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New at Reason: Is the Declaration of Independence superseded if genetic engineering means all men aren't really "created equal"? Ron Bailey says don't worry.

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  1. If only Jefferson had written, “”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created politically equal,” we wouldn’t have had all these problems of income redistribution, food stamps, busing, hobos allowed to piss on the sidewalk, etc., ad absurdum.

    However, the gubmint school system allowed Jefferson’s concept to deteriorate into a notion of people’s physical packaging, rather than people’s spiritual or political parity.

  2. Right on, Morris. The DoI means that all people are created equal in the eyes of the law.

  3. I just saw ‘T3: Rise of the Machines’ and I’m just about ready to ban all technology, genetic or otherwise. Sorry, Ronald.

  4. Hey, “B”, did you happen to catch Hillary in that movie? She’s the one with the backwards-folding legs.

  5. I didn’t follow the link, so I don’t know if I’m just rehashing Ron here, but that seems like a silly concern to start with. Of course no two people are born equal in any empirically measurable way, and there’s no reason to think that the Founders thought they were. “Born equal” is just a phrase meant to convey an abstract principle that has nothing to do with our physical state of being. Lance Armstrong is all the proof we ever needed of that.

  6. Sage, next time follow link. Save time. Essentially repeat wording. Echos not required here. :-}

  7. Some people are created so unequally that they wind up in biowaste basket in a abortion clinic. Oops, wrong website.

  8. I agree with Ron Bailey’s contention that the equality is one of political equality, I think he dramatically misrepresents the founders as moral relativists. They (felt) they knew the answers, including the proper limited role of government. They didn’t limit the government out of uncertainty, they limited it out of certainty.

    But even given political equality, how can anyone justify affirmitive action and other clearly unequal government programs?

  9. Bah, people arn’t created equally now. (assuming you mean non-politicaly)

  10. OK, one more time for the slow learners (like Eric Lindstrom) …

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” Thomas Jefferson.
    That is, all persons are created politically equal before the law. No person is better than another when it comes to judging their behavior.

    Yes, he meant politically, Eric. Quit looking at the packaging.

  11. “How can anyone justify affirmitive action and other clearly unequal government programs?”

    They can’t, John.

    It’s a purely arbitrary, guilt-driven policy — as are all the other mob-pressured programs. Has nothing to do with the sort of society we envisioned when we broke away from European statism and authoritarianism during the 18th century.

  12. I think Tim’s arguing that it’s quite alright if a school’s biochemistry dept. is 99% Asian but I’m not sure.

  13. From link:

    The opponents of biomedical progress like McKibben are making the mistake that the ideal of political equality rests on the notion of actual equality. That’s nonsense. The ideal of political equality arose from the Enlightenment’s insistence that since no one has access to absolute truth, no one has a moral right to impose his or her values and beliefs on others. In other words, “I don’t know what the absolute truth is, but I also know for sure that you don’t know what absolute truth is either.” The recognition of this necessary equality of ignorance about absolute truths is one the insights that undergirds the Declaration’s assertion that all men are created equal. This moral discovery by the Founders opened the space that has allowed human individuality and human particularity to flourish as never before in history.

    That about covers it.

  14. Pluto managed to reach the Cut button, folks! Oh, look he also knows about Paste. You’re doing great, Pluto! Good doggie. Now go to sleep.

  15. Well said, Pathos. Thank you.

    I believe Koppelman’s anger may have its origins somewhere, and I hope someday he finds a reprieve, but that anger presently seems misdirected.

  16. Thanks, Mr. Bailey, for another dose of your unwarranted Tone of Authority. Since the interpretations of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence that have prevailed since all the way back in 1964 have held for 39 years so far, we can rest easy.

    If 227 years of U.S. history teach us anything, it’s that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitiution will bear a mighty wide range of interpretations. The “political equality” enshrined in the notion that “all men are created equal” has accomodated 90 years of slavery and free and open trade in human beings, another 100 years or so of segregation laws, laws against not just sex acts but against being homosexual, the Alien Sedition Act, ethnically-based wartime concentration camps and property confiscations, labor policies that allowed employers to beat employees, and 150-plus years of offering women little more legal standing than a slave, a dog, or a 10-year-old boy.

    Contrary to what we’re taught in nearly all public and private schools alike here, the U.S.’s pace at doing away with each of these exceptions to the idea of all men being “equal” has often lagged–by decades or worse–behind even some of those backward monarchies in Primitive, Unenlightened Europe.

    Point being, the liberalism of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence protect nothing but the political system they created. By allowing for full equality and a broad range of things far short of that, these documents have offered a safety valve that’s allowed huge swaths of people to be added to the ranks of first-tier citizens every time the government has been threatened by mass revolt–by blacks, by women, by factory workers, and so on–without major changes to law or the Constitution. That and the separation of powers are the true genius of the Constitution.

