The Value of a Life: A social issues essay

rear silhouette of a man behind bars

A social issues prompt

A while back I attended a writing workshop at the University of Winchester, in connection with the Writing Festival they put on in the summer. It included several writing prompts, and one of them was 'social issues that deeply concern you'. So this is what I produced, and read aloud.

Commodification of Human Life

I am deeply concerned with the notion that a human being must justify their existence with predetermined, socially acceptable forms of labour in service to someone with more acquired and largely artificial wealth than them.

When we work in service to ourselves, as with creative pursuits, it is worthless, a hobby, a pastime, or leisure activity. When we work in service to someone with a lower socioeconomic position to ourselves, it is volunteering and cannot sustain one’s quality of life. When we refuse to work in service to those with a higher socioeconomic position, it is called fecklessness, laziness, a drain on society. When we cannot work, our lives become too costly, too inconvenient, to justify.

Why is it so hard to convince people to care about each other? Why is productivity and wealth the only measures of a person’s worth? Why do an arbitrary few pick and choose what is priceless and what is pointless? Why my artists get a ‘real job’? Why must the disabled go through regular trials to prove they aren’t just lazy?

No doubt, Socrates was a lazy, feckless drain on society by modern standards. Michaelangelo would have needed a ‘day job’. Anonymous, for most of our history, was the posthumous and socioeconomically disadvantaged. The creative, both in its production and consumption, has largely been a luxury. It is the first to go in the name of austerity, and the last to be used to measure the value of a person.

Do you like to write? Great! Write reports and technical manuals. Are you artistic? We value that! Design misleading ads for us. Can you write music or lyrics? Fantastic! Put that talent to work coming up with a jingle to promote this cheque advance business. Maybe you can try it as an opera.

If you refuse to monetise your talent to increase their bottom line, they will dismiss you as a dreamer. You will starve, you will be punished.

When did ‘artist’ and ‘dreamer’ become insults? When did they become tied to the concept of poverty as a fault?

We must kill the idea of the starving artist.

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