Everyone has seen the phrase above, or some variation of it included in contracts, at the bottom of websites, on employment applications, or any of thousands of places where we encounter official documents. Anti-discrimination laws have made it ubiquitous and, in many cases, mandatory, throughout our society.
It has become almost cliché in modern American culture.
But it should not be.
The principle of facing all of our fellow human beings and interacting with them from a fundamental standpoint of respect, brotherly compassion, and understanding should be more than just a trite disclaimer in the fine print of the footnotes to our society’s legal documents.
As thinking and feeling human beings, the fundamental unit of our society is not a group, clan, nationality, sect, or ethnicity, but is the individual human being. It is true that the world of humanity contains a wide variety different cultures, that many of us tend to gather together in groups according to our cultures or backgrounds. And it is also true that the differences between various groups of people seem in many cases to be significant in terms of both superficial appearance and deep-seated cultural norms. And sometimes these difference are used to divide and categorize us all into separate collectives, each with its own set of predefined characteristics, at least in the minds of those who are doing the categorizing.
But it is important to keep in mind that, ultimately, each group is actually a collection of individual thinking, feeling human beings.
And, even if you could identify a particular group average trait in terms of ability or behavior or some other thing, that absolutely does not mean that everyone who looks like an average member of that group has that same trait, because there is a greater range of basically every human quality among the individuals of a group than there is between the averages between pretty much any two groups.
Each individual human mind and soul is a unique entity with his or her own unique perspective on the world and on life, unique abilities and propensities, and unique individual history. Yes, we are all shaped by our backgrounds. But ultimately, none of us are limited to the predetermined definition that someone else would place upon us — and especially not to the broad-brush definitions that some people try to apply to the superficial characteristics of our color, or our national, religious, or ethnic backgrounds.
This concept is fundamental to the rights that we claim for ourselves in our appeal to Natural Law.
Regardless of the profuse amount of prejudice and injustice at various times and places in our nation’s history, the acknowledgment of all people, regardless of background, equally, as individual human beings is fundamental to the derivation of the rights and freedoms that we consider sacred. The idea that Thomas Jefferson set forth in his statement that “all men are created equal” and that we are endowed with “certain unalienable rights” is, certainly conceptually if not legally, the foundation of the rights that we claim and hold dear.
Does this seem inconsistent, or even hypocritical, given that Thomas Jefferson himself owned slaves?
Perhaps. But as we stand here in the twenty first century, we need to recognize several important things:
First, let he who is without any hypocrisy himself cast the first stone. Of course there are vast inconsistencies in life and human history. The evolution of human society has been a messy business, not just in America, but all over the world for thousands of years. Can we blame those who have been participants in that evolution for not being better human beings? Certainly we can. But we must also acknowledge the huge changes that they have brought about and view them against the perspective of the rest of human history before them. Prejudice and its fruits, including slavery, had been part of human society in almost every nation and culture for previous unknown ages of time. And if iniquitous conditions are to change, it is necessary that people who are in the midst of those conditions, and even participating in them, are the ones who initiate the change.
The second important thing follows from the first and is the crux of the matter: In order for an ideal to be made manifest, it must first be realized as a concept in the minds of those who are able to recognize it. Human society changes slowly, generation by generation. And Jefferson’s statement of the rights of the individual human being is important especially in its place early in the evolution of our American society.
What the founding fathers of our nation left us with was not something that even pretended to be a perfect country or government. For example, many of them did not live to see the day when it was even legal for them to free their own slaves even if they had wanted to.
What the founding fathers left us was a set of stated ideals and a structure for a federated republic which we could use to mold our society and grow as we see fit — even if they themselves had an imperfect concept of how those ideals should manifest.
As stated by Jefferson, our rights are ultimately founded in Natural Law — the concept that such rights derive from our basic nature as human beings, and are not merely bestowed upon us by a worldly power in the form of a king or some such governmental authority. As such, if our rights have any basis at all, they must be based upon the nature of each and every member of humanity — without exception — as an individual, independent human being regardless of the happenstance of our birth and upbringing.
And they must be brought about by our own discovery — over time — of our own nature and potential and our proper relationships with each other.
We are all family.
But humanity is a diverse and worldwide family whose members are just now, over the past few centuries, getting to know each other.
