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Equal Rights for All

青い地球を見つめる大勢の人々

Who would argue with the Declaration of Independence’s claim that “all men are created equal”?

But one immediately runs into trouble. What about the Declaration limiting it to “men”? Are women equal? They did not have the right to vote at the beginning. Yet, Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders certainly believed women were morally equal and were covered under the generic term “men,” for mankind. Was that enough?

What about slaves—African Americans, in particular? Even Aristotle believed in natural inequality and slavery. As President Barack Obama noted at this year’s religious breakfast, Christian slave owners often quoted from the Bible to justify inequality. Indeed, Christians committed many “terrible deeds” against minorities “in the name of Christ.” Yet, as noted by columnist Eugene Robinson, Christians without an economic interest in slavery did not use the Bible that way, and those such as William Wilberforce, the abolitionists, and even Martin Luther King Jr. used the Christian idea of equality to justify stamping out the severe inequality of slavery.

Oxford and St. Andrews political philosopher Larry Siedentop has written a masterful tome to systematically investigate the roots of this idea we call “equality.” His Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism looks closely into various world civilizations, finding that the idea of individual equality did not exist until it slowly rose in Europe during the first millennium of the current era. Every civilization, including ancient Greece and Rome, vested what rights that were granted to collectives, predominately to the patriarchal family. Clearly, slaves had no rights but neither did women or resident aliens or, even for most property rights, younger sons.

The paterfamilias had all of the rights, which meant there was no equality. He exercised authority over an extended family as the owner of all its property and slaves. He was the spiritual leader of the clan, the only one allowed to maintain the sacred flame connecting the living to the ancestor spirits resting below his property, and to invoke their protection and good will. Even early cities were collections of powerful families, first heads of competing clans and later adding their family gods to a city of multiple gods, all contesting and sharing power. The new city was hierarchical and aristocratic, with a few patriarchal families dominating everything.

Siedentop finds no idea of individual equality anywhere in time or place until Paul of Tarsus, although he later gives Jesus some of the credit by placing the individual under God rather than the family (“Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me,” Matthew 10:37). Paul offered a revised notion of humanity shaped by a faith based upon love for all persons equally because Jesus loved and died for all equally.

This overturned the aristocratic assumption upon which all ancient thinking was based, that of natural inequality. Now, writes Siedentop, social roles “become secondary” to the individual conscience. As Paul put it: “There is neither Jew nor Greek for all are one in Jesus Christ.”

Underlying social roles is the individual “human capacity to think and choose.” Paul’s insights were further elaborated by early church fathers Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, and Tertullian, who developed this new synthesis of Greek and Jewish thought culminating in Augustine. In the real world of action, individualist conscience translated into martyrs and heroic church leaders like Anselm, who excommunicated an emperor and survived.

Even more surprisingly, Siedentop explicitly credits the reforming popes of the 10th and 11th centuries for institutionalizing individuality. Led by the Cluny, monastic abbots and popes—especially Gregory VII—translated the Christian sense of “a moral status (the soul) into a social role,” and this was the critical element in “the invention of the individual.” God’s law had to “apply to all equally. Hence it needed to be systematic.” So the development of church law required “the analysis of logical and textual inconsistencies,” and “fostering attempts at synthesis.” The accumulated laws of tradition had to be “tamed and reconciled with the moral intuitions generated by Christian beliefs.” For “if faith was the result of revelation and therefore ‘given,’ the task of reason was to explore it and try to understand it,” not to force a predetermined solution.

Canon law was the solution to tame a disorganized, post-Charlemagne Europe—to replace traditional Roman and German law with a rational law starting with the necessity of saving individual souls, especially substituting the need for intent rather than simply punishing failure to follow rules. For the first time, women were equally bound, for they had equally moral souls. The very rationality of the new, universal cannon law slowly won adherents as it kept forcing each claim to truth to be tested by increasingly well-trained theologians, and then philosophers, in new university settings all across Europe. Debate toughened a logic rooted in real-world issues of marriage, property, and inheritance decided by their separate courts.

“Consent and free will provided the basis for rules in each area” to apply to all equally, writes Siedentop. Betrothal replaced paterfamilias, contract rationalized tradition, and wills modified primogeniture. “The assumption of moral equality gave rise, in turn, to the claim to equal liberty. For if humans have an equal moral standing, then it follows that there must be an area in which their choices ought to be respected.”

The superiority of canon courts turned Europe to them rather than to traditional, baronial courts whose judgments were often based on “ordeals” by force or on historical prerogative. It occurred to kings that monarchical, secular courts could take allegiance from local barons, too. Sound law—now backed by power—could advance the nation-state as it did religion. What was instituted as a moral order by a relatively powerless clergy to save souls could be turned by state power into a guarantee of social justice in this world. So a canon law imposed by the moral authority of the church against state power in the earlier Middle Ages was adapted by the state to control, first, local power and then that of the church itself. Whereas Pope Gregory VII’s moral power could humble Henry IV to stand in the snow for three days in the 11th century, and Thomas a Becket’s murder could pressure Henry II to public penance in the 12th century, there were no such church victories after the 14th century.

