Friday, November 20, 2009

All [Wo]Men are Created Equal

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...."

This phrase appears in:
(a) the Bible.
(b) the United States Constitution.
(c) the Declaration of Independence of the United States.
(d) the Gettysburg Address.
(e) both (c) and (d).

If you're wondering about the right answer, perhaps a Google search will help you out. I suspect this is one question that would draw a lot of (a) answers in a poll of Americans.

Where did the statement "all men are created equal" originate? Some say Thomas Jefferson wrote it to express dissatisfaction with the privileges of royalty.

Now consider this: The phrase is -- (a) true, or (b) false.

A Google search may help answer this question, too. Think of the babies born around the world and whether their parents can do a Google search. Some can, some can't. Are those babies created equal?

Some would say they aren't. Certain babies clearly have advantages others don't have -- such as higher levels of wealth, intelligence, physical ability, and beauty -- yet we have seen that an abundance of one talent over another doesn't necessarily mean that person will "succeed" more than someone with less talent; Witness, Michael Jackson or John Forbes Nash, Jr. (whose schizophrenia is shown in The Beautiful Mind). Thomas Hobbes (The Leviathan) suggested that when all is taken into account, the difference between one human and another is not so great that one may reasonably pretend to be more valuable than someone else.

I think Hobbes was right, and that one of the mistakes we make is to over-emphasize specialized talent, such as a biologist, a mathematician, a writer, or a lawyer. Wendell Berry, in Citizenship Papers, writes: "Facts in isolation are false. The more isolated a fact or a set of facts is, the more false it is. A fact is true in the absolute sense only in association with all facts. This is why the departmentalization of knowledge in our colleges and universities is fundamentally wrong."

Time, the magazine, has struck out twice on this topic in recent issues. A couple weeks ago, an article bemoaned the fact that budget cuts have "trimmed starting pay at major airlines to $36,000 -- little more than a grade school teacher's." This week's article on five lessons we can learn from China quoted a young Chinese engineer as saying none of his descendants would ever work in the wheat fields again, as an example of the lesson, "Look over the horizon." What are we being asked to buy into -- that grade school teachers aren't worth as much as airline pilots and that farmers are less valuable than engineers?

Nonsense. If I were to choose people I admire for their expertise, I would include a fine farmer among them. A successful farmer is the quintessential "Renaissance" person -- meteorologist, mechanic, chemist, biologist, environmentalist, reader, scientific experimenter, athlete, economist, manager and more. I would also include an excellent grade school teacher, someone who, like the farmer, wends a wide knowledge of living into a class experience.

Karen, Virginia and I have discussed an ideal university. The students arrive in early summer (in our climate) to build a dormitory and grow food so as to be prepared for cooler weather in the Fall. As they pound nails and hoe weeds, they discuss relevant mathematical and engineering principles, as well as books they have read. Their entire learning experience is built around living experience.

1 comment:

  1. You took the words right out of my mouth, oh, it must have been while your were kissing me. I love that song but I love what you wrote even more.