While trying to formulate another post I started digging around in some of my old college essays for inspiration. Most of my college essays were written on pure emotion and it lights a fire sometimes when I'm looking in the dark for a little inspiration. I found an old essay that was a favorite of mine. For some reason the ideas going through my head at the time really had an impact on how I view the world. I decided to clean it up a bit and post it here for a more public critique and discussion. Enjoy! (and don't make fun of me too much):
"In this essay I would like to discuss values. I would like to talk about where our current notion of values comes from. Are they intrinsic to our human nature, or are they constructs? I do not wish to create an argumentative or persuasive essay but merely a discussion. I am not doing much research other than what I think I already believe to be true. I simply would like to write about how I think and feel towards this notion of value.
In order for me to understand value I need to travel back to man's beginning as neanderthals. The values they embodied were much different than those of today. Mostly, the things that were most valuable were those that helped to survive. Food, water, shelter, and the various tools invented to make these things more easily attained. As rocks gave way to clubs and other early-history tools, values changed. When hunting and gathering turned to agriculture values changed. When nomadic tribes became settled in one area and developed a society values changed. Throughout the history of man values seem to be transferred from one thing to another. One cannot say the same for most other species of animals. Have a shark's values changed any during his millions of years in the earth's oceans?
For me, it seems that there are a few crucial shifts in values that have shaped man's perception of these values as they are today. The first major shift would be that of moving from valuing materials (such as food, water, tools) to spiritual values. When man placed more value on the God(s) in which he worshipped than the actual things that gave him life, perception changed. The second major shift that I see as changing our perspectives is one where man placed value in money. Monetary value. These two words have become integrated into the world so much so that without them it would cease to function as we know it today. Whether it be gold, silver, jewels, paper money, or imaginary figures in bank accounts these things have real value. Where did this value come from?
This monetary value comes completely from our minds much like any other form of value. Without us placing value on or in something there is none. A piece of paper that I can trade for food has no more value than that stone club which was used to get food before. Our values have changed. Our values will always change, it is not a static thing. Society has told us that money has value, whether or not this is true is another matter. In order to survive in what we consider civilized society one needs some amount of money. In most countries and societies money is a necessity. Money has become part of the food, water, and shelter mode of survival. This is not true in places where indigenous tribes are still active. Most tribal communities do not rely on money at all, and function quite well. Trading goods and services has become a thing of the past. We have added money to the mash. In order to give or receive goods or services, one must use money as the mediary. How has this value system changed society?
Some of the obvious answers would be that a great deal of greed, power struggles, deaths, and oppression have come about due to society's desire for more money. Something not as often looked at is the fact that money has no natural value. There is nothing about a piece of paper or a coin that helps us survive other than the value that people place on it. Native Americans did not use money in the contemporary sense, but rather traded goods and other things that they had in their possession. Native Americans valued the preservation of their future. They valued the health of the earth because they understood that all life comes from the earth and it should be taken care of. Many things that we value today are imaginary and can disappear in an instant. Our entire global economy is based on this monetary value. The same monetary value that is completely imaginary and could be transferred to anything. If I tell someone that one coconut is equal to three bananas, and they agree, then both the coconut and the bananas have value other than that of nutrition. Our entire system of monetary value can come back to this simple principle. If everyone agrees that something has worth, than it does. But what would happen if suddenly everyone decided that money did not have value? Instead we switched, and gave value to things with less imaginative worth, such as food, goods and services.
Sure our economy would crumble and many people would probably die from poverty and lack of food but what would come next? We would have to revert back to being true societal beings and relying on one another for survival. Some people would call this a destruction of civilization, I would venture to say it would be the start of it. Imagine a world where you could build a house for someone and in return that same person would provide food for your family. Money has turned us into independent beings. No wonder so many people have social problems, depression, and loneliness. Our society is structured so that you have the ability to live completely alone. The Internet has made it possible for people to survive without ever actually leaving their home and having no human contact. While some may wish that upon themselves, others are suffering due to the innate human desire to interact. It is only in times of despair that people begin to look at the society they live in and question it. Nobody is going to save us from ourselves. What better time than now to question our current value system and see if we can't figure something out that's better. There is no proper place to stop this discussion but it must stop nevertheless. In our state of a failed world economy, I shall end with a simple question: What now?"
The end still makes me laugh a little. Why was I so ominous? Feel free to start a discussion in the comments section, and/or critique the essay, and offer any constructive criticism you may have.