Canon law had won the battle but lost the war to secular power.

Perversely, by humbling the church and winning the support of the realm by promoting nationalism, monarchy weakened itself. “Divine Right” kings became limited by their bureaucracies and then by commercial and manufacturing power, and were finally replaced by parliaments and mass political parties.

By the 20th century, the state was de-sacralized with Nazi, fascist and communist powers actually declaring war on individualism. World War II defeated the former and the fall of the Soviet Union the latter, apparently leaving Western democratic predominance and a generation of prosperity. Yet, by the early days of the second millennium, the democratic state was reeling from bureaucratic sclerosis, fettered markets, protracted wars, bankrupt states, declining populations, and no common conception of law. Rather than fixed individual rights beyond the reach of what secular courts could decide at any particular time, a flexible, positivist law was developed to adapt to circumstances. The idea was to base decisions on current opinion to assure popular support; but this produced the opposite effect in the divisive culture wars of the United States and other Western democracies.

The very idea of the individual became amorphous. Was a fetus human? Was assisted suicide acceptable? Were men and women different or precisely the same? Were human individuals the only ones with rights? The philosophical atheist Richard Dawkins led a movement to grant legal rights to Great Apes. A court case demanding rights for an orangutan in Argentina found that it was a “non-human person” with some rights, although the case was referred to a lower court without habeas corpus powers. In 2011, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a lawsuit against Seaworld, the marine park operator, alleging that five wild-captured orca whales were treated like slaves. A San Diego court dismissed the case but it was appealed.

In 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in the state of New York to establish the “legal personhood” of four chimpanzees to be relocated to outdoor sanctuaries. While intermediate appellate courts rejected the group’s argument, it is appealing to a higher court. Why do intelligent apes not have rights over cognitively limited humans, anyway? They seem human in many ways. Apes and orca certainly have life. So do bees and maggots, and some even claim so for viruses. Why should they not have equal rights?

Keith Mano’s classic The Bridge: A Novel about the Last Man on Earth (1971) took this to its logical conclusion. Mano pictures a civil war between forces supporting equality for all, in a biologically indiscriminate sense, and those favoring Christian, libertarian individualism. The twist is that the former really believe in equality, for all life including plants and animals. Stepping on grass is an act of assault. The victorious secular government first grants humans only a liquid chemical nutrient that is fully consumed with no waste and laced with narcotics to keep them quiescent, allowing only hand signals, since even noise harms other life. Ultimately, the equality forces ban humans totally to rid the earth of their offensive breath that kills and injures germs and viruses.

Siedentop argues that the idea of equal rights for all human individuals uniquely can only be supported upon, or borrowed from, the moral assumptions of the West. Indeed, the “incarnation is the root of Christian egalitarianism” since it places God within human existence, granting a divine-based worth to individuals, with only inferior rights granted to those not made in His image. In his God, Locke, and Equality, Cambridge’s Jeremy Waldron even insists that nonreligious liberals who believe individual rights can be justified by John Locke are out of bounds since Locke’s supposedly secular conception of rights depends wholly on his assumption of a Judeo-Christian Creator. Even Thomas Jefferson rested natural rights upon the assumption of a Deist creation.

Can individual human equality and liberty survive when these assumptions do not?

Reader Discussion

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on March 27, 2015 at 11:23:53 am

The Witherspoon Institution’s Matthew Franck wrote an essay on this topic, with specific reference to Siedentop’s book, over at First Things. I had often heard a vague argument that Judeo-Christian norms provided the foundation for Enlightenment thought, so it’s gratifying to hear this idea fleshed out in greater detail.

In comments I distinguish between the concept of dignity articulated by Franck (epitomized by the right to refrain from sex that Franck would not approve of) and the more contemporary concept of dignity (epitomized by autonomy to control one’s own life, including one’s sex life, consistent with people’s autonomy – whether or not Franck would approve).

Can individual human equality and liberty survive when these [religious] assumptions do not?

Does individual human equality and liberty survive now? And if we were to plot a graph comparing jurisdictions with the greatest religious zeal and jurisdictions with the greatest individual human equality and liberty, what do you suppose we’d find?

As far as I know, the political sense of “equality” has always been a power-sharing pact that powerful people entered to defend themselves against other powerful people; it was never an agreement to grant power to people who were not part of the pact. The lords who supported Magna Carta demanded equality among themselves – but not equality between themselves and others. Colonial revolutionaries solicited support from their fellow powerful colonists by assuring them equality before law – but did not extend similar assurances to the powerless neighbors (slaves, women, natives, the landless….)

