Neither Free Nor Equal.

July 18, 2012

Two weeks ago we celebrated Independence Day. Grills were lit. Beverages were chilled. Bathing suits, tee shirts and flip flops became the style of the day.
I asked my sons if they understand why we celebrate the Fourth of July. My nine year old had a rough idea. My five year old hadn't a clue. Still, they had a blast. As young boys will.
Difficult to believe that we are 236 years removed from the founding of this nation. This great, big, free, independent, stubborn, tough and energetic land.
Once upon a time we celebrated rugged individualism. Feted those capable of waking up early. Striking out to take a calibrated risk. Succeeding or failing, but doing so of their own accord.
This nation was founded by such men. Jefferson. Adams. Hancock. Thinkers. Achievers. They knew that actions spoke louder than words. And they willingly put their well-conceived analytical frameworks to the test. Exposing them to physical realities. Subjecting them to success or failure. To the marketplace.
Life is not fair, I tell my sons. One hopes that the best rise to the top. Regardless of the pursuit. One hopes that the worst should fade away. Such is the means by which systems improve. Become more efficient. Stronger. Better. Lasting.
Last place does not merit a ribbon. You may receive one. But you've won nothing. Last place ribbons are like party favors. If everyone gets one, they are all diminished in value.
When the founders declared this nation's independence, they embarked upon a course from which there was no retreat. They would have to be excellent, ambitious, courageous and inspiring. Lest, they be killed by falling short of their objectives.
The founders, and the nation, were rewarded with liberty. Independence. The right to work towards prosperity. The right to take risks. Pursue happiness. Create. Build. Fail. Succeed. And every day, to try again.
Had the colonies waited for someone to take charge, to step forward, to inspire a young nation to emerge from England's shadow, the effort would have been doomed from inception. But, great men did step forward, and did great things.
We are not born equal. We are not born free. Birthrights? Maybe. But privileges are earned. Ordinary men do ordinary things. Quantum advances are born on the sweat, blood and tears of extraordinary individuals willing to risk everything.
William James Durant was an American historian and philosopher who wrote an 11-volume historical compendium entitled, The Story of Civilization. Durant was a brilliant polymath with a broad conception of history and philosophy. He believed that history was just the physical portrayal of philosophy at work.
For those lacking the 10-year commitment required to read the Story of Civilization, allow me to recommend Durant's beautiful 115-page essay entitled, The Lessons of History. The book provides an overview of the pivotal themes and lessons observed over 5,000 years of world history. Durant examines them from those unique, geometrically different, though not opposing, human perspectives. Geography. Biology. Race. Character. Morals. Religion. Economics. Politics. Growth. Decay. And progress.
Durant was neither republican or democrat. To my observation, he resisted labels. He fought for equal wages, women's suffrage and fair working conditions for the American labor force. He attempted to bring philosophy to the common man. Improve understanding of human vantage points; explain the human dynamic laid bare over many centuries. And win forgiveness for our many faults and foibles.
In the chapter entitled, Biology and History, Durant blends unique historical and philosophical perspectives into a razor sharp discourse on our biology, and the lessons gleaned from studying five millennia of progress, failure and development. Durant writes:
"So the first biological lesson of history is competition. The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection. We are all born unfree and unequal. Nature loves difference. Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization.
Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies. Leave man free, and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically, as in England and America in the nineteenth-century under laissez-faire.
Utopias of equality are biologically doomed.
The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed. Nature has no use of organisms, variations, or groups that cannot reproduce abundantly. She has a passion for quantity as prerequisite to the selection of quality. She does not care that a high birth rate has usually accompanied a culturally low civilization, and a low birth rate a civilization that is culturally high; and she sees that nations with low birth rates shall be periodically chastened by some more virile and fertile group.
It is amusing to find Julius Caesar (59 B.C.) rewarding the Romans who had many children, and forbidding childless women to ride litters or wear jewelry. In the United States, the lower birth rate of the Anglo-Saxon has lessened their economic and political power. So, the birth rate, like war, may determine the fate of theologies; just as the defeat of the Moslems at Tours (732) kept France and Spain from replacing the Bible with the Koran.
There is no humorist like history."
Durant died in 1981. Prior to the resolution of the cold war. 9/11. HIV. And the continuing periods of draught and famine that kill millions around the world, even as we land spacecraft upon the surface of Mars.
His unique perspective, devoid of politics, replete with the philosophical underpinnings of 5,000 years of evidence, continue to strike a chord.
Today, we are as political as we've ever been. Bureaucrats curry favor by simply asking us to define the camps we fall into. The labels we wear. For many, labels define who we are, and with whom we interact.
We all suffer when those who seek truth, and aspire towards the furthest reaches of exploration, are dragged down by the nets of bureaucrats seeking to please the larger, less ambitious swaths of a whiny, fearful electorate.
We are not equal. Effective systems trump the less effective. As do more effective people. Sex. Religion. Skin color. Geography. Socioeconomic background matter little. History rewards the bold. Rewards those who help us all to become a little better. To reach a little higher. To achieve a little more.
Alas, when we are all equal, then we shall be no more.

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