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Worthiness

  • Posted on January 18, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Worthiness is a concept that haunts much of human existence.  In a world of finite resources, we cannot seem to grasp the infinite worth of our fellow human beings.  Being creatures of such a world, even our religions reflect our desire to designate worthy and unworthy human beings.  Science does no better in this regard.  Politics often does worse.

People define worthy attributes in myriad ways.  For some, the predominant consideration is genealogy.  Genealogical worthiness permeates much of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, and it has hardened the hearts of many Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  There are those who are worthy and there are those who are Gentiles; there are those who are worthy and there are those who are infidels.  (Christians use both terms to describe those who are unworthy, plus they have the legacy of Election—which I do not claim to understand.)

Genealogical worthiness is also present in science, though perhaps it could be better called gene-o-logical, since scientists tend to be less concerned with the specific ancestors from whom you’ve sprung and more concerned with the actual genes you’ve inherited.

Genealogical worthiness also permeates politics.  Both Nationalism (which can have some positive aspects to it) and genocide (which is 100% negative) are products of political ideas of genealogical worthiness.  But there are others.  Eugenics was a strange hybrid of politics and science, and its effects linger in contemporary politics despite the many efforts to destroy this debunked theory.

But genealogical worthiness is far from the only consideration.  After all, nobody chooses their genealogy and many of us are willing to give at least a little consideration to choice.  Those who choose to pursue higher education are often considered “more worthy” than those who don’t—considerations of equal opportunity are often negated in these arguments.  Those who choose to purchase responsibly are often considered “more worthy” than those who don’t—what makes a worthy purchase depends, of course, on the prevailing perspective, from the responsible use of credit to green living and many considerations in between.

And, of course, worthiness is also a matter of ability.  Those who are able are obviously more worthy than those who aren’t—and for many this belief is so obvious, so strongly assumed, that the assumptions it is based on are never even questioned.

The worthiness of people with autism is degraded on all three counts.  Genealogically or gene-o-logically, autistics are inferior.  There’s something wrong with the genes and that makes them at least susceptible to autism.  Shame on them.  They’re not worthy.  But, of course, being autistic—at least, acting autistic is a choice.  Passing—the contemporary equivalent to being cured—is a choice.  It’s a choice to do the work to be able to pass and it’s a choice to do the work to actually pass.  Those who fail to pass have made the wrong choices—opportunity, or lack thereof, to learn effective passing strategies is irrelevant, because if they really wanted to learn, then they would have.  Choosing not to pass makes them unworthy.  Shame on them.  Finally, ability makes them unworthy.  They are not as able as neurologically typical people, and they should be.  They should be able to mingle successfully in a crowded room full of noisy party-goers.  They should be able to sit quietly in a classroom and absorb the teacher’s lectures like a sponge.  They should be able to hold down a job without accommodations—who do they think they are to ask, they’re not even worthy to have a job considering how many able people are out of work.  Shame on them.  Strike one, strike two, strike three, autism is out.

The above paragraph is, of course, an illustrative example.  I believe it happens; I believe people think like that.  But I am not one of them.

Human worth cannot truly and accurately be measured by our genealogy (or gene-o-logy).  Human worth cannot truly and accurately be measured by our choices, at least not without considering our genuine opportunities and our unique circumstances.  (And it shouldn’t be about how much we choose to accomplish in order to “prove” our worth, but whether we choose to hurt others for personal pleasure and gain.)  Human worth most certainly cannot be measured by our abilities.

Hello, I am the mother of three children with autism.  I am worthy to live, to reproduce, and to raise my children.  All four of my children are worthy of living, dreaming, loving, and having opportunities for personal growth and betterment.  Whether you are autistic or not, you are worthy.  Whether you are college educated or not, you are worthy.  Whether you are rich and powerful or not, you are worthy.  Whether you are able to live a normal and independent life or not, you are worthy.

You are of infinite worth beyond human imagination just for being you.  And so is everyone else.