Are all men created equal?

Are all men created equal?

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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.”

Abraham Lincoln

People who believe in the relative superiority of one race over another conveniently disregard scientific and historical evidence to propagate their theory. On the other hand, they give the following points in support of their contention.

  1. Only the present is relevant. Western dominance in almost every field of human activity clearly establishes the superiority of the Caucasian race.
  2. Wealth, success and power are the only indicators of racial superi­ority and there is evidence to show who possesses them – Caucasians.
  3. A mental test, devised by a man called Binet, which measures what is known as ‘Intelligence Quotient’ accurately determines the level of intelligence, clearly establishes the superior intelligence of the Caucasians,
  4. Ability to perform certain tasks is a measure of intelligence.
Are all men created equal?

Let us analyse the criteria indicated above.

The first two presumptions are classic examples of sample error. History has shown that though at various periods different civilisations and empires had been considered invincible, not one of them has survived. Babylon, Egypt, Carthage, Greece and Rome have all have had their day—only to disappear into the mists of time. If some historian had focused his attention on the first century AD, he would have concluded that the Roman Empire would never decline and fall. Similarly, some future historian might find that a nation which is wealthy and powerful today, might be poor and weak in his period. 

In his book The Mismeasure of Man the renowned, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould has revealed how in the beginning of the last century a handful of racists deliberately distorted the purpose and results of Binet’s IQ tests to keep out of America such as those who in their view were racially inferior. While Binet himself had conceded that the scores did not reflect actual intelligence but had been intended only for identifying the ‘learning disabled’( which itself was questionable and perhaps even unethical) an unscrupulous official named Goddard who was a racist and a sadist deliberately and completely misinterpreted the IQ scores as a measure of intelligence or stupidity and was responsible for a colossal misuse of such unscientific scores to restrict immigration into America.

Are all men created equal?

Describing the plight of the prospective immigrants, Gould said that their failure to pass a simple ‘memory test’ was due to lack of knowledge of the English language, enormous fear, confusion and weakness after a very long voyage by ship to a strange land, rather than due to stupidity. On the other hand, Goddard attributed the failure, to abnormally low intelligence and he enforced a series of measures that did incalculable harm to millions of prospective immigrants chiefly Jews, people from East European countries, Italians and Russians 

Goddard stationed himself at Ellis Island, located at the mouth of the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. It was an island  established  1892 for the sole purpose of enforcing a racially biased regulation of immigration into America -an ignominious  purpose it served for more than 60 years until its  closure in 1954. The infamous Ellis Island saw millions of newly arrived immigrants pass through its doors and an equal number turned away. 

Are all men created equal?

At Ellis Island, Goddard took upon himself the task of establishing an intelligence testing programme in 1913. His aim in introducing such tests was to identify “feeble-minded” morons whose unsuitability to enter America was not according to him obvious to the subjective judgement of earlier immigration officers. In his view, they had made these inaccurate judgments because they did not have the benefit of the results of tests published in 1917. Goddard claimed that his results did not apply to people travelling in first-class or second class but only applied to immigrants travelling steerage. He made a blatantly false claim that no attempt was made by him to determine the percentage of feeble-minded morons, among immigrants, belonging to the four special groups named above.

Are all men created equal?
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

From the results of his tests, Goddard concluded that an estimated 80% of the population of immigrants studied were “feeble-minded”. Goddard and his associates tested a group of 35 Jews  22 Hungarians, 50 Italians and 45 Russians, who had been identified as “representative of their respective groups”. The racially biased results found that 83% of Jews 80% of Hungarians 79% of Italians, and 80% of Russians of the study population were “feeble-minded morons.

  1. Those considered absolutely inferior (mostly from Eastern Eu­rope) were denied entry. God only knows how many Einsteins were sent back. Among those who were lucky enough to gain entry, measures like sterilisation were employed to prevent in-breeding of those con­sidered to be morons. Another entity called ‘mental age’ was introduced on that scale, the average for Whites was 13.08, where­as Poles got 10.74 and the Black Americans 10.41.
  2. The IQ tests as interpreted by men like Goddard were racially biased and obviously flawed. If for example Madame Curie the polish scientist who discovered Radium had taken the test, she would have failed, whereas a white Radiologist from England or Germany would have got a high score.!

The question of superiority in performing tasks as a mark of intelli­gence is discussed by anthropologist Jared Diamond in his book “Guns, Gems and Steel”. Diamond points out that New Guineans tend to perform poorly at tasks that whites have been trained to perform since childhood and which New Guineans have not. Hence when unschooled New Guineans from villages visit cities they look stupid to Westerners. Conversely, he rightly observes that he himself would look stupid to New Guineans when he is with them in the jungle and is unable to perform simple tasks (such as following a jungle track or erecting a shelter, at which New Guineans have been trained since childhood and he had not). He points out that at some tasks that one might reasonably suppose to reflect aspects of brain function, such as the ability to form a mental map of unfamiliar surroundings they appear considerably more adept than Westerners! 

Are all men created equal?

So what lessons do we draw from all that has been said above? It is that the message that Lincoln conveyed at Gettysburg in 1863, has no sanctity to racists like Goddard. However we cannot blame Lincoln for this, Fortunately today’s America is at least making a sincere effort to follows Lincoln’s ideals. It attaches value to justice and freedom though the African-Americans are still being discriminated openly in some cities, where white racists constitute a majority and in a subtle manner in a few other states. But America has at least abolished slavery and declares that racism has no place in their society. This is an ideal every country must strive for while shaping its polity and destiny.

“Nations will rise and fall, but equality remains the ideal.The universal aim is to achieve respect for the entire human race, not for the dominant few”.



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