Humans are, well, weird. We can blame it all on the Creator, of course. He gave us free will: the ability to decide for ourselves what to think, say, and do. Well, some of us think so. Others say we should consider that all of us were ‘primitive primates’ at one juncture in our long history. We may agree that many people like to think we are morally or otherwise superior to our brothers and sisters. And are usually the first to stumble.
But too many people state, flat-out, “no person or civilization is better than another.”
There we draw the line. I strongly disagree with that, either on an individual level or of a society as a whole – whether a small community of a few dozen or a vast “civilization” of millions of people over decades or centuries.
What makes a society or community or civilization superior? Two major characteristics that have almost nothing to do with technology or wealth. These are:
(1) the amount of liberty (freedom) those in that society have and the liberty (and usually, therefore peace) of those outside that society but in contact with them have, and
(2) the concern (love) that the members of that society have for each other and for those outside their community.
This is partly measured in trust – external and inside the family, clan, class, etc. Societies – civilizations – with liberty and mutual love ARE BETTER than societies in which there is tyranny and distrust and exploitation. Whatever sources those come from: government, business, religion, tradition. So there IS a relative difference in a civilization’s worth. Even if they do not live up to their ideals and aspirations, the more they value freedom and trust – and practice what they teach – the better they are.
Therefore a person who lives up to these ideals of liberty (which includes personal responsibility for your actions) and love (selfless, brotherly love which motivates us to action) is better. Not “worth more” and not “superior” but better the eyes of others.
Now, a question comes up: how does slavery fit into the above view? Especially the American sort before 1868? A commenter points out “While the plantation owners had their own liberty, the slaves did not.”
Slavery, like many other ancient evil institutions, is neither a part of liberty or a part of loving (and trusting) others. But we humans are a fallen species and so our societies reflect that fallen status: we prey on one another by TAKING others’ liberties and by DENYING others should be loved and trusted.
Slavery was far more than some “plantation owners” – at the time Europeans started settling in North America, and even by the time the Thirteen States won their independence and began creating one of the most unique cultures and societies (or groups of cultures and societies) in man’s history, virtually EVERY society and culture, and EVERY government practiced slavery – a very ancient evil.
Virtually every North American colony in the 18th Century – Brit, French, Spanish, Dutch, etc. – had slaves. Both race-based and other kinds. Look at records and historical maps: you see that there were slaves in virtually every Northern State as late as the 1830s and even into the 1850s. These weren’t plantation owners or even farmers: they were shopkeepers and manufacturers and financial people. And slave counts did not include indentured servants and prison/poorhouse/ asylum labor and apprenticeship systems which were slavery in all but name. (If slightly different from race-based chattel slavery or earlier Roman-style slavery.) I have not yet found a single AmerInd tribe or culture that did not practice some form of slavery at that time – and for centuries before then. Slavery is NOT an American or European evil. It is a universal evil.
It took time for people to overcome the customs and teaching of centuries, part of which claimed that God advocated for and encouraged kings (“divine right”) and slavery. In reality, the Bible shows He abhors such things and warns against them. But that is not what the clergy preached for centuries, because they didn’t teach the Bible. Some of what they preached and practiced, came from ancient pagan sources – Greek and Latin to name a couple, but we can also throw in middle eastern and African cultures. Romans and Greeks prized their own liberty – but had slaves. Arabs, Huns, Mongols, Medes and Persians and sub-Saharan nations had slaves and warred constantly long before Europeans (even Greeks) controlled those areas.
The history of slavery is also tied to a nasty little thing called tribalism. Tribalism can pervert ideas of liberty and love:
MY tribe is the only “truly human” group: everyone else is more than animals but either enemies to be feared if they are stronger in number or prey to be exploited if they are weaker. Only we have to be free, only we have to have love for, and trust in, each other.
Nasty, eh? Yet that constant pull towards some form of “tribe” (or clan or sept or whatever you call it) is a fact of human life. We must constantly fight it.
It is hard, very hard, for an entire society to reject tribalism, No different than rejecting slavery, kings, and for that matter, human government as the evils they are. AND societies – because of the people in them – also are prone to backsliding.
Societies and cultures with personal liberty and with love (agape) – and therefore widespread trust – tend to grow and expand and become more prosperous, more peaceful, and more free. BUT they are not perfect: frontier areas and eras seem to encourage evils like slavery and other forms of immorality, and to give human predators opportunities to do evil unto others (and one another, of course).
Still we must conclude that some societies, some cultures, and yes, some people ARE better than others. Based on how they think and act – not their ancestors.