We cling so to identity in this nation. Identity seems to be that which is most valued in America right now. Most people on the right know this is a change for the worse. Maybe it is about failing families or failing religions, or something else altogether but regardless where it comes it’s not a good trend. One reason why it is not a good trend is because those that are unable to form a sense of identity end up valueless.
Consider two things that have come to my attention this week. One is a gentleman with Down Syndrome by the name of Frank Stephens and his recent testimony to Congress. In this testimony he pleads, “I am a man with Down Syndrome and my life is worth living.” It was incredibly moving, incredibly dramatic, and I could not help but be stunned by the fact that it was necessary. Seriously, imagine having to plead for the value of your life in front of the Congress of the United States.
The other is an article from the 10/9 issue of The New Yorker about abuse of the guardianship laws in Nevada by what is essentially an organized crime operation. Think Teri Schiavo, but instead of a deadbeat ex it is a “professional” provider and instead of trying to kill the victims, they’re just after the money. It is a gut-wrenching read and if you have ever been through guardianship proceedings in your own life, it is like a punch between the eyes. It illustrates dramatically something that I have contended since Schiavo – our guardianship laws reduce people to chattel. Properly used they are designed to provide for those that lack the capacity to provide for themselves. But they nonetheless reduce those people to chattel; implicitly telling people that if you are sufficiently impaired you are no longer of human value. This is true regardless of whether the guardian is a loved one, a less than loved family member, a professional, or a charlatan.
These stories of real and genuine identity loss make identity politics look trivial by comparison, don’t they? But what is most stunning is that in a society that seems to value identity so much, this stuff happens routinely and is applauded by the very same people who make such big issues of their own identity. It strips naked their fight for “equality;” they are fighting for themselves. There is no magnanimity in this stuff – it is garden variety selfishness.
Something quite interesting happens when we obtain our value from something other than ourselves – we gain humility at the same time we are gaining value. Consider this prayer:
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.