Nothing Owes Me ̶A̶n̶y̶t̶h̶i̶n̶g̶ Everything

What have I done to deserve anything, good or bad?

Almost any belief that anyone has will put the deservedness out of the individual’s control – be it a god or determinism + randomness. But either way, how do we know that we deserve something? Do we actually deserve anything or do things just happen to us as they have and do to so many others?

The title here says two things – nothing owes me anything (i.e. I don’t deserve anything) and nothing owes me everything (i.e. the “nothing” does owe me all things). Confusing in a way, but just don’t think too much about it. I’m trying to start a conversation around two systems.

  • American emphasis on individualism
  • Chinese emphasis on collectivism

These are just two examples so you can get an idea of systems that function in these ways. Here’s an example:

  • I’m a wheelchair user (let’s say the only one, or one of very very few) and I want ramps everywhere and all stairs accompanied by elevators. I want people to stop saying the word “normal” because it offends me.
  • Individualism – yes, we will make it the law so that anywhere you go or never go, you can get around as much as possible. And anyone who says something that offends you should be punished by the public.
  • Collectivism – no, it does not make sense to add ramps and such that are a cost to the country (by taxes) to implement these things, also the extra pollution from adding this extra concrete and electric demand is not worth it. There are many people you will never meet or talk to, they shouldn’t have to change the way they talk for fear of being punished, especially when their words will likely have no malintent.

Both of these are not the right way to go about this. The first one I highlight how movements such as ableism can seem to be a lot of people making demands. The second digs into how sometimes considering the collective can be good, but flawed in that it severely hurts (economically) individuals who are a minority and need extra help. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot, somewhere reasonable.

The hardest part is how to figure out what is reasonable. It’s clearly not reasonable to pave all hiking trails in America (especially the mountain ones) just in case I want to go for a hike. But maybe a small few of the more popular trails could be smoothed out a bit so I can at least enjoy 1 mountain hike. If by ‘reasonable’ we consider the individual, then we might consider how to optimize their contribution to the collective in a way that gives a net positive by measures of what concerns the collective. This would be stuff like access to work, education, and the most common pass-times. Basically, if we consider the most common things the collective does throughout their lives, we’d want someone in a wheelchair to be able to do alongside.

If we consider what’s reasonable from the collective point of view, this would be the same. It’s whatever can be done to maximize the collective’s growth (economically, or whatever everyone is mainly striving for). I think that’s a good solution – maximizing how much we can get someone who is not normal (i.e. different than the average person and needs accommodations) to be given the right to accommodations/opportunities so they can contribute as much as the next person all while reaping similar enjoyments from society. This means that because a lot of people have a car, then we should make it so that people who need accommodations also can drive a car. But as for boats, because those are rare, they can be taken care of on a case-by-case basis.

When it comes to deservedness, someone in a wheelchair can say that they deserve, from the collective (the country), the opportunities/infrastructure in such a way that minimizes obstacles to maximize contribution. When it is said that one deserves reasonable accommodations, it doesn’t mean that one deserves to change the language everyone uses. It does mean that I ought to be able to get into my office building.

The critical issue/objection here is whether or not it’s possible to have a net positive contribution. Without thinking too hard, it’s possible to think there’s no way for a net positive given the breadth of accommodations along with their expense financially and ecologically, but then we can remember that something like a ramp can be thought of as a one-time cost, while the use of it can be by multiple. As for ecologically, we’re already well on our way to global destruction, so a little more doesn’t hurt (plus any concrete not used for a ramp doesn’t stay as sand, it’ll just be used for stairs somewhere else).

Two key data points are how many people need the same accommodation(s) and how much they are contributing to the whole. If only a very very small number of people need a ramp and none of them have a job, can it be justified to require ramps across the country?
If there are a lot of people who require ramps and they work significant enough jobs to contribute to the collective in many ways (taxes, community, technological developments, etc.) then does it make sense to install ramps everywhere?

When a conversation around social justice is started, for any group of people (usually minorities), it’s reasonable to say “we deserve to be treated equally in such and such ways.” But there is definitely a point at which it can go too far where that group is making demands outside of their deservedness, forgetting that it’s still very important to consider the collective alongside the individual.

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