The Dangerous Implications of “All men are created equal” – Hidden Power of Words Series, #24

“All men are created equal” is, of course, one of the most essential doctrines of civil religion in the United States – a doctrine equally in sharp contrast with most human societies. 

While it is well-established that “men” did in fact initially only mean men, in particular wealthy White men, it is not so well-established how this imagined ideology actually harms sociopolitical progress and notions that might resemble states of equality and freedom.

If we were all “created” “equal” (i.e., the same), we would all be the same, if we extended this idea to its logical extents. The same.

The implications of this are gravely multitudinous:

Such a philosophy ignores science. Evolution, while certainly a more recent human actualization, allows us to see that nothing was simply “created.” All forms of life have evolved. Nothing about life was, is, or will be inevitable. Humans are, in many ways, an accident. If all humans were equal, in addition to a robot society, we probably would not have survived as a species, given that we have different genes and slightly different DNA where it matters. 

Additionally, widespread notions of innate sameness allow the status quo to justify itself and its many privileges. Rather than warranting concerns of greed, racism/sexism/etc, or illegal activities, such philosophies suggest the status quo really did simply “work harder” since every body is created equal. Additionally, the status quo can say, without understandings of history, “I’m healthy, I’m successful, you could be too; it’s your fault.”

And, sadly, people accept such lines of thinking as true and inevitable. As a result, they not only potentially suffer unnecessary depression, they also miss opportunities to reform society through participation in civil rights movements. Then still, civil rights movements are often “not radical enough” and ultimately less-than-successful over the long term because they aim for trying to actually achieve some kind of meaningful, legal equality–equality when equity would be a better goal and is actually the unrealized true goal. 

Clinging to notions that we are all “created” “equal” also contributes to an increasingly frustrating phenomenon exacerbated by social media where everybody is an “expert” and equally qualified to make an equally heard, equally accepted analysis. Additionally, such ideas ignore and silence those who are exceptionally talented in some given area.

Finally, when we promote “created” “equal” it becomes too easy to ignore diversity and/or to enforce strict conformity and assimilation, as we have seen again and again in United States History. We need to find boundaries between seeing the individual, homogenizing differences, and recognizing our common ancestry. 

Equality+for+all_36b36d_5344014.png 

Given that discrimination and anti-intellectualism is at least in ways perpetuated, disguised, and even justified with a “revolutionary” cloak promising anything and everything, do notions that we are all “created” “equal” do more harm than good?

This post is partially inspired by Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – an excellent book I’ve been listening to in the car for a few weeks.

Andrew Joseph Pegoda 

 



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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5 replies

  1. I’m only regurgitating what I learned in high school civics, but we were taught “all men are created equal” was intended to mean two things by Jefferson, who was re-framing sentiments already expressed by English republican writers including John Locke and Algernon Sidney:
    1. That they are political equals, that none are accorded special status to be either ruler or ruled by birth status alone, and
    2. That all are of equal moral worth and value, in the perception, and under the moral authority of God.

    I never considered “equal” to mean “the same”. Equal doesn’t mean identical in talents, physical attributes, culture or social advantages, just equivalent under specified criteria, as above.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Golly, Prof… interesting series thus far.. but you really need to get out of the classroom more often. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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