Dear Dignity:May I Have This Dance? (Or is it too dangerous?)

The Ben Peterson article re dignity(“The Dangerous Side of Dignity”) appearing in “The Intercollegiate Review” invokes visions of heaven and hell in mankind’s struggle to claim dignity.It asserts that it is not a constitutional right despite Justice Kennedy’s assertion to that effect in the 5 to 4 Oberfell decision.Justice Clarence Thomas asserts that a slave has no inherent right to dignity going beyond the constitutional issue.(Into the realm of the unconscious perhaps?) We are left to ponder whether the only rights that a U.S. citizen can claim are constitutional. Perhaps Clarence Thomas senses a moral order that transcends citizenship but which he denies to slaves(ex as well?) Maybe in the search for a better world(one that allows for 7 1/2 billion people) the U.S. constitution is merely a guidepost akin to the Magna Carta which in all of its manifestations served as a guidepost to our Constitution.Guideposts from the worlds religions are treacherous indicators.(Which one?)but they do point to a moral order which needs to be identified and agreed upon before we can go forward.We need a Geneva convention before we can violate it!! JL says that dignity is something that makes one feel esteemed but cautions that it needs to be sanctioned formally or informally by an elite.

Come on in folks. The water may be hot but it is shark free.(or not) At any rate “The Game’s Afoot!



  1. Dignity! The marvelous poetic powers of the concept demonstrated in “The Intercollegiate Review” provide for us a fine example of the complexity – the joys and the dangers of “worthy” sentiments. Dignity is one. That which evokes “dignity” can be many. This raises the question: Is it “dignity” that is most significant for the human future or is it instead the particular assemblies of potentially diverse (and sometimes contradictory) values that evoke the sentiment? Another way of putting it – Are we better off thinking of “dignity” mostly as a symptom – thereby causing us to focus more on the importance of guiding the good or ill that causes it?

    Don Spencer

    1. It is an intriguing thought that dignity can be treated as a symptom allowing us to scientifically examine the factors which predispose us to seek, grant or refuse it to ourselves or others. Unfortunately this state may not be possible to attain even under laboratory conditions.The seeking of dignity carries overwhelming emotional force exceeded perhaps only in its denial.I suspect that the followers and leaders of Isis know this all too well.All tyrannies encounter and strive to defeat and/or to use this power.Peterson may not have sufficiently ACKNOWLEDGED THE POWER INVOLVED IN ITS DENIAL WHILE WARNING US OF THE POWER AND DANGER INVOLVED IN ITS SEEKING.Daedal2207

      1. The seeking (and the protecting) of “dignity” seems to be another way of referring to our need to find (OR CREATE) meaning. Whatever the device or devices we may have employed for this purpose, being that they become central to how we perceive our importance in the scheme of things, it is reasonable that alterations will be resisted. Most do not employ “scientific” analysis as regards the cultivation of their sense of meaning and what daedal2207 calls overwhelming emotional force is indeed likely to evolve, impeding rather than creating the incentives needed to reevaluate and adjust. One exception appears to be the mind that has cultivated for itself the scientific method as its primary source of meaning. This source of meaning, unlike (almost?) all the others, REQUIRES THAT IT ADAPT as “better” evidence presents itself. And, even if it is true that the state of correction for many is impossible because of the intrinsic emotional forces involved, it does not mean that we should not try to understand why our fellow humans behave as we do. Along with that, perhaps we can help guide the new generations to avoid the pitfalls and do better.
        An example – If one’s overwhelming emotion causes him to perceive that his personal sense of worth (dignity) is something that can only be granted or denied by others, this mind may be rendered incapable of understanding the value and consequences (good and bad) of personal self-worth (dignity) that one might perceive is granted by a spiritual source. This would explain why many have feelings of dignity (For instance, Clarence Thomas) that are not dependent on the acceptance of others and why they do not have to deal with the emotions related to FEELING themselves victimized if not acknowledged as desired. Each source for this feeling of dignity has its own sets of consequences and may allow us to understand better the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the behaviors inspired by the sentiment.

        1. Part of the human(social animal) condition comes from needing the sanction of others.I don’t know how far back we would have to go evolutionarily in order to be free of this need.It is probably back to the rule of the reptilian brain.I doubt that Clarence Thomas qualifies, although some may disagree.

