The Worth of A Man

Not long ago I was a captive audience to a chilling conversation between two people who expounded in length on the value and worth of human beings. Their consensus was that most human beings had less value than they did. I found the conclusion to be frightening. I teased them by suggesting that they were Fabian Socialists. They had no clue to what I was referring to and continued to speak in an elitist manner.

George Bernard Shaw was a Socialist and a member of the Fabian Society. He believed that some had greater worth than others and had a greater right to life. References to Shaw have been used as a club by professional liar-agitators like Glenn Beck to insult liberals by calling them Fabian Socialists. Yet many who share Beck's politics tend to embrace Ayn Rand – the founder of Libertarianism. Rand and Shaw share an interest in the founding philosophers of Fascism and Nazism.

Rand preached “the virtue of selfishness” and “altruism as incompatible with the requirements of human life and happiness”. She believed that an individual's works determined that individual's value. The Right embraces Rand as the equivalent of the Left's Carl Marx. In a passage from her book “Atlas Shrugged” she argues that all the passengers in a train filled with poisoned fumes deserved their fate.

Christians believe human life is sacred. The purest interpretation of is: God loves all of us equally. As a Christian, I must be a Doubting Thomas because I think this doctrine can also be a slippery slope. Are we to say Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler are loved equally by God?

Many churches say, “Yes, God loves the person, but hates the sin.”

If we take the Libertarian approach, what is the measuring stick by which we evaluate an individual's worth? Is it monetary worth? How does one calculate the worth of Donald Trump? Trump is a Billionaire, but has filed for Corporate Bankruptcy four times. Each time, he was relieved of debt for which others then became liable. Do we measure what he is worth by his monetary net worth or by the worth that has been subtracted from others by his actions?

I don't have an answer, all I can do is ask the question. I'm going to describe someone else, who I believe is worth no more and no less than The Donald.

Olaf was of Norwegian descent and the child of immigrants. He was an itinerant laborer who often worked for my father and owned no more than he could carry. Olaf went from farm to farm working for room, board and a little pay. He had a harmonica and a drinking problem.

Once when I was twelve years old, I overheard my father say, "There are twelve-year-olds who are better farm hands than he is, but he deserves a roof, three squares and some money. And he earns that."

When Olaf got paid, he went to town and found a bar. He would stay drunk until his money was gone.

When he worked for us, Olaf stayed in an old house on the farm. Two of my sisters tell me that when they were in high school, they would sneak over to the old house to hang out with Olaf and smoke cigarettes. Even though he was often drunk, always lonely, and my sisters were pretty, he was a perfect gentleman with them. As with me, Olaf would tell them stories and play polkas for them on the harmonica.

I will never forget that Olaf made me my first pair of skis from scratch. He scrounged wood on the farm. He boiled water on top of the cast-iron coal-fired stock tank heater, stood in the winter wind while he soaked the wood, bent it with pliers and carved it with his hunting knife.

Olaf was the same age as my father. He was just over 65 when he died in a drafty rented room in the back of a laundromat in a tiny prairie town. There was an empty whiskey bottle beside him. He never married and left no children. But he left me a pair of skis. I don't know what happened to them, but I bet they still work.

What was the worth of this man? According to Rand and Shaw and others he was worth less than Phil Gramm, who authored the bill that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and in many experts' opinions paved the way for what was almost the financial ruin of the world. Was he worth less than George Soros when Soros almost brought down the Bank of England? Was he worth less than the wealthy loud-mouths who sow dissension and division among our citizens?

I've asked the question. I'd love to hear your answer.