And so it goes. Americans celebrate a variety of equalities today – but, as we seen from Selma to Ferguson, whether you actually get the benefit of this equal status heavily depends upon whether you have the power to demand it, or have a powerful patron. But Americans widely acknowledge that people living just across a border are not entitled to the same equal status.

In sum, religion may well have been a catalyst for broadening --“democratizing” -- the concept of equality. But today that concept is extended and defended to promote the self-interest of powerful people/groups. And the self-interest of the powerful is a force that will endure with or without religion.

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nobody.really
on March 27, 2015 at 11:47:07 am

Ok, some rather fine points here.

Yet, are we not muddling the issue by mixing *equality* and "nation-states?"

In a very real sense, as a member of one nation state, would it not be impermissible for me to insist that the members of another nation state adhere to my nation state's conception of equality or proper social ordering?

And yes, *equality* (however defined by either right or left) "is extended and defended to promote the self-interest of powerful people/groups" - but it is not just the *powerful* who employ this technique, is it? This whole notion of *inequality* is in some measure simply the other side of the coin wherein the "un-powerful" seek to gain advantage by cloaking their own demands in the terminology / ideology of *equality.* From exercises such as these, they have indeed gained power and exercised sway over political (powerful) actors.
Perhaps, all is not as bleak as you suppose.

In any event, absent a clear, concise and precise definition, agreeable to most, of the term equality there can be no end to the various strivings, maneuverings, etc. of both the powerful and the (apparently) not so powerful.

BTW: Was very pleased to see Devine's recounting of the importance of canon law in the formulation of western legal and political thought. It is long overdue on these pages and I think in some ways provides further insight into McGinnis essays on clarity as well as some comments by David Upham and Evan Berninck re: epistemology - that epistemology in real measure was informed, at root, by canon law.

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gabe
on March 27, 2015 at 15:54:37 pm

nobody.really,

I agree for the most part. I think at the heart of the issue is the question of whether dignity is treated as something conferred or as something that does not exist unless it is recognized. The Declaration of Independence hints at the former view ("endowed by their Creator") and the Nazis adopted the former (lebenunswertes leben). The word dignity derives from the notion of worthiness. In one case , dignity inheres in the person, and in the other it inheres in those who interact with the person.

Religious thought, which assumed that dignity was conferred by a creator naturally led to the concept that slaves and freemen were equal in their practice of religion, which led to more generalization of the concepts of dignity and equality. The nazis, khmer rouge, shining path and instigators of the Trail of Tears, and in fact the political arms of churches, either rejected outright that dignity was conferred by some greater power, or concocted exceptions for political expediency.

The concept that the state confers dignity and its associated qualities is to be contrasted with the notion that the state must respect those qualities, which would exist in its absence, and are conferred independently of it. In the latter case, liberty can be, and in practice must be, divorced from the concept of dignity, and in the latter it is an essential part of it. Jefferson thought that liberty was endowed by the creator; Kim Il Sung and Lenin denied that it was, or should be, endowed by anyone.

In practice of course, dignity, equality and liberty can all be destroyed, and that is why they should never be taken for granted, nor entrusted to those who have no use for them.

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z9z99
on March 27, 2015 at 16:39:21 pm

Z:

" In the latter case, liberty can be, and in practice must be, divorced from the concept of dignity, and in the latter it is an essential part of it." - typo here?

Should this read? - "In the former case.........." or am I once again really missing something?

Nobody:

Perhaps an example of this may be had by referencing Nobody's claim that the Magna Carta provided rights, or recognized them, for only those powerful lords and barons strong enough to compel the King to acquiesce. There is certainly some truth to this.
Yet, ultimately we must a) recognize that those Charter Rights were eventually *given* to all those within the Kingdom and b) that unlike Britain in which rights (dignity / liberty as defined by Z) were originally deemed to be a grant from the sovereign, the DOI in contrast posits these as "natural, endowed by a Creator." There is quite a distinction as Z argues. Again, I think recourse to the influence of religion (and its canonical courts) may help to provide an answer. Parallel with the struggle of English courts / Judges to secure Charter rights, both Common Law and Canonical courts helped spread the belief / practice of individual dignity / liberty etc. Doubtless this had a foundation in the concept of an individual human soul (with all that entails) and the inherent equality before God of all souls. In a sense, this is the origin of "due process" rights. I suspect that Jefferson and the Founders would agree with this.