      2. Daedal2207 writes, “Part of the human (social animal) condition comes from needing the sanction of others.”
        Yes, for the most part and to varying degree we all need the sanction of “others”, but not ALL others. We should understand that not all groups embrace beliefs that are equally worthy. Justice Clarence Thomas benefits from many who sanction his idea that every person’s self-worth (dignity) is primarily God-given. But, even if not in possession of such spiritual beliefs, an objective mind should understand that those who do share this fundamental belief will derive some significant benefits by being independent, free (perhaps even dismissive) of “others” who for myriad reasons want to INSIST that a different set of values prevail (for example – the belief that race matters).

        1. Sanctions can be negative as well as positive. It is invisibility that is intolerable.”The Invisible Man” used up a whole lot of stolen electricity to avoid the definition.

    2. Alexander says”the etymology of dignity is proto Indo-European:”to accept”.So yes,dignity is a state of cultural worth given to an individual or group that has been accepted and incorporated into the fabric of larger society.This is also to say that prior to this acceptance, the individual or group is treated with hostility.(i.e.,without dignity)and this is precisely what makes it a civil rights issue.It is not that “dignity”is so general a term as to be meaningless,but that it is necessarily malleable AND CANNOT BE CONCRETIZED AS IT MUST CONTINUE TO TO “DIGNIFY:MORE AND MORE GROUPS/INDIVIDUALS/BEHAVIORS.(acceptance is an additive value).And indeed,the progress of a society could very well be measured by how far it is willing to extend dignity to those within it.”

      1. Thank you Alexander for this stimulating exploration.
        One can agree with the etymology meaning “to accept” and yet understand that diverse beliefs as to what or who is doing the “accepting” alters greatly the effect of dignity’s meaning. In many ways we depend on the “acceptance” of others, so to that extent we can understand valid reasons most would apply to it group-linked social implications. However, in the nature of humanity we see evidence that some groups can cultivate values which when expressed are (relative to nature’s laws) destructive both to them and to others. For instance, I do not wish to be “accepted” by ISIS nor do I believe that any healthy mind would embrace that kind of “dignity”. For us this may be an extreme example, but it illustrates a principle that applies to all fashionable group sentiments to the degree they are born of foolishness. In other words, not all groups operate with beliefs that are equally worthy of “dignity” – that is, if “healthy-relative-to-nature’s-laws” is our criteria for measurement. If this is the case, “extending dignity (acceptance) to all” is not the best idea. Wouldn’t society’s progress be better advanced by a focus on accurate judgments recognizing those groups and individuals who embrace the values that should be accepted (appropriate sentiments) and discouraging those groups and individuals who embrace destructive values (inappropriate sentiments)? And let’s not forget that our original Constitution attempted to assign to every INDIVIDUAL citizen a basic level of “dignity” linked to their possession of EQUAL rights. To the degree this is possible, can “dignity” have a better basis than this?

        1. I don’t know what the “original constitution ” is, the one I’m familiar with didn’t recognize intrinsic or inherent rights for anyone except citizens;this left out women, slaves,and many of those in indentured categories .The constitution, and maybe one can’t say which one as one can with the Magna Carta,is still a work in progress and with all its amendments unable to predict the future.”Constructive” vs “destructive” are concepts which once having eluded the definition of law require testing in a marketplace of values and whose predetermination invites bias.The only way to avoid the marketplace is to assume the intolerable burden of Ellison’s “Invisible Man.

        2. Daedal2207 points out that our “original constitution” did not create for its citizens a perfectly equal distribution of “rights” (Many could not vote, however all “citizens” did have rights). Even today, child citizens are not allowed freedoms exactly equal to those of adults. I doubt that many are going to demean the constitution for denying them this equity. I think too, that most can predict (predetermine) that “destructive” would be an appropriate adjective describing many future consequences if adult rights of freedom were applied equally to children.

          Our original constitution managed to become a unique contract defining ideals – ideals that open for more individuals the opportunity to successfully pursue personal paths to happiness – it allowed flexibility as we refined our understandings about human nature. Equal application of the law is the ideal. Logically, the granting of special favors for adults (for instance, race and gender based) must be a compromise of the ideal. Consider – special treatment (unequally) obligates (forces) someone and/or others to give deference.

