Human Diversity and Individual Instruction
[A selection from Education: Free and Compulsory.]
One of the most important facts about human nature is the great diversity among individuals. Of course, there are certain broad characteristics, physical and mental, which are common to all human beings.1 But more than any other species, individual men are distinct and separate individuals. Not only is each fingerprint unique, each personality is unique as well. Each person is unique in his tastes, interests, abilities, and chosen activities. Animal activities, routine and guided by instinct, tend to be uniform and alike. But human individuals, despite similarities in ends and values, despite mutual influences, tend to express the unique imprint of the individual’s own personality. The development of individual variety tends to be both the cause and the effect of the progress of civilization. As civilization progresses, there is more opportunity for the development of a person’s reasoning and tastes in a growing variety of fields. And from such opportunities come the advancement of knowledge and progress which in turn add to the society’s civilization. Furthermore, it is the variety of individual interests and talents that permits the growth of specialization and division of labor, on which civilized economies depend. As the Reverend George Harris expressed it:
Savagery is uniformity. The principal distinctions are sex, age, size, and strength. Savages…think alike or not at all, and converse therefore in monosyllables. There is scarcely any variety, only a horde of men, women, and children. The next higher stage, which is called barbarism, is marked by increased variety of functions. There is some division of labor, some interchange of thought, better leadership, more intellectual and aesthetic cultivation. The highest stage, which is called civilization, shows the greatest degree of specialization. Distinct functions become more numerous. Mechanical,—commercial, educational, scientific, political, and artistic occupations multiply. The rudimentary societies are characterized by the likeness of equality; the developed societies are marked by the unlikeness of inequality or variety. As we go down, monotony; as we go up, variety. As we go down, persons are more alike; as we go up, persons are more unlike, it certainly seems…as though [the] approach to equality is decline towards the conditions of savagery, and as though variety is an advance towards higher civilization….
Certainly, then, if progress is to be made by added satisfactions, there must be even more variety of functions, new and finer differentiations of training and pursuits. Every step of progress means the addition of a human factor that is in some way unlike all existing factors. The progress of civilization, then…must be an increasing diversification of the individuals that compose society….There must be articulation of each new invention and art, of fresh knowledge, and of broader application of moral principles.2
With the development of civilization and individual diversity, there is less and less area of identical uniformity, and therefore less “equality.” Only robots on the assembly line or blades of grass can be considered as completely equal, as being identical with respect to all of their attributes. The fewer attributes that two organisms have in common, the less they are “equal” and the more they are unequal. Civilized human beings, therefore, are unequal in most of their personalities. This fact of inequality, in tastes
Article from Mises Wire