Throughout previous thousands of years of human society, it has often been important for the purpose of self-preservation to think in terms of “our” tribe, village, city, nation whom we can rely upon for support, comfort, protection and sustenance versus the “others” who very often were a danger to “us.” And the superficial characteristics of language, culture, religion, and just plain physical appearance have all, in various ways at various times, been important in distinguishing “us” from “the others.” But in our modern, global society we need to recognize the actual truth of the matter that we are all family. Every one of humanity is a cousin of each other. And this is just as true if you subscribe to the origin story of any particular major religion as it is if you glean your information about our heritage from a book on biological anthropology – or both. We are all children of the same God or Nature, whichever way you understand where we came from.
People everywhere, regardless of culture or heritage have similar weaknesses and fears as well as vast potential for love, compassion, courage, strength, wisdom. And even physically, in every way that matters, we are much more alike than we are different.
In America, even among that large set of groups of European descent, the members of which we have trouble distinguishing by superficial color, we have a huge diversity in the heritage of our history in the development of our civilization: The (supposedly) “civilized” Romans were often overrun by the “barbaric” Britons or Huns (Germans). The (supposedly) “civilized” English were troubled throughout much of their history by the brutal tribes of the Scots. And so forth. And yet, in today’s world, the Scots and Germans have the stereotype of being among our best engineers of the technology that forms the basis of our society.
The truth of the matter is that America is a nation of a huge diversity of backgrounds on all levels regardless of race or color, even among the people who appear to be in the same groups in these categories. And in people whose ancestors are among every one of these nations, races, or tribes, there are individuals today who are contributing to our society and realizing potentials that many of their ancestors did not.
Our nation – and our real nationalism – is in the civic structure of our republic and its laws along with the industriousness of our market economy. The real measure of each other needs to be by “the content of their character” to use the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, within the operation of our society. Not by the color of our skin.
Maintaining prejudices based upon the history or skin-deep qualities of any ethnic group only serves to hold us back. It makes no sense in the context of the ideals upon which the United States of America was founded.
Are men and women “equal”?
No. Of course not. No two groups are “equal” just as no two individual human beings are equal if by that we mean that they are the same in every way. The word “equal,” without the proper context, is too simplistic. It invites itself to get misused on both “sides” of the political spectrum. Some members of one side amass statistics, see differences between averages, and yell, “unfair!” without looking for actual reasons for those differences. People on the other side see such a broad-brush judgmental attitude based upon an all-too aggregated collectivist so-called “analysis” and use it as an excuse to dismiss the entire “equality” struggle as invalid.
Again, the same as with so-called “race,” we are individuals.
The valid goal is equal rights, with judgment of people, their attitudes and actions based upon the “content of their character” and other individual traits and abilities that might be relevant to the task or situation at hand.
For example, in a forty some year long career in aerospace, I had the opportunity to work with a large number of people in the realm of computer system development back in the days when all big companies needed to basically write their business systems from scratch. And, in an technical environment that was largely a “man’s world,” even back in the 1970s & 80s when the “good old boys’ club” attitude was much more dominant than anyone realizes today, some of the most brilliant people, both on a technical level and in overall business system design, were women.
Sure, there are differences in averages in some physical characteristics like strength. And where they relate to actual job requirements, those requirements should not be changed to make special accommodations for a group. The judgment should be on the basis of the ability to fulfill requirements, not upon gender.
Now, on the subject of sexual harassment: All sides ought to acknowledge that this is a more complex issue than some of the popular memes & screams would have us believe.
First of all, we need to recognize that men taking advantage of women is something that happens. And it shouldn’t. Men are, on average, larger and stronger than women. And there are some men who all too readily take advantage of this fact. And there certainly exist men who discriminate against women or are dismissive of their abilities in the business world. And these things need to be fixed.
But that’s not all there is to the issue.
I’ve sometimes seen the “fact” of the “patriarchy” used in arguments to dismiss or at least ignore the importance of the issue of men being discriminated against in matters of parental rights, which is also a thing that happens. And the fact that rape, as a crime, is a difficult thing to prove should not be used to diminish our legal system’s standard of evidence that is essential in protecting the innocent. And memes which group “men” together generically and universally as perpetrators are not useful.
Personally, even though I’ve lived well over sixty years, have been a frequent traveler around the country, and worked a long career in a large industrial environment, I cannot recall ever seeing a guy catcall a woman outside of the movies.
I’m not saying this to deny that it happens. I’m sure that it does. I’m saying it for two important reasons:
First, to support my statement that most men are not like that.
And second, to indicate to the other men that they don’t have to be. People are largely a product of their environment. They can learn basic civility if they want to have constructive lives in a civil society.
Religion is different from the traits discussed above. To belong to a religion is to voluntarily associate with a group and to adopt, at least to an extent, its beliefs and practices.
