merica’s obsession with equality predates the very existence of our country. Going back to the Declaration of Independence, when nationhood was still just a gleam our Founding Fathers' eyes, we thought it important not just to state, “All men are created equal,” but to list it first among the self-evident truths. The fact that the line, as well as the rest of the document, was written by a man who owned about 650 people
of African decent as he was putting pen to paper didn’t seem to seriously bother anyone at the time.
Fast forward 100 years, and as a nation we had made so much progress towards this self-evident truth that it was no longer legal in our country to own another human being. Fast forward another 100 years, and we had gone so far as to say not only could you not legally enslave another person, but in law, you had to treat them equally as well. Talk about equality.
It was around this time that the concept of equality was tied to another American obsession, opportunity. America as the land of opportunity is another deep-rooted idea we have of our country. The concept is core to the “American Dream
” we all aspire to achieve, so it is not surprising that, when as a nation we decided to take the idea of equality more seriously, we couched it in terms of opportunity.
o now that this concept of equal opportunity is codified into law, and so enmeshed into our social fabric, is it time to put on our fanciest outfit and prance around the deck of the USS Equality with a “Mission Accomplished” banner strung behind us? Probably not. As a quick Google search will show you (though I make no claims that your Google search will turn up the same results as mine
, there is a lively debate about whether or not America still is in fact the landof opportunity
we have all come to know and love . But focusing solely on whether or not America still holds the greatest opportunity for people, to me at least, means we are ignoring the more important question of whether or not that is really what we want in the first place. Is equal opportunity the true American dream? For, doesn’t assuming opportunity is enough take as a given that people also have equal abilities? Doesn't It take for granted that it is those who are willing to work harder who will ultimately succeed? Perhaps not surprisingly, it seems to just take as a given that all men (and women) are indeed created equal. Unfortunately, all evidence seems to point in the exact opposite direction.
For example, even if you are able to somehow level the playing field (through social programs, public education, etc.) between two people, one born into a rich family in the white majority, another born to a poor broken home with a single parent drug-addicted mother of an ethnic minority, without equal ability do we really think they have equal opportunities in life? Maybe it is too simplistic, but we know for a fact that when it comes to intelligence, all men are most definitely not created equal.
By definition, the average IQ is 100, and the distribution of IQ scores throughout a population is normal
. This means that for every person with an IQ of 101, there is someone with a score of 99, for every person with a 102, there is someone with a 98, and so on. We also know that retardation, though a sliding scale, is defined by having an IQ below 70,and that “gifted” begins at a score of 130. Thus, for those of you reading this who believe you are indeed “gifted,” who may have gone to a top university and now work in a high flying job, for each of you, and I am not saying this just to flatter my readership, there is someone out there who, by definition, has at least mild retardation.
When you go to work, you may often interact with people not operating at the top level. Hell, you may at times call them stupid. Depending on your profession though(e.g., people working in things like finance, law, or consulting) in a typical day will only interact with people who are at least in the top decile. You have to realize where their “stupidity” falls on that sliding scale. As one of my friends in college described another guy we knew, “yeah, he’s dumb, but he’s Harvard dumb.”
We all know by now, everything is relative. In other words, for every person you interact with on a daily basis that has an above average IQ, which for the people reading this at least, I would venture to guess are most of your friends, family, work colleagues,and people you actually take the time to have a conversation with in any given day, there is another person out there who has an IQ closer to mild retardation than to yours. Let that sink in.
Now, given that, do you really think those people have an equal opportunity to succeed in this country? Even if they do not today, do you think that even with a perfectly leveled playing field they would? Focusing on equality of inputs (i.e., no discrimination on race, gender, etc. in schools, housing, employment) seems like a good way to make those of us with greater ability feel better about how we got to where we are. But let’s be honest, these laws were never going to be able to create equality in outputs or outcomes. As long as the greatest input of all, ability, is not equal, are the opportunities really equal?
We are still allowed to discriminate in education (those who do better on tests get higher scores and into better universities, and those who are smarter for some reason tend to do better on the tests). We are allowed to discriminate in our hiring (those who did better in school tend to get the best jobs). And we are allowed to discriminate in the housing we provide (those who can pay more can afford better accommodation in better parts of town, and typically those who can pay more are those with the better paying jobs). No, the discrimination is not gone; it is just that we now tell ourselves that we are discriminating on things that are within people’s control as opposed to those they are born with like race, ethnicity, or gender.
But if you are born to two parents with IQs between 80 and 90, and someone else is born to parents with IQs between 110 and 120, do you really think you will have the same opportunities? If you answered yes to that question, I would have your IQ tested, and quickly.
I am not saying we should move to communism and guarantee equality in outcomes, regardless of ability. I'm just saying let’s be honest with ourselves. Just because we throw the “equal opportunity” label around doesn’t mean we have any such thing, nor does it mean we actually want it. Let’s stop being hypocrites,and call it for what it is. We have a new age, the aristocracy of the intelligent. Now the question becomes: are we intelligent enough to hold onto it?
It is difficult to say what the answer might be here. Our country is more divided now than it has ever been in my lifetime, and we often hear the term "elite" tossed around as a derogatory phrase
, especially in connection with the term liberal. In some schools, kids slack off and don't acheive their potential because it's not cool to be smart
. Of course this isn't the case everywhere, but it is troubling when it occurs. And to complicate matters, intelligent couples have lower fertility rates
, fewer children, and are more likely to adopt. And there are other downsides too
On the other side, we are increasingly coming to realize there are different types of intelligence. People have long used the terms "street smarts" and "book smarts," but back in the 80's Harvard pyschologist Howard Gardner proposed 7 different types of intelligence
, which has since been expanded to 9. So we may not be equal, but we shouldn't necessarily look at that as a bad thing, because it takes all kinds, and the world would be very boring if we were all the same. So perhaps the answer is in how we think of equality; not that all men are created equal, or should be treated equal, but as Tim Robbins said, that equality is not in regarding different things similarly, equality is in regarding different things differently. And to be sure, every one of us is different.