As part of the Declaration of Independence from Britain, Thomas Jefferson and co. decided to mention unalienable rights. These are the oft quoted “Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness.” Unfortunately, from the very start, these words have been, and still are, a lie. “All men are created equal” and the following rights were proven as incorrect by the act of slavery. “All men” was really code for “all whites.” Though, even that wasn't true, as women couldn't vote until the suffragists had won. So, “all whites” is actually “all white males.” And still, not even that is true. The rights of a poor white man at that time was vastly different from a rich white man. Therefore, “all white males” is really “all wealthy, white males.” To make the wording of the Declaration accurate, it should have read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all rich, white males 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.” Not so endearing, is it?
For the rest of humanity, what did life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness mean? At that time it meant tearing apart the continent of Africa to fuel the plantations with the lives of black men and women. It meant chaining those slaves to each other and their work they could not escape. Not only that, if they managed to escape, they could be shot on sight (or hung on site), no jury by peers necessary. It meant Manifest Destiny. The forced removal of landowners (the Amerindians) from the lands they had always known. It meant the genocide of those groups, whether from disease or intentional killings, as white men fulfilled this “destiny” to conquer the West. For many, happiness became fleeting, if not non-existent. The Great Depression came sooner than the 1920s.
This style of crushing those different and less than has never ceased. It continues now in our time not only with racism but also in the class separations. I grew up hearing the horrors of the Indian caste system, specifically the treatment of the Dalit (“untouchables”) by the upper classes. Unfortunately, it would appear we have become what we disdained. The fact that we have the upper, middle, and lower classes (and even stratifications within those) is telling enough. What's worse is the rapidly increasing distance between each level. Studies proving the effects of the widening gap are also being released, such as the 10-15 year life expectancy difference from those at the top to those at the bottom. Where is “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” in that? If we truly believed in that line, there would be a much smaller separation. As the character Will Salas from In Time declares, “no one should be immortal, if even one person has to die.” Perhaps I am naively optimistic about humanity. However, I feel we can and should do much better than this.
The standard rationalizations that people need to not be lazy and have more initiative and take more responsibility for their lives are becoming not only obsolete and inapplicable. They are ignorant and in denial. Instead, we must work for more equality: legally, medically, economically. As I have stated before it will take a radical reorientation of society and our selfish natures. Further, we cannot stop with just our city, state, or country. We are all humans, regardless of what artificial boundaries or distinctions have been applied to each others. Who cares if someone has a different dialect, language, melanin level, nationality, gender, religion, or whatever? Any excuse to not care for everyone is an excuse to find the death of another acceptable. I regret that it took my dropping to lower class to come to this full realization. Even as things are looking better for us, I hope I never lose my sense of urgency to remedy this problem. I also hope it does not take a similar drop to lower class for you my reader to have the same realization.