To most people, the claim in the title is so obviously true that there’s no need to discuss the matter. I disagree, because so many memes exist in cyberspace claiming or suggesting the contrary (mostly of extreme Libertarian, Randian, Neo-fascist, Neo-nazi and Social Darwinist origin) that I feel compelled to respond. Killing or otherwise rendering of second-class esteem the mentally or physically challenged or otherwise nonproductive in the name of some “higher cause” like survival or “preservation” is simply a foolish idea for the strong, smart, and brave as well as for the weak, stupid and timid. Not content to simply label the idea “Nazi-like, and therefore evil”, I’m going to explain why the practice is not only evil, but ultimately contrary to the long-term well-being of even ‘normal-functioning’ people.
At the same time, I intent to show that by defending the rights of those who are a ‘drain’ on society (real or merely claimed to be) you are defending your own right to be considered more than a mere production machine. Specifically this means your right to be seen as a human being – an entity with their own consciousness, their thoughts, their own will, their own desires, their own capacity to feel pain or pleasure, their own needs, and so forth. In other words, this is about your own right to not be seen as a mere interchangeable part of the vast production / economic machine (that’s what robots are for, so long as they themselves lack the capacity for human-like qualities) as much as it is about the rights of those who lack the capacity to be productive individuals.
The claim that being non-productive (especially being unable to be productive) automatically means being of low to negative worth assumes a person’s intrinsic non-economic worth equates with their productivity level. This in turn assumes that humans are nothing more than mere production machines. In doing so, it trivializes the feelings, will, desires, etc. of people in general. A closely related concept to individual productivity is that a person’s intrinsic value depends on their independent survivability, that is, the ability to survive independently through one’s own wits, strength, and courage. If this is true, then it follows that a person’s value depends on his or her ability to survive lawless “dog eat dog” kinds of physical or social environments.
The problem with this concept is that the most violent, extreme kinds of criminals are better equipped to survive such torturous physical or mental environments than the average person. Yet few, if any, people seriously believes the said criminal has more value than the ordinary everyday person. The reason being that the former use their survival abilities to hurt, harm, or degrade the dignity of others while the latter is much less likely to do so, or when they do so, they don’t inflict as severe a hurt, harm, or degradation of another’s dignity as much as the said criminal would. In fact, most people would rather a civilized, humane person to survive longer than the said criminal precisely because the criminal’s acts and general mentality are so repugnant while the humane, civilized person is willing to offer comfort and aid to others in distress.
This shows why the claim that a person’s value depends on their productivity lead to other conclusions that simply do not stand up under further scrutiny, even in examples less extreme than the criminal / humane dichotomy. If personal productivity alone were the standard by which to judge the worth of an individual, then self-made billionaires have more intrinsic value as a person than anybody you likely know in real life, and more than likely any online acquaintance as well.
If productivity is the most important value there is, then we also reduce kindness, generosity, helpfulness, and (in a case where “NOT” is as or more important than “IS” or “DO”) not hurting or harming or degrading the dignity of others to a mere consolation prize for those not as productive as others; and that at best. In fact, it’s questionable whether the civilized and humane traits would truly be all that important at all. From here, it’s debatable whether there should be any informal behavioral codes, formal ethics codes, or even any kind of laws at all that prevent us from hurting, harming, or degrading the essential personhood of others.
Hence Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and other crooked CEOs, politicians, etc. would be more worthy of dignity and respect than a kind-hearted, generous janitor or fast food worker. Given the part I brought up about the doubtfulness of the sensibility of even formal laws forbidding harmful things, I can also add Pablo Escobar to the list as well.
If you disagree that rich corrupt criminals deserve more respect than the said kind-hearted janitor, then you imply that some things are indeed more important than mere productivity; and hence you do not truly see human beings as mere ‘production machines’. If we and others are not mere ‘production machines’ but people with our own will, feelings, capacity to feel pain and torment, etc. then any claim that the mentally disabled deserve to be euthanized or otherwise killed off based on their mere inability to be sufficiently productive is simply disingenuous – not too mention barbaric.
So to repeat, by defending the dignity, well-being, and right to live of the “drains on society”, you are defending (however indirectly) your own right to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of how productive you yourself are! Therefore, even assuming survival ability is the proper measure of a person’s worth, it is still the case that the best way to survive in the long run is to treat all harmlessly deficient people with dignity and respect, to protect yourself and to keep your society from killing someone who may not pass for “acceptable” under the Productivity/Survivalist criteria but who nevertheless do have talents, aptitudes, or abilities that society has failed to tap into.