In the United States Deceleration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” a phrase which, in the context of his time period, was indicative of a people who opposed the political and religious notion of The Divine Right of the King. But in a modern context, there are two things clearly wrong with this statement. Humans were not created, we evolved, and we did not evolve equally.
Furthermore, the circumstances of which we are born into, which are not of an individual’s choice, play a significant amount into the direction of our lives. The past century of progressive freedom fighters have taught us that equality is not something we are born with. Equality is acknowledging the shortcomings of the individual, yet providing an environment in which every human being has the same opportunities to live, to be free and to pursue happiness.
We didn’t evolve to be equal. Some people are born with a genetic predisposition to be better at math or art. That isn’t to say that someone who is born without that disposition cannot be great in a field they are not genetically inclined for. But it might mean they would have to work harder than someone whose genetics gave him or her an advantage. We know that the arrangements of these traits is based on a combination of genes from both parents, and is, for the most part, random. Likewise, we also know that without a stable environment, an individual with the genetic potential to be a physicist may never have a realization of life beyond the life of a coal field.
“I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” -Stephen Jay Gould
From a biological perspective, we are made up of millions of individual cells. It is expected that some cells must be sacrificed in the process of keeping the entire organism healthy. We do not question the sacrifice made by our red and white blood cells, as their lifespans are short and they also have no sense of self-awareness.
All our cells are made from the same DNA. Some are fortunate enough to be formed as nerve cells. These cells, with their long lifespans, provide the systems by which we sense and perceive our world. Some are even lucky enough to be formed in the brain where they contribute to our overall self-awareness, store memories and control all the voluntary muscle cells with electrochemical communication.
Our blood cells supply critical oxygen and nutrients needed for all our other cells. They work tirelessly and thanklessly. Even though they only live to be about a year old, other cells may have less desirable positions, such as in the liver removing toxins from the blood stream, or in the bowels. Yet without each of these cells preforming, the body would not function. And the brain, as powerful as a manager that it is, would shrivel and die if critical oxygen and nutrients couldn’t be delivered to it by all the other workers.
Our cells work tirelessly and effortlessly. It can be said that modern civilizations are not so much unlike the cells in an animal. Some are lucky enough to be born in areas of the planet where little boy cells and little girl cells can be raised to be lawyer cells (defending innocent cells against injustice), doctor cells (the antibodies that repair all the other cells) or just cells within cells (the 1% of the population of the United States, 60% of those being guilty of having been the product of mitosis from another black cell).
The analogy breaks down when you begin to realize that sentient beings are no longer cells in a massive organism. Well, in a sense we are, but the dichotomy of that particular view of reality fails to deal with the complexities brought into play by our self awareness. We are aware. Although the degree to which we are aware my vary from person to person, but for the most part, we are all aware of not only our own existence, and the existence of our particular pack or tribe, but many in this world are aware of the existence of all of humanity.
The body of an animal doesn’t threaten or starve other parts of its body to make those parts more efficient or productive. Nutrients are distributed evenly throughout plants and animals, so long as nutrients are available, unless the organism is suffering from an infection, injury or auto-immune disease. Yet in the organism of the planet Earth, human beings not only have the pathways to distribute food to nearly every human on the planet, but the production capability as well1.
Biologically, all our parts have a symbiotic relationship. Our cells cannot survive long without one another. In society, there has been a fairly recent rise of neo-libertarianism. Fears of socialism have moved more and more resources that are a necessity for all humans, resources like water, seed-stock and transportation, out of the public trust and into private ownership. Society has fallen victim to the myth of the self-made individual.
There is this idea that if any individual works hard enough, he or she can move up in social class and even become rich or famous. Often called “The American Dream,” the reality is that it is very difficult to move up in our social hierarchy. Even those who do are never self-made. They are dependent on all the benefits of their state and society. Public parks, public roads and transportation, public security and fire brigades. Even if such individuals attend private institutions, they are still dependent on public schools for the workforce they will employ.
Both in college and while attending local community theater, I saw many actors and actresses that were just as good or superior to anyone I’ve seen on the big screen or in a major production. More often than not, people who become rich and famous find a way to capitalize on a product and convince the rest of the world to purchase that product (or offer that product for free and make money from ad revenue). Many others, as in the case with actors and actresses, are simply lucky.
“It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” -George Carlin
For society to thrive, humanity must collectively realize that we are literally all in this together. We must stop exploiting one part of the world in order to provide luxuries and commodities to another. This type of collectivism is often tightly coupled with nationalism and statism. The idea that we can demonize a particular part of the world or group of people because they don’t worship our gods or respect our view of religion is an example in propaganda that attempts to keep society controlled by those that seek to segregate the world.
The reality is that people are still people, with wives, children, brothers, sisters, hopes and dreams. Although their particular views on society, laws and culture may be different, they are still sentient human beings. Being loyal to our nations is no different that being loyal to a tribe or nomadic group in early human history.
We are more aware of the human race, as a whole, globally, than ever before in our existence. As such, we also see throughout history that equality among humans, what we now call a “basic human right,” is still something that people have to fight for. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela and Bhutto are names we hold synonymous with this struggle in recent human history.
For humanity to reach the next stage in our development, equality among human beings can no longer something that must continually be fought and struggled for. Equality needs to be an undeniable axiom, generally accepted, although not unquestioned, like the rising of the tide or the passing of time. From that basis, we can build a future where all human beings have basic access to food, water and shelter, and where no individual potential is lost to the plight of war.
1 2012 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics. World Hunger Education Service. Retrieved on 29 October, 2012.