    Those Japanese-American internment camps of the 1940s, the Jim Crow laws of the post-Reconstruction era and today’s USA PATRIOT Act should be a reminder that flexibility can run both ways, and that broadening of the franchise can be reversed quickly. Which might mean that while the Declaration of Independence and Constitution may allow the dim and the weak to retain first-tier citizenship in an age of Genetic Designer People, they’re by no means a guarantee of anything.

  17. S&M, do you really see people being disenfranchised?

  18. Equality is a mathmatical concept. x+1=6. This does not mean that x+1 is the same as 6; one is a mononomial, the other is a binomial. One contains only numerals, the other a variable. So what does = mean if not “the same”? It means they have the same mathmatical value. “All…are creatd equal” means that all people are created having the same value.

    This was an important thing to say in a world in which nobles (and the wealthy “elect”) were widely believed to have been created with greater value than the common folk, and in which this greater value was taken as justification for them to have greater political power.

    Pathos is right; the statement needs to be read in its historical context.

  19. My own interpretatation of “All men are created equal” is derived from the context of whom it was addressed to (the King of England), the common assumption of the time that royalty ruled by devine right, and the government that was actually implemented by it’s authors.

    It would seem to me the phrase is simply negating the assumption that the monarchy ruled by devine right. That is, they were simply telling King George they didn’t recognize his right to rule them by any special dispensation by God, he had no more devine right to rule than anyone else. I doubt they ever intended it to be interpreted that all men were intended to be politicly equal (after all, they did limit the right to vote), or materialy equal (AFAIK, they never initiated any redistribution schemes), or equal in status (they did tolerate slavery).

    The Declaration of Independence is merely what it purports to be, that is, a declaration of independence. It would seem clear that any interpretation of the phrase should be understood in the context of the purpose of the document.

  20. This argument about whether or not people are “created equal” fundamentally misunderstands what the Declaration of Independence is all about. It was not a document outlining basic rights; it was a document defining a people — as distinct from a subset of the British empire.

    Jefferson did not write: “Here are some self-evident truths: . . .” He wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .” The subject and verb of the sentence are “We hold . . .” It is about what we think, not about the truth or falsity of our thoughts. You can think other things if you want — and you may even be right — but that makes you British or French or whatever, not Americans.

    Too many people read the Declaration of Independence like it was part of the Bill of Rights, or some leftovers from ten commandments. It is a historical document relating to a specific situation. Attempting to update it to relate to today’s issues demeans both the document and the updater.

  21. Well, if that is the case, Victor and Pathos — if the U.S. Declaration of Independence is a purely contemporary document, to be regarded within the context of its time, and vis-?-vis the motives that gave rise to it (and I agree that it is) — then why are we celebrating today?

    What “independence,” are we commemorating this July 4th, 2003? Are we simply cheering an empty shell? Are we following only an echo of what once was? Are we chasing a mere shadow, every 4th of July? Are we just blindly paying obeisance to a tradition that no longer has any meaning?

    And, if so, what’s the point?

  22. When Jefferson was penning that document, I believe the “we” he had in mind was everyone on this side of The Big Pond who wasn’t a Tory, a traditionalist, or a traitor.

  23. Victor’s interpretation is correct. The equality line is simply the negation of the claim that some have the right to rule in virtue of birth.

    The question of the scope of the “we” in “we hold” is also of interest. It certainly doesn’t mean “we human beings,” and may or may not mean “we _English_ colonists”.

  24. We are closer than most think to a singularity. Once we have the tech to connect us and allow us to be supplied with the same chemicals that make us happy, our efficiency and happiness rate will increase. Social Node Theory.

  25. A network is mathmatically proven to be more efficient when nodes are present. Clusters of information is the nature of its transfer. It is all exponential. Like the technology curve over time. Our individual thoughts are not even close in value to the one statement that our node can provide. Like voting. Our generations are shrinking and people are more and more easily classified. The problem is they cannot get rid of their ego and the idea that they are someone special already. Practice and experience make us special in this world. Our thoughts are nothing without someone elses thoughts. Our little ideologies we have invented over so long have changed with technology. Yet we hold them true when born to them. It is about all of us. The funny thing is that everyone says that we are all special individuals but the minute they hear that we can be mathmatically quantified by our behavior then they get offended. These are the same people that say that we should live in peace with brotherhood, and they are so blind to the fact that tech can do that for us. No, as soon as they hear tech, they say that it is evil. They would have never used that word, that idea if it were not for early tech. Art (tech) imitates life. We are the bridge between what art and what is real. It is always off the mark a little until the singularity. Let go of egos and help others get their ideas out and mathmatically your ideas will follow.

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