It is common sense that what we value, we wish to take care of, preserve, and treat with respect. Often times, this care is expressed towards material objects such as cars, jewelry, and luxury items; or more abstractly, towards traditions such as religious holidays or family and cultural customs. But what is the value we assign to the life of a human being?
When we take a look at how we treat each other as people, it is safe to say that we do not seem to value human beings very much. In a system based on materialism and the pursuit of “success,” money and power have come to define a human being’s value. Consequently, nothing has inherent worth – everything is just a means to obtaining a desired end and satisfying our seemingly obsessive need for recognition and power. In the pursuit of these goals, the environment is being destroyed with a fanatical vigor one expects of an adolescent consciousness whose shortsighted impulse for instant gratification leaves it dangerously indifferent to the consequences of its actions; at the same time, countless human lives are sacrificed in wars over resources while financial tyranny waged against the working class in the form of austerity is plunging millions of people into poverty across the globe. Nothing is off limits in corporate capitalism’s suicidal quest for profits. But, when everything has a price, nothing has inherent value.
One of the most important and sacred processes any human being undergoes is the development of his or her own personhood. It is the highly personal choice of who we wish to be in the world and how we wish to express our own individuality and uniqueness as part of the human community. Central to this development of the Self is education. But instead of serving as a building block for individual and collective development, education today is merely a means for getting a “good job” and “moving up” in the world. It has no intrinsic value: the joy and curiosity that accompany learning and discovery about ourselves and the world have been completely commodified and turned into what Dr. Cornel West often refers to as “cheap schooling.”  In this “cheap schooling,” the curricula is defined by what is profitable in the “marketplace,” not what is valuable for individual growth and humanity as a whole. Social studies, the humanities, arts, and anything that presents an alternative to the sterile and lifeless corporate culture that has permeated all corners of our existence is degraded, ridiculed, and deemed unworthy by the “marketplace,” which only seeks to employ mindless, obedient drones who will do as they are told.
Critical thinking and a person’s unique perspective are highly undesirable in a system of hierarchical ownership and top-down management of resources and institutions. The right to cultivate our personhood is sacrificed at the altar of corporate capitalism, which provides us with a cheap substitute for individuality and self-expression through a false sense of belonging, empty personal achievements far below our true potential, and, of course, the formation of a “unique” crowd identity through fashionable consumer products manufactured by wage slaves in foreign countries whose working conditions regularly cause mass deaths and drive others to suicide. As a result, the system effectively robs humanity of citizens whose genuine development of individuality, identity, and a true sense of Self would result in a more conscious society that values life, diversity of expression, and that views each living being as an invaluable part of the whole.
But how can we expect people to appreciate anything for its innate value when most of us do not even recognize the inherent worth of a human being? We discriminate against one another because we deem others unacceptable and, thus, not worthy enough of our respect; we kill and maim other humans on mass scales through wars and conflicts in the name of profit, all the while masked as heroic undertakings for “worthy” causes in “defense” of one’s “superior” tribe; on a more social level, we assign worth and value to human beings based on their socio-economic status and whether they are “productive” members of society. This is why “failure” can be so devastating to a person’s mental well-being and self-image: because our worth, value, and sense of purpose are defined by external achievements which, if removed, decimate our sense of self-worth and make us invisible casualties of corporate capitalism’s disposable culture. What these few examples show us is that just being a human is not enough. One has to do something or be a particular way in order to be considered valuable or worthy. This mentality – the belief in the inherent worthlessness of a human being – lies at the core of the hatred and condemnation we direct towards one another. The message is clear: unless you meet society’s standards of what it means to be “valuable,” you are worthless.
The owners of the system – the corporate oligarchs – have, through mass propaganda and cultural conditioning over time, taught us that worth is about how much money a person has, the type of job they hold, the amount of property they own, and how “successful” they are (i.e. how well they reflect the values of the dominant culture). In this type of society, materialism and the trivial become our Gods to which we pledge allegiance in an economy that constantly profits from our desperation to be accepted and seen as worthy. The meaning of life is reduced to achieving “success” and recognition while the deep-seated desires of one’s soul for truth and connection are willfully sacrificed for superficial achievements whose promises of “happiness” and “worth” never seem to materialize. In the end, life itself becomes meaningless.
When money, recognition, and materialism determine a human’s worth, only the few are seen as valuable. As Chris Hedges explains in“Let’s Get This Class War Started,”  the rest of us are deemed worthless, “disposable human beings” in service of corporate oligarchs who view the lower classes as “uncouth parasites, annoyances that have to be endured, at times placated and always controlled in the quest to amass more power and money.”
Our oligarchic rulers have successfully convinced us that their values are ours – most of us seem to believe that humans are inherently worthless and only serve as means to achieving one’s personal objectives. In this kind of culture, everything and everyone – including friends and family – become disposable commodities to be used, exploited, and worn out for self-interest and shortsighted ego-desires. Unsurprisingly, in such a society, friendship is a foreign concept and practiced in superficial settings and contrived “meet ups” that mask an inner sense of isolation and loneliness, a natural by-product of an egocentric culture. We are disconnected from one another because we do not value anything for its essence – the inherent worth of cooperation, friendship, and genuine togetherness is considered a bore and a waste of time. There always seems to be some ulterior interest inherent in our relationships that satisfies our fleeting appetite for company – rarely do people get together out of a genuine desire to connect and honestly share themselves with each other.
