Egalité, the hard problem

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Of the three, Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité it is above all Egalité that has us stumped.


When Thomas Jefferson wrote, “that all men are created equal” he couldn’t have known the myriad irresolvable issues, the no end of problems that these simple words would make for all of us who would come after him, right up until today, some two and one half centuries later. Liberté is what our country is most about. Perhaps liberté is, of the three, the one we know best and are most comfortable with. As for fraternité, it’s not in the Declaration? Jefferson didn’t mention it. Why not? We hardly talk about it. Why is that?

But back to our “hard problem.” Other than belonging to one and the same species, how are we equal? I know what liberty is, and I hope I’m living with others as brothers, but equality? No idea what it means. We know well that the individual specimens of any species are not at all alike, let alone equal. They are infinitely varied. And that variety within the species accounts probably more than anything else for the survival of the species, ours included.

Only if we were to become someone’s food, the lot of cattle, chickens and much else, would sameness be an advantage. As it is sameness (equality) would quickly undo us. Why, because individuals, the achievements of individuals have made us what we are. Being no longer individuals but all the same we might then at best be numbered among the eusocial animals, the ants and bees, some wasps, termites, thrips and aphids, some species of beetles,  and of the vertebrates, be with the mole rats. Our differences are what keep us from being one of them.

Why is Egalité such a problem for us? Perhaps because we’re persuaded by the words of the Declaration and want to treat people as equals, and as a result we do such terrible things as making individuals who are all different all the same, as when, say, we put them in a large classroom or on a factory or office floor, not to mention into the myriad concentration camps of our recent past.

Furthermore, because we pay little or no attention to how people are so enormously different, because we do little to promote and develop the real differences among them, we allow thereby to remain untapped those very qualities that could have placed the “pursuit of happiness” within the reach of each one of them and not be as now the possession of the favored few.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

 

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