This is a central point from Will Durant’s excellent book, Lessons of History:
- Since Nature (here meaning total reality and its processes) has not read very carefully the American Declaration of Independence or the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man, we are all born unfree and unequal: subject to our physical and psychological heredity, and to the customs and traditions of our group (p. 19-20).
Let’s go through his list here, and see if it holds weight.
1.) Physical heredity – Clearly, people are not equal in this regard. For example, some children are born premature and spend the rest of their lives with health issues. Others are born to crack mothers, or are Aids babies. These children come into the world with a weakened physical state. Thus, nature has not made them “equal” to all the other children.
2.) Psychological heredity – Again, people are not born equal. There are children born with various degrees of mental retardation. In addition to the more extreme forms, we have the lighter – yet still troublesome – afflictions like Asperger’s or Autism. These psychological afflictions play havoc on the child as he/she becomes an adult. The inability to maintain positive relationships, as well as maintain a high-paying job, reduce the person to a veritable ward of the state.
3.) Group Customs and Traditions – True again. Group customs create inequality in people, long before they reach adulthood. Various Muslim groups remove the clitoris of their daughters, Jews remove the prepuces of their boys, etc. These procedures are done to dull the sexual experience, leaving the individual with a handicap that is outside of their control.
Durant’s theory is controversial because Western culture has a cult of egalitarianism. We insist on the idea of equality, even when all evidence contradicts it. Equality has become, on some level, like “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” story. All the adults agree upon a lie, and only the child can see the obvious.
The more we persist with the idea of equality, the more work we create for ourselves; we have to continually defend a theory that contradictory to the will of nature.