Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Self-Deception and Equality in America

While discussing the question of "self-deception," in class, an interesting question came up: what exactly do we mean, or more precisely, did the Founders mean, when they wrote "all men are created equal?"

Obviously, not everyone is created equal - everyone has a different talent or skill. So then what exactly does "equality" mean?

Does equality mean equal rights under the law? What kinds of rights?

Does it mean equal opportunity... ie... "pursuit of happiness?"

Does it mean equal wealth?

Can equality be all of these things at once? Can it be something else?

Who determines what this "equality" is?

And... relating back to the original question - does this "equality" exist in America today? Do we tell ourselves that it does? Why?
Anyway, lots of questions, few answers, but I'd like to know what you guys think.


Michael Bannett said...

I think that the equality the founders refered to when they wrote that "all men are created equal" mostly implied equal rights under the law. There is no way to provide equal wealth (at least not in a democracy), so I highly doubt they had any notion of economic equality in mind at the time. I imagine that they wished for equal opportunity, but I don't think that this quote was intended to provide that.

The more important question to answer is the question of the existence of equality today. I believe that true equality does not exist (the equality to which i am referring is equal rights under law), because every level of law enforcement, from police to judges and justices, is subjective. Law enforcers and decision-makers all have their own biases, making absolute equality impossible. I also believe that we as Americans have a tendency to convince ourselves that equality exists. Part of the reason we (and i am generalizing here) so readily convince ourselves is because we have come such a long way in how "equal" we are. People are likely to think briefly about the question and say "well, slavery no longer exists, segregation no longer exists, so yes, equality does exist in America today."

Hope this helps a little

Tal said...

I agree with most of what Michael says. Coe and I discussed this a lot during class since we were paired up for the discussion.

We tried to site specific examples of where equality did not occur. We both concluded that our last portfolio entries were examples of this. My specific portfolio focused on socially based ideas of inequality. i mentioned this in a previous comment a long time ago but to recap..

two groups of stanford students were given the same test. one group was told it was an intelligence test, the other was not. both groups were racially mixed and comprised of students with similar grades etc. in the group that was told that it was an intelligence the minorities in the group scored significantly worse than the white students. in the other test everyone scored similarly.

Does this count as equality or lack there of? according defining "equal opportunity" according to things only under the law where does this situation fall? is a social concept that influences performance promoting inequality? is there anything that can be done about it?

Aaron Huang said...

Although equality exists in America, I think that there are some places where the concept is more generally accepted by societ. Areas where racial discrimination is prevalent throughout the community will obviously not have equal rights for all. Although the founders believed that "all men are created equal," there are some who think otherwise.

Many people claim that equality exists in the U.S. today because they want to put America (themselves) in a better light. It is easier to say that everyone has equal rights than to admit that some people have more rights than others.

Although this may not sound very optimistic, I think that it will be very hard to achieve equality for everyone. Like Michael said earlier, we all come with our own biases and opinions. The issue of wealth also comes into role as well. The existence of different social classes creates a different range of opportunities for each class. We live in a capitalistic world where money plays a big role in life. Do you think that it's possible to live in a society where money does not influence one's rights?

Melanie said...

Once again, I agree that the Founders meant equality under the law. However, I think "equality" over time has come to mean a lot more to Americans. For example, affirmative action, in a way, is supposed to guarantee "equal access to opportunity." Thus, I think equality is only guaranteed by the Founders under the law, but there is also a desire of Americans to promote other forms of equality.

Looking at the legal system in America, I can hardly say that equality exists under the law. Overwhelmingly, in court, the rich and powerful person will win over someone poor. Judgment and punishment often have nothing to do with the truth and tend to have to do with the size of one's wallet.

I also think equality under the law is endangered when citizens do not know the law and their rights. I think inequality and unjust enforcement can occur when people do not realize the rights to which they are entitled.

Casey J said...

To begin, I think that by no means can equality exists in all the areas that Coe mentioned in the post. I think that trying to provide equality under the law, in wealth, opportunity, etc. is unreasonable because there is no way to guarantee that every individual in this country will possess the same level of intelligence (which I believe is often equated with one's amount of wealth) or have the same opportunities to succeed.

On the question of whether equality exists in the U.S. today or why we tell ourselves that its does, I think that yes it does exist in some aspects, but that a great deal of this belief comes from knowing that, as Michael Bannett mentioned above, slavery and racial discrimination supposedly do not exist and therefore we are an "equal" society. I think that we convince ourselves of equality in some ways because it is easier to say that we, myself included, are equal than it is to deal with the problems and tension when there is no equality. I think that to some degree I convince myself that our country is equal in many aspects, especially because we are often looked upon as the model of a free and equal country and thus it is easy to believe in the generally held idea.