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The paradox of Value

Updated: Jul 17, 2018

Written July 15th, 2018


This question is one that has sat with me for a long time: how is value defined?

It is easy to jump to a conclusion. On a minimal amount of basis', one can say value is defined by the following: society, subjective standards, and objective standards. But this triad creates a meshing that results in an inevitable collision; a topic might be valuable in one node, but fail to meet standards of the two others. This paradox gets even more complicated once more nodes of valuation are added - family standards, ideological standards, sub-group standards being examples of additional mainframes through which to determine whether an action is valuable.

Perhaps an action is considered detrimental by contemporaries, but then becomes a point of reference for future historians. 20th century totalitarianism resulted in millions of deaths, but now serves as context for right and wrong governmental actions. So does the morality of action even concern value?

An interesting character that embodies unorthodox value-creation is John Kramer from the Saw franchise. John Kramer, also known as the "Jigsaw Killer," makes the lowliest subjects of society realize the beauty of life through subjugating them to torture and bodily sacrifice. His idea is that a lapse of pain is a fair sacrifice for future harmony. Is the Jigsaw Killer a villain? Or is he a hero?

Is value a zero-sum game? Lets simulate this question through the mainframes of societal, subjective, and objective standards. In the societal, a step up, or the increased "ranking" of a person (as defined by popular consensus), means the trade-off is that another failed to increase in rank. Sum = 0. In the subjective, the mainframe is constructed through the internal standards of a person/institution, and thus does not concern the loss of another. Sum =/= 0. However, The objective standard does concern both sides. In an objective view, a rich man's philanthropic action is valuable, however the sum that goes towards charity ceases to be available for other use, for example venture capitalism. Sum = 0. This brief exploration urges me to believe, albeit momentarily, that value is largely a zero sum game.

So then value cannot be inherently concerned with moral actions and altruism. Does this mean that the form of value judgement is subjective? Not fully. Raskolnikov believed that murder would set him free, and instead the societal pressure beat him to a pulp. One must first form an idea based on subjective standards, and then mentally test it through society and objectivity to make sure it at least somewhat stands.

This is largely a word doodle that has captured my mental space while sitting at Starbucks. I am urged to believe that I have created some marginal amount of value, as I have satisfied my subjective code, and society has not yet sent anybody to contain me. Maybe I am onto something.

I will continue this strain of thought later.

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