Wednesday, February 28, 2024

#59 / Not So Self-Evident


I haven't read the book, but an online review caught my attention. The book I am referencing is titled, "Equality: The History of an Elusive Idea." Darrin M. McMahon is the author. He teaches history at Dartmouth.

The book review I have mentioned appeared on the Truthdig website. McMahon's "second insight," as highlighted below, is the observation that most intrigued me: 

[McMahon] convincingly rebuts the notion that the concept of equality was first developed as a result of European encounters with Indigenous peoples or, more conventionally, was the invention of the Enlightenment or the American and French Revolutions. “Ideas of equality had a long and rich history prior to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,” he writes, “and that deep history inevitably bore on its modern emergence, shaping and inflecting it in important ways.” ....
[McMahon's] second important insight is the “enduring tension between difference and sameness in the long history of equality.” No two people are alike. Equality, McMahon explains, “is first and foremost a relationship that we conjure in our minds in order to draw comparisons between dissimilar things.” From our fingerprints to our facial features, as well as our hopes and dreams, human beings are different. Thus, claims of equality “necessarily involve the abstracting out of a shared characteristic (or characteristics).” Is there something essential in every human being that justifies a claim to equality? “From a common soul to a common humanity to a common place of birth, the rationales are extensive, and over time they have changed, privileging at various stages religion, reason, virtue, sex, race, age, and dignity, to name only a few.” 
It follows that equality is perfectly compatible with difference and even presupposes it. “The equality in political, industrial, and social life which modern men [and women] must have in order to live,” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1915, “is not to be confounded with sameness. On the contrary … it is rather insistence upon the right of diversity” (emphasis added).

The right of diversity! Think about that. Think about what that actually means. 

The idea proclaimed as a "self-evident" truth in The Declaration of Independence is that all persons are "created equal." This is a claim that human "diversity" should not allow us to treat people differently, just because they are, in fact, "different." Whatever differences may exist (and they are manifold), every person is of equal value, and must be equally prized. 

Comparisons, my mother said, are odious. It is in comparison, most typically, that we distinguish who is worthy and who is not, who is better and who is not, who is important, and who is not. Etc. 

To live up to the promise made at the founding of this nation, we must forget all that.

Because we live together, it is self-evident that we cannot found a Republic, or govern ourselves correctly, unless we truly understand this rather radical insight: We are different, but we are equally worthy, equally due respect and deference. All of us. Every one of us!

If we truly understand this, and accept this as a truth, the phrase, "we are all in this, together," becomes a revelation. 

The United States has sometimes claimed to be "exceptional," and I for one believe that it is. The exceptional nature of our nation and our government is in its claim that we will not turn difference into a comparative, and let comparisons rank and order who gets what, who can do what, who is important and who is not. 

Our claim is that equality - understood as just discussed - is both self-evident, and is the place where self-government begins. From the beginning, this has been the foundation upon which we have premised our national existence.

Let us reflect upon that observation from W.E.B. Du Bois, and then respond to the command of Captain Picard

Let us "make it so."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!