But religion, per se, is not a valid basis for judgment of individuals in the civic and commercial context of our society for two reasons:
First of all, in a way, religion really is kind of like the physical traits mentioned above. In general, we tend to get our religious beliefs from the family in which we are raised. And therefore, we all have our prejudices. Yes, even you, the reader, are prejudiced one way or another by the background of your family and other early experiences, whether you are Catholic, Muslim, Baptist, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist. Many – perhaps the majority of – people who are dead-set certain of a particular idea about some philosophical or religions idea got that idea as a matter of the happenstance of their birth. So many times beliefs are just what is ingrained in us from an early age.
Next, and more importantly, every honest person needs to recognize that none of us has the absolute authority on the nature of God / Spirit / the Divine / Ultimate Cause, or whatever we wish to call the underlying order and origin of the universe. Even in terms of purely non-theistic, materialistic science, the honest answer of every scientist regarding where the universe came from must be (and, generally, is): “I don’t know.”
Every person who seeks to have and to know Truth with that capital “T” ought to recognize that, to a large extent, they themselves, as well as everyone else in the world, is a searcher for it and not the ultimate authority on it. Because, as far as anyone has figured out so far, it is not possible for the human mind to properly conceptualize the Ultimate Cause of the universe.
And so, every major religion has a deep history of reformers, philosopher, interpreters, and teachers, many of whom have had vastly different ideas about both God and society even within the same overall religion. Islamic Sufi mystics have written beautiful poetry that is adored by and agrees with the theology of many devout Christians. Their ideas are different from the Sunni and Shia, each of which have their own differences of interpretation. Many Buddhists derive an ethics from their beliefs that is completely in harmony with that of followers of Christ. And so forth.
So it is only where beliefs promote and precipitate actions between people in society that any of these beliefs come close to being relevant in a civic context. And then, it is really only the actions and not the beliefs themselves that are relevant.
There are, for example, some people who hold certain ideas about the status of women or children, or other relationships between people, that are not compatible with civic rights and freedoms that we hold as the basis of our society. And, when they act upon these notions, it is right for our legal system to intervene in their actions, even though they claim them as based upon religious beliefs. Because the fundamental order of our society, as derived from our natural rights as individual human beings, must be held sacrosanct in civic and other interpersonal matters in our legal system.
So, within the context of our civic, commercial, and interpersonal relationships in our society, we must first and foremost recognize the equality of rights of every individual human being regardless of their religion. Again, our nationalism, by the nature of the founding documents of our nation, is and must be civic and without regard to any particular religion, each of which is, by its nature, subject to the individual interpretations of the human minds who subscribe to it.
Sexual orientation, along with its core issue of gay marriage, has eased itself into the public discourse as something that is no longer as taboo as it once was. And that is a good thing. All issues should be open for discussion.
On this subject, I recall a talk radio show host (no, it was not Rush Limbaugh) bloviating on the subject of gay marriage once quite a few years ago. He was opposed to it on the basis that it somehow contaminates, adulterates, or otherwise detracts from the sacred institution of marriage in general.
As far as I’ve been able to determine, people who take this particular stance on the issue of gay marriage are the only ones who are even attempting to make sense of their opposition to it. And they fail.
My stance on this is:
Perhaps he, along with the rest of the people who take the opposition stance on this subject, have some issue within their marriage that makes them personally feel particularly vulnerable. But I have never had such an issue with my marriage. The sacredness of it is not capable of being affected in the least by anything anyone else does. So I really don’t even know what they’re talking about in the first place.
But, beyond that, with regard to interpersonal relationships between consenting adults: If you want to do a thing or to not do a thing, or if you are a member of a religious group which believes you should or should not do some particular thing, that is up to your own conscience either within your own mind or as a member who subscribes to that group. But regulating and limiting it is not a matter of civic responsibility in the context of a society that is based upon individual rights.
In short, what other people do is not your business. And it is certainly not your business to make laws that limit what they do in private — or, for the most part, in public either.
Just as the individual atom is the basic definition of an elemental unit within chemistry, it is the individual human mind which is and must be recognized as the fundamental unit within a free society.
With regard to civic, legal, and commercial relationships within the society that we have built in the United States of America, it’s about character. Not color. (Or any other superficial aspect of each other.)
How and when this should be enforced, we can discuss elsewhere.
But, as a matter of our basic principles, equality of the rights of humans — as humans — is fundamental to the foundation of the proper operation of our society.