Here’s a message about which I’d like to be blunt:
All humans are equal
It’s a moral truth. And even though ‘equality’ is conceptual, just as morality is, it’s also a fact – like money’s a fact. Just think: money’s nothing more than worthless paper, coin, plastic… or 0s and 1s on a database.
But we all know what ‘money’ really means.
It’s one of the most powerful meanings there is.
At morality’s heart
Equality’s like that. It’s just as much a fact as money is. But it’s more important than money. More fundamental. And it lies at the heart of morality.
That’s because, for morality, it’s a given that we all start off equal.
No one is wicked or good until they’ve done something wicked or good. It’s our actions that distinguish us.
In the eyes of morality we’re all equal in what we are: as atoms of life, as particles of being. We’re all flames in the same fire, water in the same stream. It’s our actions, not our attributes, which determine our moral worth.
Morality tells us that where we come from, the colour of our skin, our ethnicity, our gender, our culture, our background, our education – these are all irrelevant.
It’s what we do with what we have that matters.
That’s morality in a nutshell: a place where we all start equal and build from there.
Which is why equality is a moral truth…
But it’s more than just a moral truth.
It’s a commitment, too.
There are people who try to trip us up when we talk about equality. They jump in quick.
“Oh, you fool, how can we all be equal? Is a murderer equal to a saint? Is a genius equal to a numbskull?”
Or, “I can run a 4-minute mile… Can you?”
That’s what’s called a straw man.
Putting words in our mouths that can easily be knocked down.
Are we truly saying any of those things about geniuses or saints when we say everyone is equal?
Honestly, we’re not.
Don’t misrepresent us as saying something stupid just so you can respond that we’re saying something stupid.
That’s just stupid.
The Grand Master
When we say all humans are equal we’re not talking about their capacities or skills. We’re not saying that absolutely everyone can be a great actor or an Olympic gymnast or a Grandmaster of Go.
Of course not…
We’re saying that deep down, beneath all these things, in ourselves, as human beings, we’re equal.
We’re saying that equality is a fundamental truth.
The meaning of life
You see, at this point we’re reaching for the meaning of life – and even for the meaning of death.
We are all sparks of life, embodiments of life… and what’s life’s point – what can it possibly be? – but life itself?
Life is what introduces meaning to the meaningless wastelands of death.
Life is what matters.
And it’s in this context, as life, that we’re equal.
There’s more to it than that, even. Because, if the source of all meaning is life, and if that’s where we’re grounding our morality, then morality tells us all life is deserving of our nurture and care.
From the point of view of compassion and caring, everyone is important. And animals, too.
If life is at the heart of your morality, you commit to this: We all matter.
So human equality is a moral commitment, as well as being an ethical truth, as well as being a kind of fact (like money’s a fact).
No one’s saying we’re all equally tall or equally strong or even equally good (our actions can let us down).
But we are saying that fundamentally, at the heart of the thing, we’re equally deserving of nurture and love and opportunity and care.
Isn’t that, after all, sort of obvious? Isn’t it a self-evident truth?
Consider a child, about to be born.
What’s the child done to deserve their parents?
Not a thing.
What’s a child done to deserve being born into a war zone, where they might soon die beneath mortar fire or from smoke inhalation or disease?
Not one damned thing.
What’s an unborn child done to deserve privilege, or a better education, or better healthcare or wealth than other children?
At birth a child hasn’t done anything that deserves anything, but is as deserving as every other child of what we can give. They are equally deserving of everything that’s good in the world.
So that’s our duty to every child in the world – and, of course, to each other.
It’s a moral truth, and a kind of fact, and a commitment.
We are all equally deserving of opportunity, nurture and care.
We’re all equal, and we have the right to be treated that way.
What we then do with the lives, and the equality and opportunities we are given, well, that’s down to us.
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Luke Andreski is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal and Ethical Intelligence collectives and author of Intelligent Ethics (2019). This article comes from his 2020 book, Short Conversations: During the Plague.
Luke is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal collective and author of Short Conversations: During the Plague (2020), Intelligent Ethics (2019) and Ethical Intelligence (2019).