So I would ask, nobody, to what do you attribute the universalization of these rights? Granted, they are NOT universal as you have above defined it; perhaps, better to say "universal within a given *domain." Further granted that the *powerful* do, come hell or high water, always seem to fare somewhat better than the rest of us. Yet, that gets us back to the problem of definition: what is equality? By some constructions, equality is both practically and theoretically impossible.

whatever construction you choose to offer, I would submit that without recourse to some replacement for the precepts, doctrines, concepts of canon law, to serve as a modulator, we will flail about unendingly, chasing statistics, metrics, etc. when in fact it may be better to look internally. Heck, the concept of a soul seemed to work for a couple of millennia. Given no external moderating / defining idea supporting dignity of the individual human soul, we are compelled to confront our unanchored unhappiness / inequality. If there is nothing of intrinsic value in me (in my case probably not), then must I not look to my possessions or profession(s), status, etc.
To do so, seems to doom us all to perpetual envy and claims that the *powerful* have it better.

Never did like Jim Harbaugh of the SF 49'ers (he IS a great coach) but there is one thing I do remember about him and to which I think some of his success may be attributed. His chant with his players was (is?), "Hey, who has got it better than us?" - and this at a time when it was unclear whether he/ they would win it all. Clearly, there is a nascent understanding here of something other than material success - I submit it was the equal chance to strive.

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gabe
on March 27, 2015 at 17:22:10 pm

Gabe,

You are right. The former latter should be former and the latter latter, latter.

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z9z99
on March 27, 2015 at 17:58:41 pm

And for anyone with a few minutes and an interest in an interpretation of Burke on *dignity*, there is this:

http://nomocracyinpolitics.com/2015/03/26/edmund-burke-and-patriotism-by-jack-kerwick/comment-page-1/#comment-19539

I suspect we may all find something of both value and interest in this essay.

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gabe
on March 27, 2015 at 22:58:03 pm

[W]e must a) recognize that those Charter Rights were eventually *given* to all those within the Kingdom….

I’m not sufficiently acquainted with British history to know this. In the US we have a long history of rights being demanded (with real or implied threats if the demands are not met), often accompanied by one or more powerful faction seeing an advantage to the rights being given. Perhaps this has not been the British pattern, but I would like to know more.

[U]nlike Britain in which rights (dignity / liberty as defined by Z) were originally deemed to be a grant from the sovereign, the DOI in contrast posits these as “natural, endowed by a Creator.”

Indeed, stirring words from Jefferson the slave owner.

Hate to break it to you, gabe, but the Declaration of Independence was a piece of propaganda designed to rally people to the rebel’s cause, written in the Enlightenment style that happened to be fashionable at the time.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal….”

What does self-evident” mean? It means even the brilliant Jefferson could not marshal a figleaf of support for this assertion, and so gave up trying. As a matter of historical fact, can you name even one civilization during or prior to Jefferson’s time that was not built on the opposite premise? In Jefferson’s day, a huge number of people were born slaves; in our day, a huge number of people are born with birth defects, or DEAD. Once you define “created equal” that broadly, you’ve pretty much read the words out of the document.

But Jefferson, as a good propagandist, knew that this style of argument would flatter his fellow countrymen, and appeal to the many who had a financial interest in breaking from the Crown. Jefferson knew that people who offered rational arguments about his assertion would merely offend the people who found the assertion flattering. Think about it: You can’t disagree that, upon even a moment’s reflection, we are manifestly not created equal – yet my simple observations make you feel defensive, don’t they?

At most, we could argue that equality is not a self-evident truth, but a goal toward which we strive. And we progress toward that goal in fits and starts, as previously powerless groups gain their purchase over time.

Consider the right to marry. Once upon a time the state recognized only the marriages of nobles. Since then state recognition of marriage has been expanding until recently it began recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. Should we say this happened become homosexuals only recently received souls? Or because homosexuals only recently obtained the social status that permitted them to organize and advocate effectively?

[T]o what do you attribute the universalization of these rights? Granted, they are NOT universal as you have above defined it; perhaps, better to say “universal within a given *domain.” Further granted that the *powerful* do, come hell or high water, always seem to fare somewhat better than the rest of us.

Thanks for asking -- and answering. As you anticipate, I cannot attribute a cause for the univeralization of rights – because rights are manifestly not universal. Rights seem to be spread as far as serves the interest of those with sufficient power to demand them or spread them.

Heck, the concept of a soul seemed to work for a couple of millennia.

Excellent point: The concept of a soul has been around for millennia. As have institutions such as serfdom, slavery, racism, genocide, etc. On what planet did you spend the last couple of millennia that you would conclude that the “concept of a soul” produces equality?

In contrast, I humbly offer that my power thesis provides a much better fit for the data to explain the spread of equality. The lords who drafted Magna Carta maybe did regard each other as having souls. But they probably believed their surfs had souls, too – but that did not prompt them to propose equal rights between lords and serfs. (And when lords did extend rights to serfs, it is far from clear that souls had much to do with it. Rather, it was supply and demand: When the Black Death wiped out a third of the population, lords needed to adopt policies sucking up to the newly-scarce labor pool.)

