Re: Created Equal (Was: Local Groups Wanted)

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Mon Dec 24 2001 - 15:32:15 MST

On Mon, 24 Dec 2001, Anders Sandberg, commenting on my comments wrote:

> You misunderstand what "created equal" is supposed to mean. You interpret the
> statement in strictly biological terms, and then it of course becomes wrong.
> But the writers of the above document did most certainly *not* think about
> polymorphisms or skin color, they were basing this on *ethical* equality.

I'll offer a voice as an individual with an "American" education (vs.
perhaps a European education). When we are educated in America and
U.S. History is the subject -- in 8th grade if I recall so one is ~14 yrs
old -- "ethics" is not part of the discussion. Ethics comes up perhaps
when one takes philosophy classes in High School or College. I cannot
recall a situation in my education when the Declaration of Independence
was discussed from an "ethical" perspective. So while I may agree with
Anders comments, I strongly question whether the average American
perceives them as Anders does.

What does the average American perceive? Well, if I use the period from
perhaps 1960-1985(?), a significant part of the economic foundation of
the U.S. was the graduated income tax -- if you had more you paid more.
(Also the situation in Sweeden and many other countries I believe).
Now, this was justified to the average American citizen on the "Robin Hood"
principle. The government would take from the rich and give to the poor.
This generated the "welfare" state, affirmative action, quota hiring
and a host of other policies designed to correct perceptions of "injustices".

Given my background and education (typical middle-class American) it
was completely "reasonable" that one should be taking from the rich
and giving to the poor because that would result in everyone being
"equal" (just like it said in the founding documents for our country).
[If you look back into the "town meeting" tradition of government,
particularly in New England, there is a constant thread that everyone
should have an "equal" voice. There is environmental pressure that
everyone *should* be "equal".]

Only since the mid-'80's and the Regan driven simplifications to
the tax code, does there seem to be some reversal of the Robin Hood
principle. The debate still continues today when one sees articles
regarding the salary of corporate CEOs vs. their employees or the
divide between the richest vs. the poorest in a society.

> Don't take it wrong, but your engineering perspective makes you miss a
> reference that is glaringly obvious to anyone involved in philosophy,
> especially political philosophy.

Anders, Anders, Anders... the *average* person has virtually no education
in "philosophy" (at least here in America).

> since a lot of the formulations in the Extropian Principles
> similarly has to be understood in terms of a long humanist and liberal
> tradition. If you do not place them in a larger philosophicl context they do
> not really make much sense.

Then they aren't going to make much sense to *most* people.
According to the U.S. Census Dept. the 20-24 age group (Y2000) is
18.6 million people (~3.7 m people at each age) and according to the
Dept. of Education (
the number of college graduates in Y2000 is ~1.2 million (~32%).

The only Americans who understand "humanist" and "liberal" traditions
are probably those who have a college education and those who study
these areas (philosophy & pol sci majors). So you are now down to
less than ~10%, more likely < 5% of the population.

> What they really talk about here is that every human has an equal inherent
> human dignity, the inherent value of being a human being living a life on
> one's own terms and with one's own goal. From this axiom follows inalienable
> rights such as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Yes. There is an intuitive self-referential argument that one would
want everyone to have equal opportunities because you would also like
to have those opportunities oneself.

But the devil is in the details -- if one buys off on the concept that
everyone has "equal dignity", then one should buy off on the idea that
everyone should have equal starting conditions. So, the human social
environment should be exactly like "horse racing" -- where one handicaps
the horses with greater inherent advantages to make the race an exercise
in fairness (more ethical?) rather than one where one simply selects
those with the greatest gene set (natural selection).
> As for racism, devaluing somebody's dignity because of their genome or culture
> is clearly against this concept of humans as self-developing, self-directing
> goals in themselves. You can of course dislike a person or group of person
> depending on what they do or think, but that should never remove the
> recognition of their basic human dignity.

Ah, but to what extent should each independent actor be obligated (coerced?)
into compensating for the genetic or cultural disadvantages that specific
individuals are dealt?


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