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Equality for most

Posted by on February 27, 2008

“why can’t we see that when we bleed we bleed the same?”

This is a line from a song by the band Muse. It is stirring, but it never sat quite right with me. I have figured out why, and to illustrate, here’s a brief anecdote:
My father had high blood pressure for most of his adult life, and took medication every day. Doctor’s visits routinely involved blood being drawn. My dad did not enjoy this, and he had good reason, you see, he had more clotting factor in his blood than the average person, and his blood would clot in the needle, impeding the extraction. So they had to use extra-wide needles. My dad was a large, imposing man, but he feared needles. This always confused my mother.

Her confusion makes sense, I think. We like to assume that the world is a certain way, and that people’s preferences and behaviors will be what we expect. We are often wrong.

When we bleed, we don’t bleed the same. Think of military service. It carries a higher risk of injury than most other lines of work, yet it draws some enrollment. Some do it for the financial incentives, some do it for pride, some for social standing(I think). Whatever their reason, they are essentially agreeing to bleed for it.

When we bleed, we bleed at different rates. Especially if we are hemophiliac. The clot-free notwithstanding, we all clot at different speeds, and we all react differently to receiving wounds of varying sizes in varying locations.

But the valuation we place on our bleeding is what is really crucial here. I think there is a mistaken notion that people will tend to value similar things similarly. But where does value really come from? It’s not just dollars(this is obvious perhaps simply because different people do different things with their dollars). It’s in what we give up.

I had an interesting and illuminating conversation the other day with someone whose knowledge of philosophy is considerably more fleshed-out than my own. He pointed out that not only is one person’s happiness not equatable on any scale to someone else’s, but that the idea of trying to relate them is nonsense. I’m not sure I agree, but if true, this would mean that Muse’s lyric is completely void of meaning.

Right now, I don’t find much in it at all.

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