For me, the single most important thing for acceptable human life is basic human dignity. Animals also have their own kind of dignity, but since they, perhaps, don’t have any self-consciousness, they automatically get all the dignity they need. Of course, humans have changed this situation, but that is a different story. For humans, on the other hand, dignity – basic human dignity, not the dignity associated with power, rank etc. – is something very hard to get or maintain. This is partly because it depends to a great extent on what is outside you: other people, the society you live in, the environment.
This may all be true, but it’s very abstract. What do I mean by ‘basic human dignity’? I can either give an academic sounding definition, or I can explain by example. I will do the latter here. The former can be reserved for some later academic work :-)
So if you want to see what basic human dignity means, you can watch two movies. You can see what dignity means at two ends of the socio-economic spectrum. The two movies are Roman Holiday and Rosetta.
The first shows you how dignity can be maintained even when you are deluged by wealth, a kind of power, pretentiousness and all the masked menace it means. How a princess can be so dignified that a down-and-out journalist looking for a scoop that will allow him to escape the situation he is trapped in, is moved to drop the scoop and his chances of escape, even when the princess is an easy ‘fair game’.
The other movie shows you how a down-and-out very poor girl trapped in a hell because of her poverty can still be so dignified that you can’t help feeling respect and awe for human life. And, not quite incidentally, disgust for the system that has created her hell and forces her to live in it with hardly any chances of escape.
Wait for more…