Intrinsic Worth

Once an Object of Joy

This is a ~20′ Reniell Boat with the engine included, and I can get it to you for a low price! Just kidding. I took this picture in downtown Seattle on Elliott Ave, near the campus of Expedia and that cool Amgen Helix bridge that leads to the still-lovely Centennial Park. This part of Seattle intrigues me – a mix of dystopian industrial zone kitty-corner to swanky Norwegian boat city called Ballard.

 I have no clue how this boat got here, nor why it’s still there. Despite my mad Google skills, I was unable to lock down the exact model, but you know that someone paid big money for this dream. I’m betting this was a sweet ride in its heyday. Check out this link and notice that most of this brand of boats, even those 20 years old, are still over $10k in value. I’ve heard that the two best days of your life are the day you get your boat and the day you sell it. The question that struck me: Why has this once-noble craft been abandoned and tagged, a shameful disrespect of its beauty and utility? From dream to garbage in a blink, but why? What constitutes value?

Why has this once-noble craft been abandoned and tagged, a shameful disrespect of its beauty and utility? From dream to garbage in a blink…but why? What constitutes value?

The Formula

Well, there’s a guy in Detroit who noticed this phenomenon of dumping boats and started photographing all of them. He claims it’s probably something to do with insurance and the fact that parking boats have gotten more expensive, etc. I see something deeper here, a loss of intrinsic value, and I wonder what we can learn from it. Even the materials alone in this vessel must be worth something, no? I imagine it floats, or at the very least, the materials could be claimed, or is reclaiming those too much?

What constitutes value? Is it in the form? The function? Both? Status? An older car can go into a dump unless the owner really takes care of it. Jay Leno has a garage full of rare cares that were cared for. Many Model-T Fords were scrapped I’m sure, but for those owners that took care of theirs, they now have a collectors edition. Even the lowly AMC Pacers have retained value. Check this one out:

While I love this odd car ( understand, I currently own a Nissan Cube), it is a well-known dud, making many lists of “worst cars ever built”, and yet, here we have one sold for a cool $30k (click here for more car reviews). So I ask again, what is intrinsic value? Saying cost is what people will pay is just a meaningless statement. What made that Pacer a keeper while the Reinell a city eyesore? What’s the intrinsic worth of a house that’s not maintained? A building? A church? A city?

It seems to me that a fundamental part of intrinsic worth is the energy that humans put into it. Almost any asset will depreciate, of course, as Function fails or falls behind, but by maintaining Form you regain that worth in age and the sentimentality that the object provides. Really old buildings are historical landmarks, priceless art, and so on all fit in this category. Yet, in all of the instances, value must be protected through vigilant maintenance. For the Pacer, I’d say we’d have to add sentimentality to that equation and rarity.

Perhaps the formula for Intrinsic Worth = (Form + Function + Sentimentality)* Maintenance + Rarity works? Note that I put rarity outside of the parenthesis because on occasion even when something is dilapidated, if its very rare, that alone gives it value. e.g. a tooth of a T-Rex, etc. If you google the term Intrinsic Value you’ll get investor jargon, where they try to tease out the value of stocks, and while some of those concepts can be applied, it still cannot ignore the maintenance aspect of value, nor would you want to apply their cold calculations to people, which is my next subject.

What about People?

Can we extend this to people? Of course, I believe people have intrinsic worth. When I drive down the streets of Seattle and see the homeless, I get the same feeling I had about that boat. Who left them there? Why? What can be done? This is a child, a brother, a sister, a dad, a mom. Do they not have intrinsic worth? Moreover, who failed to maintain that worth? If maintenance is a key part of fighting off depreciation, who failed to maintain that person on the street?

Of course, we can’t force people to maintain themselves. This is the core tenant of free will. Want to smoke? Okay, but that’s going to cost you down the road. Drinking? Drugs? All that cuts into your worth to society, despite the fact that it is society that may have been a participant in this failure. That boat and its owner didn’t fail alone – the ability of the system to offer proper recycling options is part of it.

It is the Christian perspective that people are intrinsically valuable. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

How can we treat people like immortal beings, both heavenly and fallen, but forgiven? How can the system be tweaked to help more while enabling healing and allow people to achieve more than they thought they could? These are complex questions and beyond this article, but the image of that boat keeps coming back to me, haunting and compelling me to action.

We have to fight for what we want to maintain. The house, the cars, and the cities we live in only have intrinsic value if we decide that they do. We maintain those cities, we clean up the boats and the streets, and people will find value in that. We must fight entropy for our objects and ourselves. If we maintain ourselves – be educated, interesting, and healthy – then we will benefit those around us and maintain our value. If our society and institutions value humans, it can play an important role in that maintenance.

Most importantly, we must find value in ourselves and our relationships. Put in that time in your place of worship and with your people. Maintain those things that can age with energy and effort. Nothing is rarer than you and your relationships. They have Form, and Function, and if you keep the barnacles off of you and yours, perhaps you’ll never be dumped and defaced in a scary city parking lot.

Love to all – JF