In modern Western society, few would challenge the notion of the Founding Fathers of the United States in their assertion that "all men are created equal." Most would even affirm a change to the gender-neutral "all people." The idea that everyone, every person of every gender and every culture and every religion and every level of ability are equal is a very powerful one. It is a fundamental truth that no one is more important than anyone else.
Why, then, are people so ignorant of the true nature of the equality they champion?
Equality is a lovely thing in theory. It means everyone, regardless of who they may be, is entitled to exactly the same as everyone else. The same opportunities, the same upbringing, the same life-choices; everyone free to choose the same as everyone else, with no attention paid to their differences.
In practice, however, equality isn't so grand. The first hurdle is the impossible nature of the statement given above. Indeed, all men are not created equal. Men and women, for example, are very psychologically and physiologically different. Many anthropological studies have asserted these differences are either the product of evolutionary necessity, or are themselves the cause for the differing gender roles of prehistoric humanity. Environment is also a factor, with localities greatly shaping the cultures of societies living within. It has even been postulated that racial differences are the result of similar locational variety.
In addition, cultural practices themselves do a great deal to shape the human mind and body. Hunting societies see an emphasis on physical fitness, while technological ones focus on intellect. The build of a gentleman from an agrarian village in the Alps is surely different than that of a young woman from a nomadic Middle Eastern tribe. Human beings are born into such varied physical forms and cultural beliefs that it quickly becomes impossible to say that they are equal in anything save importance.
"From the fact that people are very different," Friedrich Hayek said, "it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently." This line of thought gives rise to the notion that maybe we are only equal in importance. James F. Cooper is quick to point out, however, this isn't always the case either. "The very existence of government at all, infers inequality. The citizen who is preferred to office becomes the superior to those who are not, so long as he is the repository of power, and the child inherits the wealth of the parent as a controlling law of society.”
Even human emotion prevents true equality. Orwell's animals quickly learned that "all animals are equal--but some are more equal than others." Racism survives in vestiges of what began as a backlash against racism. Sexism lives on in certain streams of feminist rhetoric as well as in misogynistic male hearts. The tendency of the oppressed to become the oppressor is staggering in these bloodless culture wars.
Should we not, dear reader, treat each and every person as we would be treated? Should we not also revel in their differences as much as we enjoy our similarities? Let us put aside the bickering about equality and instead bring it about in truth. Otherwise, we're left with something far worse in the eyes of Aristotle:
“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”