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. 


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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18 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.

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

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  3. The dictionary defines equal as identical, but personally, I don’t think that “equal” necessarily mean the equivalent like in looks, cultural value, etc. You and I can have the same talent or the same gender, but that doesn’t mean we are equal in my eyes. I think every man is equal in the eyes of God and in the court of law (that’s if there isn’t corruption 😕) but not I don’t fully believe in equality.

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  4. I think it is stupid to promote “all men are created equally”, at the end of the day it just isn’t true, everyone has different ideals, and some are treated unfairly because of it. We are all not the same and i think its important to be proud of the person you are, because being different makes life not dull.

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  5. Amen to the social media experts paragraph. I’ll be honest: I’ve never thought of humans as accidental and not being created; I’ve always seen it as something deliberate. But the idea that pushing for “created equal” leads to enforcement of assimilation and a loss of diversity/individualism is interesting to me because it becomes apparent how words (and phrases we uphold as mantras) can influence society on a greater scale. Inequality doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

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  6. While Jefferson’s “true” intention for “all men are created equal” might never come to light, people have used that as a guise for their own actions and agendas. Even if we were to know exactly what he meant, would it matter to the people? Would it change the minds of the mysogonists and homophobes who argue that only men deserve full rights? Would it change the minds of “anti-everything” groups who use that as an excuse to say and do whatever they want? Maybe, maybe not.

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  7. I find it really stupid to think “all men are created equally”. You do not have to be a scientist to see that people are different in stature, strength, and built. Not one person is completely the same when it comes to physical attributes and ways of thinking.

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  8. I understand the claim “all men are equally” as all men having equal opportunities and rights. But nowadays the way life is moving it hard to believe such statement. for instance if humans were in fact created equally then why does gender inequality still exist? Why are disabled people’s lives harder when they should have equal opportunities as the rest?

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  9. I think the quote is trying to stress the importantance of respecting others’ life just like you would do to yourself. At the beginning, every life is equally important to the world. The difference start to have impact on each individual later in their life. We all have the equal chance of coming to this world and all life should be respected, however, due to the limited sources and the respect for the majorities’ good. Sometimes, we have to compromise and take away some other people’s rights. In this respect, no one is equal.

    Try to respect people because we are all equal is like a ideal place we want to go to. However, it may never be practical in real life.

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  10. I’ve never actually thought of the given statement to be in any way harmful, but the way you have explicated it makes a lot of sense. Although I consider the statement “all men are equal” is bullshit because we do not live in a communist society. There will always be different economic, social, and education classes. This is the way human generate to thrive and innovate. If we were all the same, we would have less chance of survival and still be living in old times.

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  11. “If we were all ‘created’ ‘equal’ (i.e., the same), we would all be the same.” I really appreciate this quote and agree with it. I think the phrase, “All men are created equal” is false. I think our DNA, genes, and inhabited traits makes us different from each other. Also, the different opportunities that we’ve had in life make us different.

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  12. I have never agreed with the saying, ” all men are created equal”. And after reading this article, I still stand by that. Great read!

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  13. Equality has really changed over the years on what people think. The way society is changed now days is that there is a bias on certain individuals based on there skin or how they grew up with is wrong.

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  14. The government was not formulated with every person in mind. Blacks weren’t even considered as people, but property until recently. “All men are created equal” excludes so many demographics in such a short phrase, and yet people still use the phrase to do this day to represent American ideals. America isn’t as progressive as we think it is.

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  15. I want to say all men were created equal in a scientific manner but given different circumstances by chance after creation. Meaning we were all born into existence made of a formation of cells but given different lives to live which could make some of us better off than others. But Jefferson made this statement excluding blacks for sure because they couldn’t even be allowed the same opportunities to live free lives, unlike their white counterparts. How so are men all created equal then Mr. Jefferson?

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