Given no external moderating / defining idea supporting dignity of the individual human soul, we are compelled to confront our unanchored unhappiness / inequality.

Or we’re compelled to acknowledge that we can’t always get what we want, and to settle for getting whatever we can get. Some will do this individually, through entrepreneurship or bank-robbing. Others will do this collectively, by organizing people to overthrow a monarch, or protest for voting rights, or kill the Jews and take their stuff. But the need to stop when we reach the limits of our power confronts us all, whether or not be embrace the concept of a soul.

If there is nothing of intrinsic value in me (in my case probably not)….

Whoa, whoa -- don’t say such things, gabe! Your easily worth $160 in chemicals -- and up to $45 million if all your spare parts are still working. And with a soul, your value skyrockets – ok, a soul and some fiddling skills. Anyway, don’t sell yourself short – with our without a soul.

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nobody.really
on March 27, 2015 at 23:26:54 pm

I agree for the most part. I think at the heart of the issue is the question of whether dignity is treated as something conferred or as something that does not exist unless it is recognized. The Declaration of Independence hints at the former view (“endowed by their Creator”) and the Nazis adopted the former (lebenunswertes leben). The word dignity derives from the notion of worthiness. In one case, dignity inheres in the person, and in the other it inheres in those who interact with the person.

Religious thought, which assumed that dignity was conferred by a creator naturally led to the concept that slaves and freemen were equal in their practice of religion, which led to more generalization of the concepts of dignity and equality. The nazis, khmer rouge, shining path and instigators of the Trail of Tears, and in fact the political arms of churches, either rejected outright that dignity was conferred by some greater power, or concocted exceptions for political expediency.

1. I sense a No True Scotsman defense here: Oppressive societies don’t believe in dignity. And when our own society, which believes in dignity, is oppressive? Well, obviously, those oppressive members of our society didn’t really believe in dignity….

Most societies proclaim glittering generalities. The USSR’s constitution was replete with proclamations about the value of individual liberty. Of course, the US has basically the same Declaration of Independence and Constitution today has it had in the depths of Jim Crow.

In short, talk about values is cheap.

2. One thesis holds that New England states were founded by Congregationalists, and thus grew up dominated by a dignity culture – that is, a view that everyone has intrinsic value – whereas the Southern States had a more Spanish and Scotch inflection of honor culture – that is, a view that a person’s value derived from how much respect he commands from others.

These cultures produced very different behaviors. In dignity culture, a personal slight should be overlooked – all the better to display your confidence in your own intrinsic worth. In honor culture, a personal slight should trigger protestations and demands for apology – all the better to make a display of your ability to command respect. Honor cultures make displays of politeness and courtesy, so as to constantly convey messages of respect; they also have duels, when demands for respect are not met. And honor cultures make displays of self-aggrandizement, where as dignity cultures would regard such displays as compensation for a kind of insecurity.

The moral is that a) there is no uniform view of dignity in the US, and 2) plenty of religious communities – indeed, perhaps especially religious communities – have been willing to organize to oppress their fellow man.

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nobody.really
on March 28, 2015 at 01:10:51 am

I sense a No True Scotsman defense here

Check the ground wire to your sensor. I wasn't defending anything; I was making an observation and drawing a conclusion from it.

Let me summarize and expand my thought:

1.) There is such a thing as dignity, even though there is no universally accepted notion of what it is. This is not a handicap; we know there are such things as beauty and humor even if they share the same difficulty.

2.) There are at least two notions about the nature of dignity: one that it inheres in an individual for whatever reason, and another that it inheres in the opinions of others.

3.) Dignity derives both its name and nature from the concept of worthiness; some cultures tie the notion of worthiness to the concept of honor, others don't.

4.) The notion of worthiness logically leads to the questions of who is worthy of what, and why. The religious traditions held that these answers were the subjects of revelation; the enlightenment tradition held that the answers could be obtained through reason. (It is worth noting, as an aside that Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration did not hold these truth to be "self evident." His words were "sacred and undeniable." Franklin substituted the language about evidence, albeit in a rather boot-strapped and "figure-it-out-for-yourself" manner. It is a good illustration, though, of the competition between enlightenment and more classical means of persuasion.)

5.) While a nihilist may deny the existence of dignity and declare that worthiness is an arbitrary sentiment, experience suggests otherwise. Individual people are worthy of affection or honor or scorn or loyalty or sympathy. We know this because we can observe that people are recipients of these things, and this seems to be a human reality rather than a cultural, political or religious one. We are wired to perceive that people are worthy of things. Disputes arise over what are those specific things that constitute dignity. The religious tradition is that persons have dignity because they are made in God's image; the enlightenment view (admittedly pared to fit here) is that humans have dignity because they are capable of reason. Neither tradition relied, in theory, on wealth or martial prowess or political power for this notion of worthiness. This made it possible to think of such things as equality and justice outside of the miserable state of nature.

