Social Commentary

Inequality in the 21st Century

Blog Action Day“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These first words to the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, and proclaimed on July 4, 1776, are what most U.S. residents think of when considering equality—we all are created equal.

A month earlier, George Mason had written the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which included, “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which… they cannot deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

As Jefferson and Mason both understood, liberty meant the right to own property, including slaves, something each of them did.

Whatever liberty and the enjoyment of life we have gets parceled out unevenly at birth. We are more alike genetically than different, but the circumstances into which we enter life and live make us more different with each passing day. The cards are already dealt in terms of family, religion, and social and economic status when we are born.

For those who come into a life of wealth and property—an increasingly small portion of the population—life can be good. For the rest of us, it can also be good, but we have to find our own happiness and hope our liberties are not eroded by the government our forbears helped create to protect them. That is hard to do in today’s political environment.

The influence of money in politics favors the wealthiest among us and has been eroding the commons and our well-being since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We held back the Robber Barons once. It seems unlikely the political will exists to do it again… yet.

On this Blog Action Day, what matters more is not the life we possess at birth, influenced by others. What matters is the way we seek common ground and lend each other a hand in times of adversity.

For if there is inequality in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and there is, it’s whether and how we come together to fight oppression and get back to the best part of what the founders intended that will help resolve the greatest inequalities among us.

Today is a small step toward that end.