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All men are not created equal

I’ve talked before about nonsensical ideas we repeat as mantra – “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”and “Time heals all wounds” are two of them.  There’s another one, an American favourite, floated on momentous occasions: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”  Okay, the verbiage is impressive, dignified and stirring, but unless you’re a hermit in a cave in Afghanistan, you see every day how hypocritical a statement that is.  An Englishman, whose name eludes me, put it nicely: “Americans hold to the proposition that all men are created equal; it had better be self-evident, for no other evidence for it exists.”

If you think all of us are created equal, get a good quality stereo and play a recording, any recording, of Andrea Bocelli, or play the Miles Davis CD of “Sketches of Spain”; listen to Victor Wooten take an electric bass guitar and make impossible sounds come out of it; watch film of the late Michael Jackson dancing; no one we know of is equal to those creations.

There is mathematical confirmation of inequality in the rankings of tennis players – #240 is clearly not equal to #2 – but you don’t even have to spend time with the list.  Watch Serena Williams, and you will see a player with obviously more power, and even speed, than the other ladies in the game.  Serena is out of competition for four months, and the first match back her ground strokes are more powerful than all the top players who are match sharp.

And don’t let the motivational crowd con you with that “you can be anything you want” silliness.  I can get the best tennis coach, practice night and day for two years, eat and sleep tennis, and my friend Terry Ferreira will get out of his bed in New Jersey and beat me three sets to love.  I may be competitive with Terry on some things, but I’m definitely not equal to him in the athletics arena.

There’s a Trinidadian singer by the name of Gypsy who is well known as a popular calypsonian.  What is not so well known is that Gypsy (his real name is Winston Peters) has a remarkable gift of improvising lyrics to songs.  I’m fairly good at it, but Gypsy is in a class by himself. He will stand up spontaneously and sing verse after verse in the traditional Santi Manitay calypso format that was a feature in calypso tents in Trinidad.  Even more astonishing, Gypsy will do the same lyric improvisation with popular songs. I was with him in a hotel lobby one time waiting for a bus, and to pass the time he began singing popular songs of the day but substituting his own lyrics made up on the spot. You would call a song – Blueberry Hill; Don’t Be Cruel; My Way – and Gypsy would launch into a complete new set of lyrics to fit the tune. In the area of lyric improvisation, Gypsy is so far above the crowd you have to take a ladder to reach him.

I was married to a Caribbean lady once, a very senior government official, who always amazed me with her ability to speak eloquently, without notes, on the most complicated subjects, with almost no preparation. The first time I heard  her do it – I knew she had like 10 minutes to prepare – I  was sure it was a fluke, but after the fifth or sixth performance, without a fumble, I realised she was more equal than most. It was humbling to watch.

And let me plead with you not to bring up the point that the statement was not supposed to refer to ability, but rather that it means equal rights and opportunities under the law or constitution.  In that context, no such condition of equality in mankind exists in any country yet formed.  Indeed, ironically, it is in the area of human possibility and achievement, where it is most often quoted, that the equality statement is most ridiculous.  Look around at how nations treat their people today, and at the unpunished sins of the rich, and you would be persuaded that the cliché should be reworded, “No men are created equal, and many more are more unequal than others.”

Don’t let the political rhetoric confuse you. Equality is actually the least attainable state in the human condition; there are too many factors, innocent or devious, stacked up against it.

It is particularly irritating to hear Americans, of all people, on these very grand occasions, trotting out the “all men are created equal” silliness. In this generally unfair and lopsided world, the phrase is a mockery; it should be dispatched to the rubbish bin.  But then, as the Caymanians say, you know how that go.


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