          With a focus on the ideal of gender-blindness and color-blindness, the marketplace is better able to tap the very best talent. We see powerful evidence of this in present-day politics. Gender, race, and cultural diversity are on display. Among the Republican’s presidential field talented minds representing this diversity are unified in an effort to advance the common ideal described above.

        3. “Even today, child citizens are not allowed freedoms exactly equal to those of adults. I doubt that many are going to demean the constitution for denying them this equity.”

          I’ve been following the conversation between daedal2207 and Don Spencer and I noticed a grave error in Don’s reply. I quoted part of your reply above. Where you’ve made an error is that the constitution does not deny children any rights or freedoms. Other federal, state, and local laws may, but the constitution doesn’t.

        4. Thank you Gregory;
          It should have read, ““Even today, child citizens are not allowed freedoms exactly equal to those of adults. I doubt that many are going to demean INTERPRETATIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION denying them this equity.”

  2. “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Unless each of us is granted the same rights, freedoms, and inherent privilege as all others, then whatever dignity we do possess can at least partially be stripped away. Our plutocracy uses fear as a means of social control. This might be a better explanation of that effect:

    “Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.” ~ Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom From Fear

    1. You are right in commemorating the courage that defies fear in the civilized man and also the defiant slave.But it may be that this can be evoked constructively only when the sentiment (and the accompanying human being) has been in some way positively sanctioned as JL suggests by an elite.

    2. You write, “Unless each of us is granted the same rights, freedoms, and inherent privilege as all others, then whatever dignity we do possess can at least partially be stripped away.”
      Our remarkable Constitution actually does grant to each citizen the same rights, the same freedoms under the law. However, the granting of the same “Inherent privilege” is rationally impossible. “Privilege” is a difference. Used to encompass all, it cannot exist as a “same”. A group of people may share similar privileges, but ALL people cannot share equally a “privilege”.
      Could you rephrase your statement to clarify your point? Or, does this alter by some degree the validity of your point?

      1. There are a lot of things in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution that don’t hold true either. They are both idealistic documents. ALL men in this country are not created equal and do not have the same rights and freedoms. In fact, a black man wasn’t even considered to be a whole man, only 3/5ths for some purposes. People could be bought and sold. But you are correct, if we ALL shared the same privilege, it wouldn’t be considered privilege … unless you were comparing the United States to other countries where their citizens didn’t share the same privilege that ALL in the United States do. In that case, All of us could.

        1. Well said! In fact the Dred Scott decision giving a slave the value of 3/5 of a man was a late development.The need for such was clearly not anticipated by the founders who took slavery and no value except as a commodity AS A GIVEN.

      2. Here’s an interesting corollary to my last comments: Since the writing of our constitution, our SCOTUS has seen fit to grant the rights of personhood to corporations also … therefore, it would be assumed that they should “equally” share the rights and freedoms of all other persons in the United States. In fact, in several cases, corporations have been shown deference over actual people and, in several cases, the rights granted by the constitution have been diminished by the SCOTUS in the cases of real people. Fourth Amendment rights for our citizens have taken particularly hard blows, of late. So, based on those decisions, I would have to say that our constitution (idealistic document that it is), is open to interpretation by our courts that don’t always yield “equal” results, and have even granted “unequal” privilege.

        Think of the case of a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Our SCOTUS has granted them rights of personhood, yet the personal assets of the actual people forming the LLC aren’t subject to the liabilities incurred by their company. I won’t even delve into the tax implications involved concerning corporations in general and LLCs in particular.

        Is this “dignified” on the part of our courts? Just curious.

