Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Isn't That Special

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this famous sentence from the Declaration of Independence is that it's become pretty clear that this particular truth ISN'T self-evident - (even leaving aside the question of whether men have a "Creator" or not) it flies in the face of much of human behavior and history. Since pretty much the dawn of societies, people, as individuals and/or in groups, have yearned to be decidedly UNequal, through the use of the label "special."
Special (adjective)
1. Exceptional or out of the ordinary
2. Worthy of more or better privileges than others; not subject to the same rules and restrictions
3. Worthy or deserving of more love, approval or consideration than others
4. Physically, mentally or socially handicapped
I list some of the connotations of "Special" because whenever the topic of the various "isms" comes up in discussion, this is what's really on everyone's minds. At its base, fill-in-the-blank-ism is about defining one or more groups as being Special, in either its positive or negative connotations, based on their skin color, religion (or lack thereof), ethnic background, sexual orientation, birth caste/social rank. Apply the first or the last connotations to whomever you want, in any order you choose - as long as it means that you make a legitimate claim to 2 or 3 for you and/or people you like, then it's worthwhile.

And the real issue that many of us have with one group or another being Special is that it doesn't take much to be an astute enough student of history to realize that "Special" often means "abusive" or "abused." History is rife with examples. But perhaps more importantly, in the context of history, no-one ever sees themselves as being abusive or evil, or their targets as being undeserving of their fates. Hardcore war criminals don't run around sporting smart black capes and Snively Whiplash mustaches. Nor do they consult the "Big Book of How to Do Evil," that they bought on Amazon when they need ideas. At the time of the acts, and in the vast majority of cases, for decades after the fact, they see their actions as perfectly justified. "Well of course it would be a major atrocity were someone to just go into a community and kill a number of people," they would tell you, "But this circumstance when WE did it? Well, that was SPECIAL."

As a result, there is a certain level of fear, in both liberal and conservative circles, of people finding a "legitimate" means of making themselves or someone else Special - usually at someone's direct expense. This can lead to a certain level of aggressive egalitarianism. But it can also lead to a race to the top, wherein several groups compete to be the most special, the most deserving.

For my part, I don't believe that any one group is more worthy or deserving than any other group. Under any circumstances. Regardless of history or social standing. Notwithstanding admittedly exceptional individuals within that group or their achievements. And I realize that this is going to put me at odds with certain people some of the time, and a small slice of people all of the time.

Whether or not racist, sexist, jingoist (et cetera) ideas are based at all in reality is beside the point. That really shouldn't matter. If we remember to treat that one simple truth from the Declaration as, self-evident or not, important enough to teach to our children (nieces, nephews, students and/or any other young people one can catch), aggressively work for, and maybe even to fight for, then it won't matter. If we decide that we're all together in taking exception to "Special," we won't need to fear lame justifications any more.


ben said...

Communism proved that little ditty of unreasonably optimistic thinking completely wrong. Just by voting you're saying "this group is better than that group". And, until everyone you meet or know makes exactly what you make you're defacto accepting that some peoples lives simply aren't worth as much or are worth more than yours. As for the "rights" well, theres a huge line of exceptions perhaps, most notably, the 1 in 20 prison population.

twiffer said...

i've always taken the concept of "created equal" to mean that everyone gets the same shot from birth. what you do with it is up to the individual. not everyone will succeed; that is determined by one's abilities. but, the opportunity should be there.

this is also why i think education should have a national baseline and that it should be provided for thru getting one's bachelor's degree.