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Each to their own – are we all born equal?

How many times have you had discussions as to whether or not people are born equal?

Personally I thought the argument in favour of NO was long-since won, but apparently not. Having managed to get part way through Stephen Pinker’s book “The Blank Slate” only to give up as it was a couple of inches thick and he’s not the most engaging writer, I happened to stumble upon a video in my favourite “hall of learning” – TED. The video is embedded below in case you’re interested but in essence he puts a very clear case to say, well, NO, we’re not born equal or anything like it. Amazingly however the myth has persisted for largely political reasons – if we’re not equal, then that makes discrimination ok… or at least to some. Another burning reason to pretend we’re all equal is the title of Stephen’s book – the blank slate. If we’re all a blank state then it is perfectly legitimate to use social engineering to “perfect society”.

Personally I’ve never accepted the premise that we’re equal. Firstly modern genetics tells us that some people are predisposed to various diseases and defects – so that’s the PHYSICAL side of equality out of the way. You can’t be equal if you’re more likely to die early or less likely to develop muscles than someone else…. which leaves the mental side. We’re animals, right? and we’ve all watched endless shows on TV that show fairly simple creatures who you would not expect to think beyond lunchtime, live their lives as if there was a purpose… birds migrate, deliberately, exactly, generation after generation. Do they plan this out with Google maps? No. Do they plan at all, I don’t think so. They use instinct, in other words some things are genetically imprinted on animals and are passed from generation to generation.

We are predisposed to verbal language, we are predisposed to swimming and walking…. this is not all LEARNED behaviour, there is something in there that tells us what to do – pre-programming if you like – and that means some will be better than others, not because of schooling or parenting – but because some will have more finely developed instincts than others.

In one example in his video, Stephen Pinker describes the comparison of identical twins separated at birth meeting up as adults wearing the same clothes, same hairstyle etc. It’s a stereotype but studies repeatedly show that in these circumstances, twins really DO retain similar if not identical mental characteristics despite wildly different upbringing and social lives. Quite the opposite is true of adopted children who may live in the same house with the same parents and same friends but end up wildly different as adults.

It seems to me that the evidence is crystal clear and irrefutable – we are not all born equal. I would not go so far as to endorse every word in the video, I can tell you that it is interesting and worth the button-press.

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