(Visual) Notes on Culture
  The Value of Life
As I continue to fret over personal finances in a bid to a have quiet, stable, and hopefully somewhat relaxing summer, I stumble across two news items that put the value of life in conceptual dollars. Marx would be appalled at how far along capitalism has come. While he criticized the commodification of time (labor value and duration are directly exchanged for specific dollar amounts in a capitalist system...therefore, time = money) and the general fact that the bourgeois world became obsessed with meetings, appointments, punctuality (while times of day were once approximated and were relative based on the season, now machines--watches, clocks, and even things like metronomes--made sure that every moment of the day could be accounted for), he would not live to see the escalation of speculative industries like life insurance. Suddenly, in addition to being governed by the time-money situation in life, a person in a capitalist country was likewise given value in death. While memories, family, relationships, and aesthetic experiences could still remain priceless, a person was also strictly valued based on their age, health, and social situation even as they died.

The first news piece is from Time Magazine (how appropriate!) and argues that life is almost uniformly undervalued! Kathleen Kingsbury talks to some economists about how certain aspects of Medicare (dialysis, especially) have worked out to yield a $129,000 value on a year of life, well above the "standard" specification of $50,000. Amidst the constant struggle between proponents of privatized health care and those interested in building a model of universal coverage, these estimates will certainly cause rifts. The estimates for extremely sick people could be cited as deterrents against the view advocating shared social responsibility. At the same time, others could rally behind the huge costs based on current going-rates for treatment as a sign that the system must change. These figures should likewise be compared against what Americans earn per year. In this scenario, how are massively wealthy people compared with the abject poor?

The second item comes from the realm of science fiction and does not deal with purely organic human life as such. Aaron Smith writes about the $6 Million Man (Steve Austin) and speculates as to his value given inflation and the changing world of cybernetics. The simple shift, given current inflation rates, could identify him as a $26 Million Man (super human, yes, but still less than some professional athletes or Hollywood stars earn in one year)! Smith next talks about how much the total replacements and adjustments to the human body would cost using real, extant technologies. The bill? Speculation goes as high as $100 million!

As a point of synthesis, mobile and cognizant life is worth big bucks. On one level, human work is given dollar amounts and valued in relative comparison to other human work. On another, our very selves participate in a complex and shifting economy of life that can (in some ways) be replicated, but probably still works best under pre-post-human means of thinking.
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