6.) Once we have acknowledged dignity, whatever its nature and even though we cannot precisely describe it, we can use it as a basis for concepts such as liberty, equality and justice. In fact, we have to. Our experience is that people are not equal, in any number of observable ways; not all persons have liberty, nor are they treated justly. These things are not birthrights, not in reality. But they do exist and societies that nurture them are the better for it. But here is the key: even though justice, equality and liberty are salutary to human life and human nature, they are not defaults. Whether they come from God or from reason, they have enemies, often from within, and if neglected they will wither.

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z9z99
on March 28, 2015 at 09:15:45 am

That’s a fine “just so” story. Here’s my version:

1. Humans exhibit compassion toward fellow members of their own kinship group, as evidenced by acts of altruism. Each group developed modes of conflict resolution – typically involving deference to individuals that the group deems to have higher status.

2. As human populations have grown denser, concepts of in-group have grown looser – from tribe to nation to world-wide, and sometimes to non-humans as well. But the fact that we have some measure of compassion for each other has not led to universal acknowledgement of autonomy rights.

3. However, as concepts of in-group have grown looser, and population densities cause interactions to become more common, humans have had to develop modes of conflict resolution that don’t rely on knowledge of and agreement to any one concept of social status. From this need evolved the general expectation of respect for the autonomy of the other – at least insofar as the other’s social status is not demonstrably different than your own. If both the king and the peasant recognize their different social status, the peasant may not expect much autonomy. A similar dynamic may arise between myself and my mom, or between my child and myself: We made intrude upon the other’s autonomy to a greater extent than we would with a stranger because we have a more intimate knowledge of the relative social status involved.

4. “Dignity” is a fancy word used to describe the habituated expectation of this mode of conflict resolution.

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nobody.really
on March 28, 2015 at 12:12:58 pm

Nobody:

No one is supposing that:
a) equality is universal - only that there has appeared to be, at least over the last couple of centuries, an aspiration for it to be so.
b) Men (and women) will forever fall short of their professed goals, aspirations and yes, delusional, at times, beliefs in some higher order of civic existence
c) Jefferson meant to assert that all men are created equal in all things - rather, the assertion, as I apprehend it, is that all humans ought to be able to pursue their own chosen path to happiness using the UN-equal skills, traits, attributes and behaviors that were provided to them by genetics, culture (sub-cultures) and their own parents / familial training

As for the concept of a soul, it most certainly did have a formative and salutary effect upon human thinking and behavior. While it is certainly true that the Lords and Barons were successful in compelling John to recognize THEIR rights, they were clearly not so successful, nor mindful of, the rights of the peasants. According to your schema, this is HOW it should be as we are all simply power driven / seeking base creatures in possession of no higher sense of order or ethics and who will recognize rights only insofar as they serve to sustain our own group or sub-group. And yet, history does demonstrate that these rights were to become more widespread (universal is not quite accurate, as you say).
I would submit that so much of the gain(s) in this area comes from a religious doctrine that first sought to establish individual accountability and redemptive possibilities for human beings. In so doing, it sought to, and succeeded, in separating human beings out from the amorphous mass of the tribe which had previously been their lot. Was it better to be a citizen of Sparta / Athens - or to be an individual human being with a focus on "salvation" above and apart from Sparta. Under your schema, it would appear that you would prefer that I be part of this amorphous mass - or at least you would argue that it is inescapable that I am part of this mass. Clearly we differ on this. In a sense this is one of the better unintended consequences of Christianity - that one may be *apart* from the State or City. As an aside, Christianity was not the first with this concept; Zoroastrianism was - and yet, they never quite achieved the *separateness that the Christian West achieved. (BTW, I am not here concerned with other doctrinal issues or their validity). For you, all men are at all times motivated by greed, power, etc. And you base this upon the failure of some to meet their own professed obligations / aspirations. This is rather sad!
Ah, well, so much for the value (historically speaking) of souls.

As for Jefferson's propaganda, well it was pretty effective wasn't it! This, of course, leads one to surmise that perhaps it was so effective because it contained within it the germs of truth. Certainly, it's reception by its audience, the manner in which it resonated with the people, may cause one to consider if there were not some greater understanding being expressed by, yes, this Virginia Slaveholder. Again, simply because I do not live up to my own teachings should not be sufficient cause for my grandson to go off and do all manner of silly things.

