Inherent Dignity

Nothing in the universe means anything except insofar as we give it meaning. There are cultural concepts we have that are useful and ones that are toxic baggage from the deep past. There are concepts that are very culturally specific, some found in the majority of human cultures, and a few that are universal. Some concepts should be more popular and some less so, at least most of us seem to feel that way – right or left or otherwise.

All that nonsense is my disclaimer to the idea I’m about to say something founded in fact. I’m in the realm of principles and emotions, of value judgments. I’m basing everything that follows on a few judgments that should be non-controversial, but are apparently loopy unrealistic ultra-leftist radicalism: One, that it would be desirable for more people to be happy and healthy, and for fewer to be sad sick or dying. Two, that there’s a balance of justice in the world. That while justice is elusive, it exists as a concept to which we should strive. Rights should be upheld, wrongs should be minimized or eliminated when possible.

I believe that every living thing suffers from indignities by merit of being alive. We have to eat, we have to excrete, we have to messily grow and messily break down and die. The cell isn’t a harmonious little clockwork humming away until it gradually winds down into peaceful oblivion. It’s a writhing storm of lightning-fast chemical reactions and spiraling globs of goo slapping and twisting and bursting until it disorders into death and rot.

The fact we’re all born into this messy situation and are compelled to do something with it, this lends us an inherent dignity. The struggle to keep it together, from keeping our asses clean to ducking bullets, to be or not to be and the whole nine.

It isn’t easy. We deserve every break we can get. I include non-human animals in that. If we’re going to kill animals – and we will – ideally we shouldn’t torture them first, shouldn’t do it for shitty reasons. Nourishing humans is a good reason. We’ve been omnivorous a long time. Medical science is good too. Killing for fun? No, man. Fuck anyone who does that. I’m including you, Jed. (Yes I know someone named Jed.) That was cool of you to go to the DAPL protest, but hunting? That’s some shit, and fuck you for it.

This article would be more powerful without the dissembling and sides, but I feel compelled. Sorry.

Human animals (and advanced social animals like dogs) have a struggle that other species escape: Self-valuation. We are biologically compelled to find our place among our kind, by ranking ourselves and others. When AmeriKKKa’s wig daddies wrote about the self-evident nature of our human rights, they didn’t bother to notice that all around them there were people with bad self-esteem, for whom their own rights are not self-evident. People who often lose the most basic battle in life: They don’t feel like they deserve to live.

In the face of all that struggle and indignity, we deserve respect. We deserve to be acknowledged for our individual agency, that we deserve to have the things we desire, so long as they don’t harm others. And that we shouldn’t have to exist for others. No one should be able to use us as the butt of a joke, or use our bodies minds or lives for any purpose that we do not freely consent to.

I did not freely consent to working too hard in a hellish retail environment, I was forced into it by the unreasonable cost of rent. #RentIsTheft y’all. By the unreasonable cost of everything, at that. Retail work needs to happen but it shouldn’t have to be like it is, and we shouldn’t have to choose between doing it like this and hitting the skids.

Human need complicates that right to happiness and health, because there is more need than people willing to consent to providing for it. Still, the math should be pretty damn simple. If people truly need something in order to be healthy, society should figure out a way to provide it. The direct providers of care should be well compensated – so that they will feel willing to consent to providing care – and as charity is utterly inadequate, they should be funded from taxes.

That’s a little off the rails. What am I getting at?

I feel the inherent dignity of the animals around me – humans most of all. I see what we need and what we deserve. I see humans and I see their rights written on their pain, on the indignities they have to bear as frail mortals. Some people don’t see the inherent dignity of others. For them other people are a means to an end, as meaningless to them and as far from their caring as the cow at the slaughterhouse.

I’m tired of living with the cruelties of the selfish enshrined in law and society all around me, tired of the tyranny of injustice. It’s why I have a tag on this blog, Wake Me When the World is Over. It’s an expression of despair. I fight against that despair every day, by helping other people, by cleaning the cat box, by doing whatever I’m capable of to maintain my inherent dignity and uphold that of others. But it doesn’t feel great, knowing that we have so far to go in the struggle, knowing the likely fate of all the needy people around me and directly in my life. And I feel the need to express that. Sorry if any of you find that discouraging, I don’t want it to be.

Anyhow, Solidarity. Long live the fighters. And when we can sleep, let it be deep and peaceful.


  1. lanir says

    Your post inspired me to write something. It’s longer than a normal comment and it’s poetry, so I didn’t feel comfortable posting it directly.

    This – a poem

    I’m rusty at this so apologies beforehand. It’s been awhile since I wrote with any frequency.

  2. silverfeather says

    This post sort of hit me in the gut. As a fellow loopy unrealistic ultra leftist radical (Wanting actual equity & justice. Wanting to take care of everyone, what a silly thought right?) I’m with you on this.

    I loved your poem!

  3. lanir says

    I work in IT now but I think I’ve got over a dozen years of dead-end jobs and scraping by while getting help or helping friends in similar straits. Half of it after getting a big break… and then watching it dry up because someone else got greedy.

    Poem still needs some editing. A better ending line too, sort of trails off. I’ll drop a line if I polish it up well enough to warrant another comment.

    On a side note, hearing from other people who took a more direct path to good jobs is weird. They have all kinds of fantastic ideas about how less well paid people live, work and think. Sometimes I’ll hear them say something nasty and think “Yeah… You would have said the same thing about me a decade ago as I made your lunch or mopped your floors and I would have still been capable of running cirlces around your ass. Because even then I knew more than you do.” And then try to rephrase that to something more… ah polite. Or at least less abrasive. Sometimes you have to sneak up on the idea that the other person is an idiot so they don’t stop listening. 🙂

  4. says

    Lanir- That’s cool that you’re financially OK now. Fingers crossed for me and mine, haha. If you like how your polished version of the poem looks and wouldn’t mind, I could put it up here as a guest post. I’d like that.

    And lastly, I try to avoid synonyms for “stupid” and “insane” in my posts and comment sections, so please avoid “idiot” if you can, and let me know if I slip up too.

  5. lanir says

    Edited the hell out of the poem, scrapped all the edits, changed very little in the end and voila. It’s done. You can use it if you like. If the changes make it not work as well for you, that’s okay too.

    This – a poem

    And sorry about the language in my earlier reply. I get frustrated sometimes dealing with people who expect that the magic solution to every problem is just to work harder. While I intended to express that, I didn’t mean to do so in a way that might distress anyone.

  6. says

    I fully expect people will mess up on ableism sometimes. Good intentions and doing it quite rarely both count for something in my book. Other people I would cut less slack, because they’re lacking one or the other or both.

    I’m totally going to use the poem as a post on here. Muhahaha, free labor… I’ll send you my tenth of a cent for ad revenue.

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