- May 20th, 2014
Several years ago, I began to rebel against a modern cultural attitude. This attitude is a misunderstanding of the Enlightenment ideal on which our government and society is founded. It is an attitude more strongly held by the political left, but is shared by many on the political right as well, so the fallacy may be slightly left-of-center but is more broadly cultural than political at all. And the fallacy is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of "equality".
Equality is taken to mean equal abilities, or, as you were saying as you left, equal potential to raise one's abilities - an equal potential present in every human child. All that is needed, in this world view, is for them to be nurtured properly from conception - possibly pre-conception - with the right parents, with enough money, with the right education, the right food, the right doctors, the right resources. The view allows for different people to have different talents and even, perhaps, some differing levels of IQ, but no one is allowed to be truly and substantially different than anyone else - if someone is really, really good at one thing, why, they must lack in another area and another person is just the opposite. Therefore everyone must have humility, realize we are all equals and not brag or be proud.
This is not and never was what the Enlightenment ideal was about.
Equality under Enlightenment thought and in the structuring of our government is a term of law and justice. It is the literal meaning of no man being above the law, the literal abolition of privilege. This is why no lords or nobles exist in America, and why accusations of aristocracy are so loaded here. Your parents may still bequeath you property and money, but a title? Status in society? Those are much less important, and if you stab a man to death in public, whether you are the President or a waiter, you will still be put on trial for murder. Even the hint of an inequality based on wealth in the justice system riles people - because our country was founded on ending that system. Privilege and unequal justice were the pre-Enlightenment way that rules the Old World of Europe. Europe, in time, changed as well.
Consider in Game of Thrones (which is based on medieval times) Ned Stark's execution of the runaway Night's Watchman and Tyrion's trial for murder at the hand's of Lysa Arryn and Catelyn Stark. The hapless Night Watchman is summarily executed - no witnesses, no real chance to speak in his behalf. They just round him up and Ned chops off his head, story over. Tyrion gets a trial, a chance to speak for himself, a champion. Tyrion is a nobleman. And consider what they did relative to their punishments! The Night's Watchman quit his job - Tyrion was accused of attempted murder of a ten year old (*we* know he didn't do it, but they thought he did.) While Ned Stark's execution was rather abrupt as well, recall this is thought of as the actions of a bad and impulsive king, and a war is started over it because he's not supposed to treat a nobleman that way - just as a war is started over the murder of Ned's father and brother.
But as I was saying in the beginning, the understanding of this ideal has devolved into a sort of pablum in which we are all supposed to be exactly equal, in which IQ tests are branded as "unimportant because there's all sorts of different IQ you know!" and educational accomplishments are dismissed and indeed every sort of accomplishment is dismissed or looked at with suspicion because if someone is beautiful AND Smart they must secretly have some nasty personality trait or horrible secret to make up for it, because "everyone knows" that no one can have too many traits that place them at the upper end of the bell curve without having something to "balance it out" and put them solidly back on the median, where they belong.
Here's the truth - many people, whether rich or poor, are just born stupid and with shitty personalities. A few people are born with both great personalities and are really smart. If they are also pretty and their family is rich, there's no reason they shouldn't or won't rise to the top of society. And the masses hate them and will constantly look for reasons why they have some fatal flaw that proves the theory that we all meet some imaginary moral mean. And the lowest gutterpunk who has broken his mother's heart, raped his girlfriends, has 2 illegitimate kids and an STD, is hooked on heroin, beats people with baseball bats, never worked for a day of honest wages in his life, dropped out of high school, has misspelled prison tattoos, and an IQ of 90, believes he is just as good or in fact secretly believes he is better than that person. Because "we are all the same" and "we are all equal". They will tell you this if you ask them. They will whine that they just didn't get enough chances in life. It's a load of crap.