Our devaluation of people and life itself is simply a reflection of our own personal, deep-seated sense of worthlessness as human beings. It is what psychiatrist Carl Jung referred to as projection – the act of prescribing one’s unconscious inner quality onto an object that lies outside of oneself – which “change[s] the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.” What we are reflecting on the outside is a belief that we are nothing more than worthless biological creatures here to consume, amass, hoard, and “succeed” (read: dominate) over those around us and for much of humanity, a vile creation whose sole purpose is to repent and make up for its existence to a wrathful, authoritarian God-figure. No wonder we have no respect for life and each other.
The root of our sense of worthlessness (and the ruling elite’s ability to convince us of it) is perhaps our separation from the natural world and the cycle of life. Humans see themselves as standing above nature as opposed to being a part of it. Because of our self-appointed supremacy, we have isolated ourselves from the natural world and reign supreme over all life showing little respect by constantly violating, trashing, extracting, destroying, killing, and exploiting every aspect of the environment. We have no reverence for nature and only turn to it to extract more fuel to power our unsustainable lifestyle or to objectify its beauty when it serves us. Rarely do we stand in awe and respect of the incredible complex and intricate network of life that weaves together animals, plants, and countless other life forms into a sophisticated and mysterious existence – an existence that has been evolving for billions of years, while humanity’s short presence on Earth is threatening to destabilize the ecosystem, which, in turn, will undoubtedly lead to our demise.
The fatal mistake of humanity is its arrogance rooted in the illogical and insanely narcissistic belief that humans are more powerful than nature. A rational species would realize the obvious: that human beings are dependent on nature for their survival. However, it is the pompous mindset of supremacy that blinds one from recognizing the interrelationship between oneself and the outside world, which eventually brings the dominators’ unconscious reign to a disastrous halt. It is precisely this separation from nature and all life that has led to an identity crisis – a confusion about our place in the world that compels us to seek meaning and worth through domination, suppression, and conquest of the outside world and each other.
Undoubtedly, we are sowing the seeds of our own annihilation. It is perhaps humanity’s unconscious desire to destroy the worthless within, because what is devoid of value is insignificant, meaningless, useless and it deserves no attention or love – and above all – it does not deserve to exist.
In order to stop our unconscious march towards collective suicide, we must undertake the painstaking process of self-discovery and transform the personal belief structures that betray our own sense of worthlessness. There is no higher power, no God, no Messiah that will magically come down and save us from ourselves: it is up to each one of us to expand our awareness and channel the higher ideals of cooperation, unity, justice, and compassion here on Earth. We can only do so once we recognize our own inherent worth and decide to act on our potential as unique creations of an ever-evolving consciousness whose existence is worth saving. Viewed from this perspective, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Will we heed the call?
 “Cheap schooling” is different from “deep education,” which Dr. West refers to as the “formation of attention” … the “shift from the superficial to the substantial, from the frivolous to the serious, from the ‘bling bling, to wrestling with life, death, sorrow, sadness, [and] joy[.]” Dr. Cornel West, Speech at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Transcript, last accessed December 3, 2013, http://www.hws.edu/about/presidentsforum/west_speech.aspx; see also Sonoma State Star, “Activist Cornel West meets students, gives lecture,” April 16, 2013, http://www.sonomastatestar.com/news/activist-cornel-west-meets-students-gives-lecture-1.3028957?pagereq=1 (reference to “cheap schooling”); Smiley and West, The Conversation: Julian Assange (Remastered), published August 2, 2013, https://soundcloud.com/smileyandwestshow/august-2-2013-julian-assange (reference to “cheap schooling”).
 Jason Burke, “Bangladeshi factory collapse leaves trail of shattered lives,” The Guardian, June 6, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/bangladesh-factory-building-collapse-community ; Aditya Chakrabortty, “The woman who nearly died making your iPad,” The Guardian, August 5, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/woman-nearly-died-making-ipad
 Being “successful” in society’s eyes most often includes having a family, a “respectable” job or career, owning property, and generally living one’s life in accordance with cultural and social expectations.
 Chris Hedges, “Let’s Get This Class War Started,” TruthDig.com, October 20, 2013, https://www.truthdig.com/report/item/lets_get_this_class_war_started_20131020/
 C.G. Jung, Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self, Vol.9, Pt. II (Bollingen Series XX/Princeton University Press 1959) pp. 8-9
 For starters, ask yourself some basic questions: What does value and worth mean to me? What makes me valuable … the simple fact that I am human or is that not enough? Do I believe that human beings are inherently worthy or do I place conditions on the value of human life? Do I view nature as a means to an end, something to be conquered and dominated or do I see humanity as an intricate part of nature whose existence depends on the cooperation with the environment? Our thoughts about ourselves and our relationship to nature reveal a great deal about our current state of awareness. Because much of our existence rests upon unquestioning obedience to authority and cultural dogmas, we rarely ask ourselves these fundamental questions and thus remain largely unconscious of our participation in humanity’s self-destruction.