What If We Are Not All Created Equal?

Two people standing on top of a plank
Two people standing on top of a plank

Right from the get-go we are taught that we are all created equal. This message is pounded into us. We learn early in school that the Declaration of Independence from 1776 states that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

This equality is a founding principle of this nation, and it is the central element of the social contract. Everyone has an equal chance at achieving success. All we need to do is simply work hard and play by the rules and we will get ahead. Now that sounds like a fair deal. No wonder this is such a great nation. We are told as children that when we grow up, we can be anything we want to be. Awesome!

After careful deliberation, we make the tough decision of what to do in life. It is usually along the lines of the shortstop on our major league baseball team, a celebrity supermodel, or a rock star. And fabulously wealthy, of course.

But then we encounter life under this system.

Whoa! Hold on a second here. What is going on? This isn't what we were promised. We chose to be rich and famous, so why isn't that happening?

Is it all a big fat lie?

No no, we are assured, it's all true. In this wonderful society, you can be anything you wish to be, and all you have to do is work hard. But, it's just that, well, you see, you must read the fine print. There you'll find a few conditions, minor details really, about how the system actually works in practice. That's all.

One little detail in the fine print is that even though you can be anything you wish to be, in order to actually achieve it, you must compete against and beat out everyone else in the world who is also vying for that very same position. And of course only one person will win, and everyone else will lose.

Oh. Hm. Well, what are our chances of success? My friend, your chances are great, we are assured. Everyone is equal and thus everyone has an equal opportunity, so all you need to do is work hard. Uhm, okay. But what if everyone else is working hard too? How is it determined who-

Well, there is another minor detail in the fine print. There is a little something known as the bell curve. Across the entire population, in many human characteristics, only a very few people are far above average, the vast majority of people are squarely average, and only a very few people are far below average.

Take height, for example. Only a very few people are exceptionally tall, the vast majority are of average height, and only a very few people are exceptionally short.

This bell-curve principal applies to all sorts of traits in people, such as strength, speed, beauty, coordination, artistic ability, musical ability, memory, math skills, talent, and, of course, intelligence.

Now wait a minute. A very different picture is emerging here. For all the people who desire to, say, be the shortstop, their baseball skills are statistically very likely to be no more than average, but yet they are forced to compete against those very few people who happen to possess exceptional baseball skills, and thus the chance of success for almost everyone is extremely small.

The same is true for people who wish to be supermodels or rock stars. And it's not only true just for becoming rich and famous, but the same is true for just about every endeavor.

This whole equality thing seems to be out the window. It is not just about working hard because, for the vast majority of us who are average, regardless of how hard we work, we will simply never have an equal chance at success. We are forced to compete against a very small group of people who have very great advantages over us.

Okay okay okay, we are told, it is true that hardly anyone will ever become the shortstop, supermodel, or rock star. But, we are assured, every single one of us is extra-super-special in some unique way. It is simply up to us to look within ourselves to find that one special thing that we all possess and then we can all be wildly successful.

At this point, our balderdash detectors are switched on and this sounds like another load of it.

The bell curve tells us that the vast majority of us do not, in fact, possess extraordinary abilities. So it seems that the vast majority of us fall into the category of being no more than average in all respects. As it turns out, being plain old average is simply, well, normal. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being normal. As President Abraham Lincoln said, the Lord must surely have loved ordinary people because he made so many of them.

We normal people are the salt of the earth. In fact, it is those extremely rare and extraordinary people who are the freaks. So, actually, being normal sounds like a pretty good deal. We normal people will have more people who are like us so we'll have more friends, more common interests, more people who understand us, more shared joy, and thus a greater potential for happiness in life.

This sounds pretty good. It's okay that we cannot be shortstops, supermodels, and rock stars. We can accept being normal. Of course, in order to accept this, we just need a society that recognizes these differences in people and cares for all of us. All we really need is basic opportunity and financial security. We just need to be able to enjoy our work without being subjected to overwork and undue stress, and receive comfortable living wages in return for our contributions so we can enjoy our lives in peace. It's really not very much to ask.

Since we normal people make up the vast majority of the population in society, creating a fair society that works for us should not present any sort of a problem. It's okay that we are not all equal so long as we have a society that cares for us equally. Our system must work fairly for all of us, regardless of whether we happen to have extraordinary abilities or not.

