without any hesitation. I certainly value the lives of my close family/kin far more than the lives of some foreign strangers whom I have never met. The deaths of my close family/kin would deeply affect my life, but the deaths of 100 million foreign strangers would not affect my life in the slightest. As far as my social universe is concerned, those 100 million people do not even exist.

My response to this dilemma, which I am sure would also be the response of most human beings, is deeply rooted in evolutionary proclivities that are hardwired into each and every one of us. However, this reality of the subjective value of human life strikes a blow at the liberal-humanist view that each human life is of objectively equal value. If you ask the average person in the 21st century post-modernist West whether or not all human beings are equal, you will hear a resounding "Yes." If you ask them of their opinions on various disasters and conflicts around the globe - the War in Syria, for example, or the terrorism of Boko Haram in Nigeria - you will hear overwhelming condemnation. If you ask whether or not something should be done about these events, the answers will again be in the affirmative. But if you ask the average individual whether he is willing to sacrifice his own family or relatives to end these atrocities, the individual naturally hesitates. Even if hundreds of thousands of people are dying in places like Syria, hardly any individual in the West would be willing to sacrifice his own family or relatives to end such atrocities, even after affirming that all human beings are equal, the implication being that some Syrians or Nigerians are no less valuable than one's own kin. The average individual only espouses this lofty idealism when he is in a position of comfort, and is not faced with any high opportunity cost; once faced with the uncomfortable dilemma and heavy opportunity cost that I presented above, the lofty liberal-humanist idealism finds itself gashed by the hard, cold rocks of reality.

This lofty liberal-humanist idealism is only possible if a man has no family, no tribe, no nation, and no holistic identity whatsoever - in other words, if he is nothing but a rootless individual. It is only such rootless individuals, for whom their own Individuality is their own God, who can indulge such fantasies of objectively equal human value. This is because the very notion of an objectively equal value for every human being requires the existence of a transcendental being - a God - who is above and beyond all human attachments; it is only such an entity who can overcome the dilemma presented above, and make the clearly logical and rational decision of sacrificing the few to save the many. Thus, only the rootless individual, who has none of the holistic identities and attachments of the ordinary human being (and is thus above and beyond humanity, being a God unto Himself), is able to make the same rational decision.

But what is the implication of such a world of rootless individuals without attachments, where all human beings have objectively equal value? If every human being is no more or less valuable than anyone else, why should a man love the mother of his child (she is not his "wife;" remember, there are no attachments in this post-modern "utopia") more than any other woman? Why should a man love his children more than any other child? Why should a child love his mother or father more than any other adult (assuming that in our post-modern "utopia," children even know who their parents are; again, remember that there are no attachments or familial ties in this world)?

Verily, the very notion of objectively equal human value is degrading to humanity. It destroys what it means to be a human, for the greatest expression of love that a human is capable of producing is the explicit affirmation of unequal value. When a husband is willing to kill 100 million individuals to save his wife, what greater expression of love is possible? When a father is willing to vanquish 100 million souls to secure the future of his child, what greater affirmation of that child's worth is possible? When a son is willing to fight a horde of 100 million foreigners to protect his parents, what greater articulation of filial piety is possible?

To be human is to love; to love is to form attachments; and to form attachments is to affirm the subjective inequality of human value.
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,644
Australia
#3
Option 2 without hesitation. I would feel sorry for the 100 million, however their deaths would not affect me in any personal way whatsoever. My own family and friends are a different matter.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
26,175
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#4
Superior thought is a matter, instinct is a different matter. If the survival of a sufficient number of individuals is ensured ... The group could survive. We are social like wolves: once our pack is safe, the rest of the species is not that important ...

We can enlarge the pack up to a nation and feel the motivation to fight and die for it. This is only human on this planet ...
 

Edgewaters

Ad Honorem
Jul 2007
9,098
Canada
#7
To me it all boils down to a question of whether I agreed to be responsible for this decision or not. If I was just thrust into the dilemma through no consent of my own, then option 2.

If, on the other hand, I agreed to be responsible for such large numbers of people (say, I was a head of state or something), then option 1. The closest people to a soldier are sometimes his brothers in arms, and he is ready to sacrifice himself and them for the nation. A head of state must certainly be expected to make at least the same sacrifice if the situation demands. If I did not feel so, I had no business accepting the job in the first place.

It does not matter that they are foreign nationals - making the nation responsible for such a large number of deaths invites wars and loss of power, and would, sooner or later, cause my nation to suffer greatly.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2015
2,038
UK
#8
I think your mixing two things here. The personal and public. At the personal level you hold unequal views. You consider your child the best, you invest all your energy in your child etc This also applies to your friend and family. If your driving along and it's start snowing you might decide to give a friend walking along the pavement a lift in your car on strength of your "personal feelings" however you won't extend that favour to others walking in the snow.

However you also have a public side where you juxtapose your personal against the public. In that domain you all are equal. Therefore your rights are equal to another in the public realm.

We expect and ask our public servants to sacrifice themselves for the public good all the time. Fireman, soldiers or police. Those pictures of firemen running into Twin Towers never to come back to their familes contrasted with the others running out to their families.

It's not quite as simple as you have framed it.
 
Feb 2015
2,038
UK
#9
Based on the personal and inequality that defines that space. I would let the 100 million go without any contemplation.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2012
8,545
#10
The intrinsic value of a human is nothing more than the value of his labour minus the cost of his maintenance, just like with any animal. Any value beyond that for which we can be sold on the auction block is the result of the social relationships and bonds we've formed, first with our family, then our friends, then our community, then our nation. It is these bonds combined with the sense of duty and loyalty intrinsic to a social species that gives us additional value, without those we're nothing.

Not only would the 100 million get the axe if it were up to me, I'd argue that anybody who could ignore the bonds he has with his friends and family to preserve 100 million people he's never met (presumably out of some ideological obsession with humanism) is most likely a psychopath who never rally formed strong bonds with his friends and family in the first place. I'd regard such a person as highly immoral and untrustworthy, devoid of any sense of honour, duty, or loyalty.