Friday, January 13, 2012

historical equality

According to Rick Santorum,
... America was born great. … What makes the saying on the Great Seal — e pluribus unum — true? Out of many one, what is the one? It is that, that we are a people who are children of God. We are seen as equal. I mean, the idea that all men are created equal, that was unheard of. Women created equal to men? No way! What society did that exist? Rights? Equal? No way. Why was that? Because we are children of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And we were all made in His image.

Others have already pointed out the lack of equality in the original Constitution, and the struggles it took to change that.  I'd like to address a different point.

"What society did that exist? Rights? Equal? No way."

Sorry, Rick, but you are as wrong about world history as you are about our own.  Let me introduce you to the ancient Persians, who made equality a cornerstone of their society until religious fundamentalists took over and messed it up for everyone. 

It all started with a guy named Cyrus.  Not the first Cyrus, he was okay, but it was the second Cyrus who was The Great.  First he built an empire, the big challenge being taking out the Babylonians, the super-power of their time, by finding the one vulnerable porthole in their superfortress and destroying their capital.  Seriously, it was a total Star Wars move and he didn't even need the force, just his (one and only, monotheistic) god, Ahura Mazda.  While he was there he set their slaves free and sent them back to their homes.  (Your guy Jesus?  We're pretty sure his ancestors were part of that group.  No telling if the Jews would have survived in Babylon long enough for him to be born if it wasn't for The Great, but if they did, without The Great's help, it's hard to see how they would have managed to make the trip back to Palestine in time to be conquered by the Romans.  In which case, Jesus would have been born in Iraq, Paul would have spread the word in Iran and India, and Christianity would have been an Eastern religion.  But I digress.)

The Great didn't earn his name just through conquest, though, he earned it as a ruler, and particularly through law.  This one:
 That's the original Bill of Rights.  Written in Akkadian around 539 BCE, it reads in part:

Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions on the head with the help of (Ahura) Mazda, I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them while I am alive. … I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs , I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor. … I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. … I prevent unpaid, forced labor. … everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other's rights. ..No one could be penalized for his or her relatives' faults. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such traditions should be exterminated the world over.

So, freedom of religion and culture, civil liberties, property rights, freedom of movement, and the abolition of slavery. Not too shabby on the equality front.

But wait! There's more!

What about women, you ask? Well, truth is we don't know all that much about the condition of women in The Great's empire. In fact, the only records we have that address the status of women are those of the royal court and the (equivalent of the) federal payroll for the capital city.

We know court women controlled their own property, which in some cases included extensive estates throughout the empire; they traveled freely, on their own, to visit their properties; they competed with men in athletic events; they sponsored religious rituals on an equal footing to men. And while there weren't any ruling empresses, the second in command throughout the empire (after the emperor himself) was a woman - the ruler's mother - and when he was off fighting wars or otherwise unavailable? She had authority equal to his.

That payroll record is even more interesting. Women were paid the same as men for the same job classifications except for the very lowest: the women who worked as pack-mules, carrying heavy loads, made less than men who did the same work. But for jobs where brain matter mattered, the pay was the same. And women were found all the way up the payscale, as engineers, managers, and artisans. Also soldiers; there were women in the Persian army throughout the imperial period. The only exception to equal pay was the bonus paid to pregnant women. Oh, and they had paid maternity leave.

One last point. That bit about, "No one could be penalized for his or her relatives' faults." You might want to discuss that with your church leaders. They could learn a lot from The Great.

You see, Rick, the ancient Persians were not the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though they were very nice to those children. But they had rights and a better record on tolerance and equality than we do. To pretend otherwise is nothistory.

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