By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

My very dear Flanuering Turtles, have you ever felt behooved? If you haven’t, do you ever wish you had? This question burns in my sweet breast for I’m looking for soul mates, in this case people who have felt at one time or another quite or even very behooved because I believe I’ve been smitten with a feeling of behoovement. Never having experienced being behooved, I’m feeling both elated and a bit uncomfortable unsure if it’s really behoovement I’m feeling.

Amidst this uncertainty, I’m going to proceed on the assumption I am, indeed, feeling behooved and what I’m feeling behooved about is my wish to provide some expert thoughts on politics, and political activity given the increased acrimony our political system seems to be generating and the area of my academic expertise which is supposed to be in political science.

The simple point I wish to make which hopefully will help clarify the muddy debates currently raging abroad the land is that the principles upon which our country is based are exceedingly complex and so we shouldn’t be surprised if at various times in our history we find our politics rife with controversy.

On this my maiden voyage out, I’ll briefly take up only one such principle namely, the core idea our political system depends on which is equality, the principle first expressed in the Declaration of Independence, one of our country’s most important founding documents. And there it says that it’s a self evident truth that all men are created equal. Before proceeding further, let’s rid ourselves, at least for now, of one possible controversy and agree that the word “men” means human beings, or all men and women.

Now let’s examine this statement more closely, naively asking ourselves if we think this statement is really, really, true. For instance, let’s look at the author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson. Does this man appear today or way back in his time to be every other person’s equal? Well, what about IQ? Probably Jefferson’s IQ was higher than most folks living in Virginia in the year 1776, especially in July of 1776, and it’s a good guess it’s higher than most people’s IQ even today. I mean honesty compels me to admit it’s a lot higher than my IQ, seems to me.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

But also Jefferson was much taller than I am; he was a far better writer, thinker and, overall, a much more creative person than I can claim for my poor person. So trying to understand how I’m Jefferson’s equal presents a challenge to me, and to you too, my dear Turtle Dove, for you’re going to have at least as difficult a time as I’ve had showing how we (Jefferson and myself) were created equal. And for all I know he was also created a better athlete than I am, not to mention being better looking while enjoying a better sense of humor than I have.

Indeed if we look around the room–any room– we’re likely to find people who are more creative, more intelligent, more athletic, and better looking than we are and maybe a fair number also enjoy better health than we do. Yet we might also notice that we’re ahead of the pack in a number of these areas. So a not surprising conclusion we might come to when we think about equality in terms of the gifts we’re created with is that their distribution isn’t equal, the Declaration of Independence notwithstanding.

declaration-of-independence-1776But to fully appreciate the complex nature of equality we also need to survey our world in terms of the conditions in which we live our lives. And we’ll quickly find these conditions, like the gifts we’re born with, don’t seem equal. In fact, they display a remarkable degree of inequality. For instance, we see, hear, and read about large inequalities of wealth, health, status, power, recognition, and achievement.

If all the above is true, cold hard logic would probably force us to conclude that basing a political system on the concept of equality would prove a very difficult undertaking, which I believe it is. And it wouldn’t be surprising to find lots of issues people would be concerned about become very controversial because in many important ways people aren’t created equal. Consequently treating people equally isn’t always such an easy thing to do. Moreover, determining exactly how equal people’s living conditions should be is also difficult, even for people who are created with far more intelligence and creativity than the majority of folks, which includes me, seem to enjoy and make use of.

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