We are not all equally valuable

I have never subscribed to the American notion of equality — that all men are created equal — which philosophically owes its genesis to that unholy trinity of ideals born in the French Revolution i.e. égalité, liberté et fraternité

to any reasonable observer, the idea is clearly nonsense

neither are we physically equal, nor are we intellectually, emotionally or spiritually the same. in fact, nature seems to have gone to extreme lengths to create such diversity that not even the components we’re built from are equal. yes, we each have a mouth, a nose, two ears and ten toes but no two noses are the same and even our toes differ from each other

these days geneticists make the argument that any two people on the planet differ on the average by only 1 base-pair in a thousand, which means we’re very close. 99.9% close. but close is not equal — these tiny variations make for the difference between a man who gets to live to 90 years of age and one who dies of heart disease at 30, between the man who plays basketball and the one who plays soccer, between men and women

so close is not not even close to equal

and no matter how much we explain away such differences and seek to reconcile our divergent statuses or condition by way of law, good will, or the ideologies of divine union, the fact remains that when we look at another human being, we see that they are not like us; more or less so, depending on who we look at and what we’re predisposed to, but all the same, the distance is undeniable

and yet, as much as I have always defended my disagreement with the American zeitgeist, from one perspective I always felt we are equal: we each get a brain of equal capacity i.e. the capability to rewire itself to suit its environment. for me, the one area where I never questioned equality was in the potential each human being holds. the potential to reason, to become, to observe the world, identify problems, propose solutions, design tests to prove an hypothesis and contribute to the betterment of the species

granted, the problem and solution spaces where we all play in are different as a function of our exposure to experience, but that doesn’t matter because the collective effort constitutes the potential that humanity harbours for progress and no parity is reasonably meaningful in terms of the contribution

however, I’m starting to suspect I may be wrong

to anyone looking it’s clear that we’re not all equal in potential, but we attribute these inequalities to social factors: unequal access to education, racial prejudices that close doors to some from participation in a given sphere of human activity, wealth inequality, familial disintegration, drug addiction, etc.

and we take heart because such grievances may find redress in the restructuring of our social institutions, in the remediation of our caste systems, in our efforts to create and promote a ”greater” consciousness, perhaps delineated along the lines of the Buddhist ideal of compassion

so we comfort ourselves that there is hope yet, for a world where all men are equal in their potential to contribute to the great experiment of humanity in which we all partake

from a personal perspective I have witnessed the struggles of others whose broken lives prevented them from ever realizing their great potential, or at least the potential that I espied in them. a potential unrealised because they were too busy, too stressed earning a living, because decades after a great loss or tragedy they still struggled emotionally to move on, because in their loneliness they wasted years of their lives getting fat and watching the telly, or lived escaping their lives playing video games or taking drugs… because they could have walked if only their feet hadn’t been tangled in the structural issues of our societies

and if we can clearly allocate the loss of potential to a given structural profile, it’s easy to presume one can help. I presumed I could help — by removing obstacles from the path of others, by cutting off the tendrils of belief structures that so tightly wrap themselves around their hearts and minds, fastening them to the life of slow decay to which Pink Floyd refers

it’s not an easy process, helping a person; rather a bit like the performance tuning work we do for database engines wherein resolving one bottleneck merely creates the conditions needed to discover another. but the investment is at least made into a process that’s well understood and known to work, and at the end of the day, though the total cost may have proven to be greater than that originally imagined, there’s still the hope that one will end up with a fully functional and well-behaved system. right?

not quite

with human beings there’s another factor we must consider: light. more specifically, the quality of energy we each possess upon our first arrival on the planet, which in some cultures is attributed to the recent connection with divinity. across time the brilliance of this energy seems to fade. it dies, as Anaïs Nin once said of love, ”of blindness and errors and betrayals. it dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings”, and with it, the potential of the individual. with the dying of the light dies the organism itself, and the promise it held, of becoming, overcoming

it therefore follows that an individual’s actual potential is directly related to the amount of light, life, will, left in him/her at any point and that realistically, all entrapments aside, we are not equal in potential

in fact, even discounting the light factor, there are complex structures in our brains that prohibit certain outcomes whilst favouring others, and these outcomes vary from individual to individual. thus the vulgar notion that some people just cannot do math, may be valid

I always believed (to the extent that I allow myself to believe anything), that if my brain could do math (btw, I suck at it) then anyone else could do it, for all brains hold equal potential

but what if I’m wrong?

what if it’s not possible to help another because they simple don’t have what it takes? is our only choice then, to discard human beings as damaged goods after our performance tuning efforts fail? to move onto others with greater potential, perhaps catching them earlier in life before the vines of our cultures bind too tightly and fasten their legs to skepticism, indolence, resignation and inevitable apathy?

Adolph Hitler once said: ”He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future” („Er allein, der die Jugend besitzt, gewinnt die Zukunft“), and though the meaning of his assertion is plain enough, it does hint at the previous conclusion that if we are to make a better world, the low hanging fruit is the children, for there is less damage to contend with, weaker bindings to the ideologies that have entrapped us, and brighter energy to work with

On the Indonesian island of Bali, the autochthonous populations contend that the first three months of a child’s life are sacred on account of the lingering connection to Heaven, whence babies come. Thus during this time the baby is not allowed to touch the ground but instead gets cuddled and held in everyone’s arms — the mother’s, the father’s, their siblings’ and those of their uncles, and grandparents. For three months the child is embraced by the entire village.

This first trimester of life is meant to provide the small angel with a gentle transition to its life on Earth and its end is celebrated by the Balinese with a ceremony called ”Nyabutan”

In my view the world needs to love and protect its children better. to comprehend the extent to which our care for children matters in the context of our survival as a species

and we must tread carefully, for a conclusion that not all men are equal in their potential is an indictment that some individuals are superior in value to others, which easily leads to the policies of the eugenics movement of the 1920s. in our enthusiasm to improve our chances for survival we may come to device metrics for measuring potential and to direct our efforts towards the darkness of extermination that we sadly know so well already

erick calder