And Why Knowing That Will Make You A Better Person

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While Thomas Jefferson was right to say that “all men are endowed with certain unalienable Rights,” he was wrong to claim it “self-evident” that we are all “created equal.”

Some of the founding fathers, including John Adams, saw problems with The Declaration of Independence’s phrasing. Jefferson, however, disagreed and ultimately decided to go with a poetically hyperbolic take rather than a literally true one.

The Declaration Of Independence is one of the greatest and most profound political documents ever written, and I don’t mean to degrade it. I’m merely trying to point out a seemingly innocuous, but actually very pernicious flaw in its logic, which is the fact that we are obviously not all created equal.

Everyone Is Not Equal

Everyone is not equal. If you don’t believe me, just look around. Are you equal to the person next to you? How about the people on TV? Have you ever met anyone, anywhere with whom you are literally and truly equal? If you answered “yes” to any of these, my next question is: how? How exactly are you equal? I submit that no two people on Earth are exactly equal, and that’s true whether we are talking about physically equal, mentally equal, ethically equal, financially equal, or equal in appearance or in social skills, or in any other relevant way.

Inequality Is Not Necessarily A Bad Thing

Our inherent human inequality should not lead you to despair. On the contrary, imagine how dull life would be if things were otherwise. The fact that I am not equal to Lebron James is a good thing, and so is the fact that Lebron James is not equal to Albert Einstein and that Albert Einstein is not equal to Katharine Hepburn, inequalities are diversity, and diversity is the spice of life.

Everyone has a unique set of strengths which add to their ability to achieve success. Conversely, everyone also has their own unique set of challenges that make achieving success more difficult. There’s Yin and there’s Yang, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, nothing new here.

Pride And Humility

It is okay to be proud if and whenever you are proud of something that you worked to achieve. Being proud of arbitrary advantages, however, is vanity. If, for example, Lebron James was just some giant mediocre sales clerk still living in Clevland, then he’d have nothing to be proud of. He was born a physical phenom, that’s his arbitrary advantage — so there’s no real reason for him to be proud of his physical superiority, but there is, on the other hand, good reason for him to proud of the fact that he was able to use his physical superiority to become one of the greatest basketball players/athletes of all time. That’s something to be proud of.

I also think it’s a mistake for highly-successful people to display false humility. The elite are often falsely humble probably because they don’t want to make the mediocre feel bad, they don’t want to be perceived as “cocky,” and so they stoop themselves down. This is a well-intended mistake. Instead, what highly-successful people should do is accept their greatness for what it is — something they worked hard for — and they should do their best to share the lessons they learned with those young people who look up to them and willing to work hard to emulate their success (note that I’m only talking about people who actually earned things. This excludes trust fund babies and the like).

Is Equality A Myth?

Okay, so we’ve established that everyone is not, in fact, equal. But what about the claim that everyone is created equal, can we say that? The answer is no, and thoughts to the contrary can have a very negative effect.

There are many conservative political arguments that go something like this: “Why should I have to help anyone? No one helped me. I pulled myself by my own bootstraps, etc.” The underlying assumption here is that they (i.e. the people saying these sorts of things) started in the same place as those pitiful paupers they are being asked to help. Believing, in other words, that everyone is created equal can result in a dangerous lack of empathy.

If we were all truly created equal, one could reasonably ask, “why should I give a damn if ole’ Bob over there needs my help? He created his own problems. I didn’t start off any better than he did!”

The inequality-based argument for greater empathy is both powerful and convincing. But, as with all political ideologies, some people take it too far. The extreme left seems to believe that all success is, at best, the result of arbitrary luck and, at worst, pure corruption and nepotism. This is nonsense. Thankfully, though, there is a middle ground!

If everyone is not created equal than, naturally, all of us will not end up equal. Both true equality of opportunity and true equality of outcomes are impossible. Moreover, they are Red Herrings that distract us from doing what we really should be doing, which is raising the lowest bar.

Rather than trying to equalize the entire forest equal by cutting down the tallest trees we, as a society, should all work together to bring some sunshine down from the canopies and through into the darkest and most difficult depths where even the smallest and weakest of the trees — the ones that caught a bad break — can flourish.

In other words, we, as a society, should strive to raise the standard of living for everyone so that even those born into the worst of circumstances have a chance at success and, at worst, do not have to live in miserable abject poverty.

True Equality

There are, however, some ways in which all of us are indeed equal. Namely, in that we are all born to equal rights. This is no small thing, for if it is true it means that we all have an equal right to happiness and an equal right to use our own advantages to prosper and succeed as human beings.




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