But on a more serious note:

Nobody, do you really see the world as being populated by only racists, sexists, Jew-haters and thieving corporate brigands.
Take a dose of the *equality proposition* for a change; you may notice that oh so many of your fellow citizens actually believe and attempt to practice it. While Z points out, we may have a hard time defining dignity, liberty, equality, I suspect the vast majority of us can apprehend it!

And it is less likely to cause *agita.*

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gabe
on March 28, 2015 at 13:35:37 pm

Nobody:

Now I understand why you get agita. After all having to fight against inequality in cases like this must be difficult;

"“Recognizing the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change,”

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/03/27/dem-resolution-warns-global-warming-could-force-women-into-prostitution-1426537316/?intcmp=latestnews

I wish you well - if required I will send some Prilosec to help!!! (How do you put a funny face in here?)

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gabe
on March 28, 2015 at 15:33:22 pm

nobody.really,

I disagree. The notion of population density as the impetus for respect for autonomy or more refined methods of conflict resolution needs work. The Gaza strip has 220 times the population density of Finland, without apparent refinement of its preferred modes of conflict resolution. China has nine times the population density of Norway without a noticeable benefit to respect for autonomy. North Korea has about the same population density as Switzerland with observable disparities in their views of both conflict resolution and respect for autonomy.

The assertion that "dignity" is a fancy word used to describe a species of expectation neither establishes the validity of that conclusion as a subset of more robust concepts, nor does it impugn the validity of those other concepts. The idea that "dignity" is a post hoc euphemism for the effects environmental influences, even if true in a limited or specialized way, does not function well as a general statement, and certainly not as a refutation of other explanations for dignity. One may as readily assert that "dignity" is a fancy word use to describe the basis of compassion, or to rationalize denials of autonomy (such as proscriptions on certain types of sexual conduct.) Or one may say, as others have that the concept of dignity is not an effect of the way humans interact with each other, but influences how those reactions occur as well. Even if one were to grant the bare assertion that "dignity" is a "habituated expectation" this would scarcely begin to describe the influence that the concept of dignity has on human affairs.

The idea that dignity is a pragmatic result of developments in conflict resolution, even if assumed to be true, which is a stretch, does not acknowledge the profound influence that religion had on the concept. Jesus's treatment of "in-group" ethics was radical for the time; the parable of the Good Samaritan being somewhat out of step with prevailing attitudes. "He who is without sin...," a bit in advance of its time. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount represented an intriguing departure from in-group thinking. And this applies not only the teachings of Christ. The Golden Rule as it exists in any number of religious traditions makes no reference to tribes, clans, in-groups, sewing circles, book clubs, mafia families or nation states. I suspect that the concept of dignity in human relations is much older than your theory suggests.

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z9z99
on March 29, 2015 at 13:09:01 pm

You have a wonderful habit of putting words into someone else's mouth.
Re: soul and equality. I never made such an assertion of a direct connection. Rather that it was one in a series of many actions / motivations or beliefs that ultimately lead to an aspirational belief / practice that men are to be treated as equally deserving of respect, liberty and dignity.

Also, your argument that higher density / greater multi-cultural inputs lead to, or are the cause of a broader recognition of dignity is somewhat off the mark.

What planet do you live on? I suppose that it does not include the Middle East, East Timor or any one of a hundred different strife torn locations - any one of which may be said to be experiencing this "beneficent influx" you so value. You seem to be mistaking an exigent circumstance (increased cultural centrifugal pressure) for a desired result. Sadly, the result you desire has not materialized; nor will it so long as the concepts of dignity, liberty and equality (such as defined by you) obtain. There is simply no end to the demands and consequent expectations arising from such definitions.
One is more likely to see a reassertion of the "native" culture in response to these external inputs. In a very real sense this may be at root what is so corrosive re: the Middle East.
So I just ain't buying your theory of "compressive harmony."

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gabe
on March 29, 2015 at 14:22:34 pm

To return to the premise of "Equal Rights:"

Didn't Amartya Sen make a salient point on this back in the 70s?

When we move from the abstract to the real of humanity and relationships that "equality" becomes a matter of capacities, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

In most societies (or social groupings) the "rights" part of this equation are found to arise out of the perceived, accepted and performed obligations of members of the group to one another amongst themselves. Here again, the capacities for perception, acceptance and performance come into play to produce results at any particular point in any particular form.

Any "Equality of Rights" in any society would be linked to the "Equality of Obligations" in that society; and thus to the way in which that latter is determined - in accordance with, or proportionate to, individual capacities.

All of humankind are created with certain capacities, and thus all are created equally obligated in their relations to all other humans in conformity with those capacities, thereby are the rights of all humankind established and maintained.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on March 29, 2015 at 16:55:41 pm

No one is supposing that … Jefferson meant to assert that all men are created equal in all things – rather, the assertion, as I apprehend it, is that all humans ought to be able to pursue their own chosen path to happiness….

