What does the idea that we are all equal really mean?
Well, to begin with, we have to define “we.” Because if it’s one of the more obvious definitions, including everything about us, then we’re obviously not equal. We’re all different, and constantly changing. Of course we are. How could anyone believe we’re all equal? Well, without specifically discarding things from our definition of what we are in order to find something that can be considered “equal,” what are we, really? What is the core of each of us? What are we that doesn’t change?
Not what we call the “mind,” the perpetual inner commentary on everything, and our opinions and emotions. Not even what people call the “soul,” an immortal mind. Awareness, consciousness, the I that simply exists, not the one that thinks, in the quote, “I think, therefore I am.” The observer.
Of course, one can only be experientially aware of one’s own sentience. We believe it exists in others, but become less and less convinced the less similar the observable parts of others are to our observations of ourselves. For example, most would say animals are conscious, but plants? If plants, then rocks? I think the majority would say no about rocks and likely also plants. But consider a coma patient who has become aware of the physical world but is incapable of any type of mobility or communication. This person has consciousness, and brain scans would be able to detect activity in response to external stimuli. What of a coma patient who hasn’t regained awareness of the outside world?
Many believe that consciousness is a brain-based phenomenon, and that is possible. If so, could an artificial brain have consciousness? How would we know if it did? And if not, then consciousness could be anywhere and everywhere. We don’t know, I don’t know. Maybe we can’t know. I’ll explain my current hypothesis in the next post.
But we live in this world together, and if we only believed in the consciousness we’re directly aware of (our own), we’d all be sociopaths. That would probably be an even more dysfunctional world than the one we’ve got. So let’s assume we’re all sentient.
Given that, the root of what we are is consciousness itself. Yes, we’re here in this reality with our infinitely varied capabilities and experiences, but those are in constant flux. If you compare yourself now to when you were young, you’ll probably have plenty of differences to note, and yet you still see that younger version as you. Throughout everything you’ve experienced, the only thing that has remained the same, the only thing the younger and current version of yourself must have in common is that your consciousness was present.
And everyone else is that, too. Everyone is equal. In these terms, the absolute value of each individual can be no greater or less than any other.
In practice, evaluations and judgments are necessary, but the closer we can get to honoring this sense of equality in the real world, the better. Class, gender identity and presentation, race, sexual orientation, preferred relationship style… these are part of who we are, but in reality can never make us anything but equal. We need to do everything we can to remove artificial inequities from our society, from the seemingly insurmountable, like the political power of oligarchs, to the silly, like the social taboo of visible female nipples.