“We hold these truths to be self‐evident, that all men are created equal …” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776.
What made Jefferson think it was self‐evident, we don't know. All the evidence we've seen tells us just the opposite—men are not born equal. One is rich; one is poor. One is fat; one is skinny. One has Viking blue eyes and pale skin; the other has eyes like burning coals and ebony skin. Maybe twins are born equal, but the rest of us are as variable as snowflakes. No two are alike. No two are equal.
When Americans celebrate the birth of their nation, it bothers no one that the founders’ most important insights are palpably untrue. People are born different. It is only before the law that they are equal, and then only if they don't have enough money for a good lawyer.
The English legal philosopher Jeremy Bentham was probably thinking on those lines when he scoffed at the theory behind the American Revolution. “Natural rights,” he growled, “is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense—nonsense upon stilts.”5
People occasionally appreciate the truth in the same way they appreciate a good joke. It breaks the monotony. But it is to falsehood that they look to organize their lives. Myths stick to them like burrs to a sweater. Warren Buffett, for example, is giving away his fortune because he doesn't want to corrupt his own children with too much wealth. “I have given them enough so they can ...