This may indeed reflect how you apprehend Jefferson’s words. But your apprehension differs from the words. Jefferson asserted that “all men are created equal.” By its own terms, the truth or falsity of the assertion can be gauged at the moment of a man’s creation; subsequent events cannot alter the past.

I share your (and Z’s) perspective that we may strive toward greater equality. But aspirations are neither true nor false – let alone self-evidently true or false. For Jefferson to say that his proposition was true demonstrates that Jefferson did not regard it as a mere aspiration. Or perhaps it would be clearer to say that Jefferson he did not believe his own propaganda.

Also, your argument that higher density / greater multi-cultural inputs lead to, or are the cause of a broader recognition of dignity is somewhat off the mark.

What planet do you live on? I suppose that it does not include the Middle East, East Timor or any one of a hundred different strife torn locations – any one of which may be said to be experiencing this “beneficent influx” you so value.

What little I understand of anthropology suggests that humans have not been especially kind to each other over the millennia – and members of traditional societies have been least kind of all. They can behave almost selflessly when dealing with their kin – and ruthlessly otherwise.

As populations have grown over millennia, the opportunity for ever more frequent interactions between non-related humans has grown. We would expect this to produce an ever-accelerating rate of bloodshed; this dynamic should also have been amplified by the growing sophistication of weaponry. Yet in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker shows that the rates of bloodshed have in fact declined.

Can you still find examples of human violence today? Sure; they’re in every headline. But this fact should tell you something: Far from becoming habituated to violence, we regard it as sufficiently noteworthy to report in the press. Likewise, we also read stories about crashing airliners; what conclusions should we therefore draw about the safety of flying?

…this “beneficent influx” you so value. You seem to be mistaking an exigent circumstance (increased cultural centrifugal pressure) for a desired result. Sadly, the result you desire has not materialized; nor will it so long as the concepts of dignity, liberty and equality (such as defined by you) obtain. There is simply no end to the demands and consequent expectations arising from such definitions.

I don’t know where the “beneficent influx” quote comes from or what it refers to. Moreover, I sense gabe confuses is for aught. I subscribe to a different understanding of events. This does not necessarily mean that I prefer that understanding; only that I find it more plausible than the alternatives. Herbert Muschamp remarked, “We do not embrace reason at the expense of emotion. We embrace it at the expense of self-deception.”

Finally: Yes, as far as I have yet observed, I find no end to the demands that people will make when they can. Long after people embraced the idea of a soul, women demanded the right to vote. People with physical disabilities demanded accommodations in employment and public spaces. Gays have demanded equality in marriage. Trans people demand to use public restrooms. Felons are now demanding the right to vote. How much further can this trend go? Who knows? I find no end in sight.

But the point is, whether you llke or dislike these outcomes really has no bearing on whether the evidence suggests they will continue.

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nobody.really
on March 29, 2015 at 18:24:28 pm

" For Jefferson to say that his proposition was true demonstrates that Jefferson did not regard it as a mere aspiration. Or perhaps it would be clearer to say that Jefferson he did not believe his own propaganda. "
1) re: Jefferson: I confess to a certain sloppiness in phrasing: Will restate. The *equality proposition* may be both *true* and aspirational at the same time. It is a truth to which we aspire. I suspect that Jefferson did, even given his rather obvious failure to achieve it.
2)"we also read stories about crashing airliners; what conclusions should we therefore draw about the safety of flying?" - Likewise with equality under the American regime. We do not conclude that flying is unsafe, rather that we sometimes fail to achieve successful flight. So too equality. simply because we have been (some of us) brutish, greedy and stupid in the past is not sufficient to deny the basic proposition.

*Beneficent influx* = shorthand for the exigent circumstance of cross cultural interaction. I was again being sarcastic; my point was that this has not materially affected social intercourse between sects, cultures, etc in the manner you seem to advance. I suspect that we both agree that the world would be better were it to be so - yet, it is not! and probably will not for the foreseeable future.
And it takes us back once again to a problem of definition: each of these cultures defines dignity, liberty, etc somewhat differently, indeed it is defined differently within a culture; what then is to moderate these demands / expectations.

See R. Richard's response below: Perhaps, the best way to moderate it would be to consider (even better, recognize) those obligations which are at root the basis of our liberty and dignity.
I don't think that you would disagree with that proposition based upon past comments.

Lastly, why would you imply that I think these "outcomes" will not persist? - if anything I have argued they will multiply.

As for Pinker, I think the jury is still out unless, of course, one wishes to ignore, the 200+ million slaughtered during the last century by either nationalism, cultural conflict, ideological or sectarian discord. I am not certain Pinker's position is sustainable under the weight of our recent barbarity.

Anyway, back to some really important cultural conflict - the Zags vs the Blue Devils!!!

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gabe

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