        1. Gregory is presenting evidence that complexities arise from uncertainties. Contributing to these uncertainties is the fact that there are diverse ways to define and measure “freedom” and “equality”. Similarly, we tend to use (almost endless) subjective basis in order to manufacture the marvelous sentiment we call dignity (and other forms of self-worth). The only way we can subdue the subjective complications (and resulting conflicts) is to link our understandings to real, not imagined or hoped for, causal relationships. That is, build our beliefs on the basis of measurable correlations. The methods of science give us a (the most?) solid footing on which to expand the probability that what we come to believe is true may actually be true.
          Men are not created equal, but for many good (measurable) reasons we can choose to establish a system of governing that tries its best to grant to all our diversely endowed citizens equal treatment under the law. Euclid pointed out that, “Things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another”. If our contract, the Constitution, makes us equal under the law, we are at least in that way, equal to each other.
          Gregory recites some exceptions from the ideal. Complicated, the tool that we call the LLC may or may not serve us best when we choose to allot to it some of the “rights” of people. Other exceptions are more easily understood: Most obviously it isn’t safe to allow child citizens the same freedoms allotted to adults. Blind people cannot drive. Is it “undignified” to deny children and blind people the “same” rights as others? And considering that a few individuals will be exceptions, there is massive evidence that there are general differences, psychologically and physically, that, depending on the task, favor one sex performing better than the other. In general, laws constructed such that they take fundamental differences into consideration will provide for society safer, more efficient, results.
          Homeostasis – the balance of parts. The process of this balancing act continues – hopefully, with pleasure.

        2. GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is advocating the use of the United States military to stop women from having abortions and says he will do so if elected president even if the SCOTUS decides against the practice.

          Even though the constitution says that our military should not be used against our citizens, there is precedent: remember the Kent State University killings by our Nat’l. Guard? In the interest of equality, shouldn’t women be allowed to use the military to perform vasectomies? Both measures would be equally effective in preventing abortions.

          I’m sure that you realize that I’m being facetious and sarcastic, but the point is we are not all equal, nor do we all have the same rights and freedoms. For that matter, we don’t live in a democracy or even a democratic republic; we live in a plutocracy with a broken justice and legal system.

          We can fix the system, but don’t expect congress to fix it for us. The plutocrats will support whichever party is in power. We can fix it starting at the local level and building upward, but it will take time:

          I hope I haven’t detracted from the discourse. I really don’t know the rules of the group. If I’ve overstepped, please let me know and I will apologize and restrain myself in the future.

        3. Gregory presents an article about Governor Huckabee and abortion:
          We love to love our feelings! A brilliant man, an ex-governor, proclaims an empathy with the earliest embryonic beginnings of a human being. He assigns to it a (God-given) dignity of citizenship, something of value worthy of society’s protection. Equally brilliant minds proclaim (with similar degrees of religious-like certitude) this sentiment to be outlandish, worthy of ridicule. “Dignity” is assigned instead to the “right” of a woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. For those without a belief in God, or for those without “moral” (uncertain origin) certitudes here is an interesting question: Which sentiment when it predominates gives society its best future? We will all have feelings. Therefore we should want to avoid those feelings that are “inappropriate” and embrace those that are “appropriate”.
          By what measure are we to argue preference for one over the other? Ultimately we may see physical results that can be statistically correlated with these sentiments (that is, if our mindsets allow us to be objective). We can conjecture that unwanted children are more likely to be trouble for the future. Dr. Peter Singer of Princeton has presented arguments that support the eradication of unwanted lives – even after birth. At what point in the growth of a human is it to society’s benefit to give that life the “dignity” of possessing rights? Compassion and empathy are often held in high esteem. As we see evidence related to the degree to which embryos mirror ourselves, our feelings of self-worth are likely to extend to them. (But if we see ourselves as having value because we possess —”rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness” (Dr. Singer), we may feel that these traits do not exist in the unborn and thus with this division, with relative emotional ease, we can destroy the fetus. (In similar fashion we can understand the origins of division and also understand great benefits as racial divides become erased as the meanings of “content of character” are empathically understood.) But there is also empathy and compassion for a woman who will be “burdened” if obligated to birth an unwanted child. Sentiments, when loved too much are protected rather than tested.
          There is the issue of consistence: I have often wondered at the apparent confusion of sentiments that allow a mind to argue passionately to save the life of a murderer (against the death penalty) and then argue with equal passion to destroy the life of a totally innocent human life (for legal abortion). By dividing life into various categories of “worth” we assign to ourselves the (enjoyment?) of experiencing different kinds (and different levels) of (self-serving) sentiment. To the degree that self-serving sentiments and humanity-serving sentiments can be objectively structured to overlap we will have achieved something significant.

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