Almost as soon as I scheduled yesterday’s post, a musing about Socrates’ quotation, “An unexamined life is not worth living,” I had second thoughts. My premise was to accept this aphorism and analyze it with respect to the phases of life, from childhood to old age. I concluded that it is not the examination of one’s life that gives value, but rather the actions taken as a result of taking stock of one’s self.
What about my brother?
I wrote my post thinking about the value of self-examination, and how proud Socrates would have been of me, since I seem to be in a continual life-examining state. Then I thought, what about Mike? Mike is my older brother who is autistic, very low functioning and nonverbal. He and many others like him are incapable of examining their lives. Many like him are incapable of even the simplest routine daily tasks. Does this make his life not worth living? I can’t imagine that this is what Socrates had in mind.
Some never hesitated to judge
From 1939 to 1945, in Germany, the Nazis determined which lives were worth living and which were not. During this period, more than 200,000 mentally and physically handicapped people were murdered. 
The Nazis were not the first, nor the only example of society valuating lives. The social movement called ‘eugenics’ sought to apply the principles of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to ‘improve’ the human species.  I put the word, improve, in scare-quotes (‘ ’) to make the point that there is no human being omniscient enough, or qualified to define the criteria for improving the human race. Nobody could possibly know the best genetic makeup of humanity.
Who determines the value of a human life? Social Darwinists, those who believe that the fittest in society rise to the top, would argue that those in power do have a right to valuate lives by virtue of the fact that they are in power. Not to delve into current US politics, but let me simply say that it would be unimaginable for society to be re-made in the image of the people in power today (July 2013). My point is, again, any criteria for reshaping humanity comes from flawed human beings. Forcing other human beings out of existence because they are different is unethical and wrong.
Believe it or not, there are things that even the smartest human being doesn’t know. For example, there was a time when a good portion of the genome was considered ‘junk’ DNA; now, an emerging science of epigenetics is showing us that the current generation is influenced by the environmental conditions of grandparents. The gene pool needs diversity. The whole push for ‘racial purity’ by the Nazis, to rid the gene pool of ‘degenerates’, had it succeeded, would have weakened the human race immeasurably. I’ve seen an example of this (in the plant kingdom) in my own lifetime. I went to college in the 1970s. The beautiful campus, in upstate New York was lined exclusively with elm trees. When Dutch Elm Disease struck, the campus was denuded of trees altogether.
Perhaps mankind needs the genetic makeup of those we call handicapped.
Gifts from human beings not like us
Many people, who have handicapped siblings, know that we can learn so many life-lessons from our affected brothers and sisters. This can be through the unfiltered honesty of our siblings; by the testing our own inner strength; by letting us know our own value to another human, and in many other ways.
However, there is no doubt, people who help us care are a benefit to humanity.