All Must Become Excellent

You may be created equal. But you must become excellent.


1729
1729
• 5 min read
All Must Become Excellent

One of the most famous phrases in American history is: "All men are created equal". But by now, critical theory and deconstruction are so widely adopted that we can take apart the sentence in just a few steps.

  • "All": as we know by now, all American men did not actually have equal rights when the Declaration was authored.
  • "men": this is of course problematic and exclusive in its own right, excluding all non-men.
  • "are created": by who, a divine creator? If one doesn't believe in God, then this too is exclusive.
  • "equal": and this is the nub of it. The concept of equality here can be interpreted as equality under the law or equality of opportunity. And that was not given to all Americans at the time.

Case closed, America's Founding Fathers were hypocrites and liars! Interestingly, those who most agree with that indictment then proceed not to discard the phrase "All men are created equal" but to embrace it, by doubling down on the pursuit of what they see as equality. So the deconstruction has a point: we aren't equal yet, and the Founding Fathers were hypocrites, but we do need to become more equal.

Because the deconstruction has a point, and hasn't collapsed into a gelatinous mass, we can deconstruct this deconstruction by first noting the obvious point that total equality is in contravention of observable reality, and then noting the somewhat less obvious point that the goal of total equality isn't desirable in the first place, because in practice it means strict sameness and enforced conformity.

Total equality is inconsistent with having any leaders at all. The first way to deconstruct total equality is to realize that many people who profess to believe in it still vote for leaders. Indeed, the apotheosis of democratic equality is a quadrennial ritual where Americans name a leader with supreme power. So, power inequality is under-conceptualized. Why isn't everyone a President, or a Senator? Why isn't everyone a Harvard Professor? Why doesn't everyone have front page bylines on the New York Times? Why aren't you the publisher of the New York Times Company, for that matter? We've just moved the inequality around like a plate of mashed potatoes. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others – often those who talk most about equality.

Total equality would mean lab tests aren't necessary. Now observe that an emphasis on total equality eventually leads us to Lysenkoism, to the belief that all organisms are genetically indistinguishable, a doctrine which led to mass death of its own in the Soviet Union. Taken literally, the insistence on total equality would also mean that SNPs do not exist, that genome sequencing and other "omic" techniques aren't necessary (because all humans are equal), that no lab test needs doing (because, again, all humans have the same biology), and so on. Lest you think this an exaggerated portrait of what utopian sameness implies, read the responses to this scientific paper.

Total equality is strict sameness. But the most powerful deconstruction of all is to reconceptualize "equality" not as some idyllic utopian goal, but as drabness, sameness, homogeneity, uniformity, conformity. Equality in the sense of Russia 1917 is not equality in the sense of Russia 1987. In 1917, the promise of "equality" during the Russian Revolution was exciting! By 1987, after decades of mass murder and starvation, and decades more of drab sameness, it was obvious that the only kind of equality Soviet Russia delivered was making everyone equally poor. Well, not everyone – the nomenklatura did better than most – but even they made themselves poorer through the pursuit of sameness than they would have been in the pursuit of happiness.

So if the pursuit of total equality predictably ends up in a dystopian nightmare of dull monotony and enforced conformity, then it's not a good idea to simply double down on "All Men Are Created Equal" after enumerating its faults. Maybe those faults turn it into something you can't double down on.

All Must Become Excellent

This leads us to what we construct in place of the deconstruction of the deconstruction of the Declaration: All must become excellent, the creed of 1729. Let's break this down.

  • Everyone has a duty to transform themselves and others into the best version of themselves.
  • Or, in slow motion: Everyone ("all") has a duty ("must") to transform ("become") themselves and others ("all", again) into the best version of themselves ("excellent")
  • "all" here refers to everyone who has opted into 1729. The creed is highly inclusive in this sense.
  • "must" refers to the duty that everyone in 1729 has. The creed is highly demanding in this sense!
  • "become" is in the sense of self-improvement. Pursue truth, health, and wealth in that order. Wisdom, fitness, and then success.
  • "excellent". Excellent is the goal here, not mere sameness. But that means excellence in the realistic sense of comparative advantage: finding the economic niche where you are the best given everyone else's constraints.

The idea here is to bring out the unique characteristics of each 1729er. It is just a very different vision than mere equality. Your duty is to become the most impressive version of yourself, and my duty is to do the same, and then we can use our skills to build something better together.

Notice how this creed fits hand in glove with transhumanism, the purpose of 1729. All must become excellent is a call to transcend your limitations, to be the best version of yourself, to science the shit out of this.

That scene from the Martian illustrates what All Must Become Excellent means. It demonstrates one of the purest illustrations of the Nietzschean will to power ever depicted in film. Yet it also shows that the will to power is not about dominating other humans, but about becoming the best version of your self.

Let's also note what we've done. The typical response to pointing out the flaws in "All Men Are Created Equal" is to either (a) double down on a utopian ideal of equality or (b) become an Eeyore and give depressing-sounding conservative rationales for why that equality might be desirable, but not actually possible.

This concedes too much. What we've done instead is point out that utopian equality is actually dystopian drabness, strict sameness, enforced homogeneity. So it isn't desirable at all. But we still have an ideal to strive for: rather than utopian equality, we seek utopian excellence.

Excellence is more feasible than equality

Many people who seem to be starry-eyed believers in equality will suddenly sound very conservative when faced with "All Must Become Excellent". Wait a second, they cry! How can all people become excellent? Isn't excellence by its nature something confined to the winner's circle? Isn't this just all must have prizes in another guise?

No, it's quite different. The key is that excellence is defined here in terms of comparative advantage. Are you working in the single best job on the planet for you given your skills and interests? Have you made full use of the talents available to you? Have you given it your all in work, achieved your optimal physical fitness, become the best parent you can be, put in the effort you know is needed to achieve the results you desire?

We all fall short of what we know we should do. But one of the goals of 1729 is to build a supportive society such that all can become excellent. That may mean eliminating carbs from our national diet, building cryptocredentialing mechanisms for people to more easily retrain and find new work, or just inspiring our peers to transcend their limitations.

We're operating far below our capacity as a society. We know this from other places in space and time. The Empire State Building was built in 410 days in 1931. China today can build a train station in nine hours. The population of ancient Greece was just 10 million people, and it produced Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The population of the American colonies in 1776 was only 2.5 million, and it produced Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin.

So there's plenty of headroom for excellence, until we bump into human limitations. At which point we switch over to brain-machine interfaces and biomedicine to transcend those limits.

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