Oh. Uhm, well.... There is one last little detail in that fine print.

Our current system, you see, doesn't quite work like that. It's set-up under this fabulous thing called capitalism in which the best (supposedly, anyway) receive the most. So you can earn as much money as you'd like. It's all up to you. All you have to do is work hard. It's really great.

Everyone competes against each other and tries to take away as much money as they can from everyone else.

Everyone is "free" so there is a big emphasis on not having many rules. Just take away as much as you can from anyone you can get it from!

One little tip is that it is much easier to take it away from people who are lower down on the bell curve than you. Hahaha! Suckers!

Now wait just a minute here. Such a system obviously favors the rare few at the high-end of the bell curve at the expense of the vast majority of people who are in the normal range.

Well, yes. Shortstops, supermodels, and rock stars earn millions of dollars, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, while ordinary people are forced to struggle just to get by.

So the place you want to be, my friend, is on the high-end of the bell curve in some way. Then you're golden. Unfortunately, however, the greatest determinant of your placement on the bell curve is pure dumb luck. Yep. That's all it is. Just dumb luck. It mainly comes down to the circumstance of your birth. Ideally, you want either to be born with superior genes, or into privilege. Then you're on Easy Street.

If you happen to fall on the high-end of the bell curve with intelligence, well then you really hit the jackpot because you can own conglomerate corporations and really increase your ability to take away lots of money from lots of people down below you on the bell curve and become vastly wealthy for yourself. We're talking billions. Tens of billions. All for yourself. It's fantastic!

Geez. Is there a requirement that these people at the high-end of the bell curve at least be nice? Or that they at least engage in endeavors that benefit all of the other ordinary people?

No no no. My friend, please, try to follow along here. Those are rules, and rules are bad. We like "freedom." Plus, having to be nice or care for other people would just make it all the more difficult for you to take money away from other people. So that would be a dumb strategy.

Aren't you in favor of freedom?

Well, yeah, but, it's just that, it seems like this system provides a whole lot of freedom for the very few people on top, but hardly any freedom for everyone else down below.

In fact, how could such an unfair system exist in the world's greatest democracy anyhow? Why wouldn't the vast majority of normal people object to this exploitation and vote for policies that change the system into being more fair for the majority of the population instead of favoring the tiny minority at the top?

Remember, my friend, those few people at the top are smart. They are not about to admit that this system favors them. No way. Instead, they conceal that fact. They create all sorts of diversions, obfuscations, and confusion. And they keep enough politicians in their pockets to block any attempts at meaningful reform.

They are also very skilled at manipulating the majority into believing that this system is the best one available. Haven't you ever watched Fox News? It spews precisely the propaganda that you would expect from a multi-billionaire owner seeking to subdue the mass population. To a T. Millions of viewers cannot see through this manipulation to the truth. So, actually, it's not as difficult as one might think to bamboozle the masses.

Those at the top seek to indoctrinate the masses into accepting this system by preaching that our glorious society provides "freedom" (despite the fact that workers have hardly any freedom), that big government by the people is the boogeyman (you betcha - the biggest threat to billionaire tyrants is a government controlled by the people), that we are under constant threat of attack from war, crime, and foreigners (a population living in fear is more likely to accept the unfair rule of tyrants), and that there are no other alternatives to this system except communist Russia or China (be thankful that things are not far worse for you). Fox News pumps these themes constantly.

Now this is a smart strategy. Smart as a whip. And that is exactly why it is working.

Well, it is clearly working for those few at the top. But it is definitely not working for the vast majority of the population.

This system of survival-of-the-fittest competition may have been worth a try a few hundred years ago. But now that we understand so much more about the science of the brain and we realize the vast advantages some people have over others, especially in this complicated information age, it no longer makes sense to financially reward a few exceptional people for devising ways to extract money out of the population.

It's okay that we are not all equal. We must stop pretending that everyone is equal because this drastically favors those who possess advantages and cruelly disfavors those with disadvantages. Instead, we need a society that accounts for our natural inequalities. Those who have advantages must not be permitted to enrich themselves unless those who have disadvantages are safe and sound.

Now that's a free and fair society.