What if we lived in a society where the value of any human being's life was strictly based on the impact they make on future generations beyond their lifetime?
For the machines of Artificial Intelligence that rules the real world in the Matrix, the value of a human being, in their programmed minds, is that of a battery. Human beings simply provide energy for their highly consumptive needs, while they fool us by creating a fantasy world we live in within our minds, which does not exist except as a mental simulation to control us. (This actually feels like the real world we live in today, how corporations and governments treat human beings... and society gets flushed further down the unethical toilet.)
For the zombies in Zombieland, the value of a human being, in their dead eyes, is simply as nourishment for their insatiable hunger. This too is a great representation of a human being's value in the mind of a fictional enemy. As different as this fictional world is, Zombieland touches on the same point of value for a human being as the Matrix did... human beings as energy, just some nourishment to provide energy for the undead zombies.
(SIDENOTE: I love both of these movies above by the way, I would highly recommend watching them.)
There could be an argument made that our essential purpose as a living being is to provide energy and nutrients for other living beings in some capacity, as part of the great circle of life. Carnivores eating animals, animals feeding on plants, plants feeding on the nutrients of the earth, and the Earth will feed on us all when we die... one great cycle. But because we are intelligent sentient beings, why can't we strive for more cognizance to our value as a human being?
We could very well live our lives like animals and just eat, drink, fuck, and piss our life away selfishly without a care in the world. Or we can live our life with more purpose and of great value for future generations beyond our lifetime.
In my humble opinion, I believe the greatest indicator of our existential value as a human being is in how we contribute to the shared existence of everyone living today and all the lives to come in the future of humanity.
I am not religious and I don't believe in an afterlife (I wish I did), but I do believe we live on beyond our lifetime by how we are remembered by those that remain and the imprints we have left in the world.
I think it is a great virtue to strive towards when we want great value out of our existence, defined by the impact we make on others, especially on future generations well beyond our own lifetime. Striving towards that impact for future generations is of the greatest value in my humble opinion, because it is the most unselfish thing we can do, to focus on how we can make a positive difference in the world beyond our own finite time on Earth. It's important that it is beyond our own lifetime, because then we will not personally derive any joy, glory or gratification from it when we're dead. If our aim is only on valuable impact for future generations, our output is much more likely to be better for all mankind.
The Elements of Value
Based on the elements of value pyramid above, the highest value is "self-transcendence". To transcend oneself is to go beyond the self, and one's ego, and to explore the social fabric of all mankind and to make an impact that is of value to all humanity... thus it being a social impact value that is at the top of the pyramid.
But why is it that our current day society puts selfish pursuit and monetary wealth as the highest peak we can reach? Everyone seeks fame, fortune and celebrity, while the world crumbles to dust for our future generations of our children's children to play with.
Self-actualization is great for realizing our full potential and seeing what we're truly capable of as a human being. But why do we not seek social impact and self-transcendence likewise or more? We so glorify the wealthy, the influential and the famous, it's no wonder that our our youth succumb to striving for the same value that they see in Fortune magazine, or on Sportscenter or at the Academy Awards, but that self-actualization is not of the utmost value at all. How can we better teach our future generations about self-transcendence, and the value of social impact? How can we make the unselfish pursuit of positive impact for future generations beyond our lifetime the epitome of any human being's worth?
As John Doerr suggests, let's measure what matters.
Here is a Value equation above that can be applied to any human's value, where Value equals the Quality of impact plus the Services rendered at given Costs.
In this equation, the value of a human being equals their Quality of Impact (contributions to humanity based on the Elements of Value) plus their Services rendered (how other human beings experienced their services, works, contributions, etc), at a given Cost (the price and intangibles by which the impact was attained).
This is a method by which I think we can better evaluate how human beings throughout history add the most value to humanity. In general terms, I believe every human being has value, so it may seem rather cold to evaluate a human life in this manner, but we erroneously put too much emphasis on wealth and monetary success as an unspoken value designation. This is very wrong, and dangerous for human progress. Because of this twisted pedestal, we idolize those who are rich, instead of those who are making the greatest positive impact. People too often seek the greatest fortune for becoming personally rich for one's own sake, instead of seeking to provide the greatest service to others and making a social impact.
So thus I conclude my argument, the value of any human being is in the impact we have on other human beings, and especially on future generations of humanity beyond our lifetime, for which our value is of the greatest value to human history.
PERSONAL NOTE: If you are ever feeling down and you feel like nobody appreciates you, do not be disheartened. Just focus on putting out your positive contributions to history through some form of a lasting medium, so that future generations can appreciate you, and embrace the eventuality that they may appreciate you even more because you weren't valued in your own time. There are numerous instances of renown people of great value to humanity who weren't appreciated in their own time. If you would like proof, here are 16 famous people who weren't appreciated in their own time.