Friday, October 11, 2013
People the same, different, better?
--Paul, Romans 3: 23-25 (around 55 AD)
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
--Declaration of Independence (1776)
“the pursuit of happiness.” People are the same before God, and each person is an individual, unique creation endowed with a combination of apparent talents (and handicaps) that will enable him or her to take one's own road through life.
Once we humans grab a measuring stick to judge others, we affect them as well as us. While our path should be right for us, what about the rightness of measuring others? The word “equality” is different from the “created equal” that enables one to engage in “the pursuit of happiness.” “Equality” means introducing a “measuring stick.” It means someone else saying who is “unequal,” who needs help, who should be restricted or brought down. It means, in the words of Isaiah Berlin, “positive liberty” over “negative liberty.”
“Justice” is, like “equality,” another word highly valued in progressive America. And it too uses someone else’s “measuring stick,” the collective imposing its will on the individual, according to the collective’s value system. Yes we need rules and laws to live by, developed and modified by a democratic majority. But the battle to check the collective from imposing their will on the individual goes on every day, hour, and minute.
We want to minimize the collective embrace as much as possible, and maximize to the greatest extent possible each individual’s ability to achieve his or her own “pursuit of happiness.” Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, so disliked what the state had done to primitive “bands of brothers” and sisters that he branded government a kleptocracy. For the benefit of those running the show, government takes our money. And it takes away individual freedom--the freedom Jefferson so esteemed, the individual freedom Paul 2000 years ago in Romans saw God granting each of us to follow--or not follow--the path of faith.
Is hierarchy inherently good, now that it has reached its highest form in university-led American progressivism, our rule by “philosopher kings”--our national elite meritocracy--as documented in the New York Times on behalf of all of us, our era of “all’s right with the world”? Isn’t this the choice Democrats offer us today?
Or is hierarchy what we seek to leave behind, living in a world where people truly shape their own lives, pursue their own version of happiness, free as much as possible from state interference? Living as libertarians, free thinkers, and today’s conservatives advocate?
Let’s look at government-run schools for insight into the problems progressive leadership has left with America today. Government schools are relics of the industrial era, an earlier time when Darwinism and genetics seemingly predetermined human destiny.
We now know better. The New York Times’ own Nicholas Kristof in 2009 reported that studies of three groups that have been unusually successful in American schools--Asian-Americans, Jews, and West Indians--establish that what we think of as intelligence is quite malleable and owes little or nothing to genetics. Success depends on perseverance and drive.
This fact is so important. We have an entire school system filled with educators who believe they are stuck with genetically-defined average to slow learners they can do little to nothing about. To cope with the bad hands dealt them, teachers strive to give their little hopeless cases a sense of “self esteem,” offering them less strenuous paths to success, denouncing “teaching to the test,” preaching that everybody is a winner, while quietly rejoicing in the progress of “high IQ” learners who come their way, winners under today’s “philosopher king” meritocratic hierarchy of the alphas, betas, gammas, and deltas government schools seem designed to serve.
In an ideal non-hierarchal America, by contrast, parents and students would choose their own paths to happiness, beginning with freely selecting a school run by the principal him- or herself with no superstructure interfering from above, with teachers empowered to encourage and help each unique individual through applied, dedicated work to achieve his or her full potential--to shoot for the stars. To succeed. To pursue happiness.