No two individuals are inherently equal.
Being equal and being the same are, well, not the same, at least in terms of people. In terms of math they are.
Given two objects A and B, each with k characteristics a1, a2, ... , ak and b1, b2, ... , bk, A and B are equal if and only if for each i between 1 and k, ai = bi.
Of course, with people, it is hard to classify what those variables might be. DNA? Likely. Interests? Looks? Common history? Occupation? What is significant? What is a "characteristic"? Which characteristics are determined by other factors? If we consider DNA, do we need to consider eye color (assuming eye color is determined by DNA)?
Assuming DNA is a characteristic or set of characteristics, then only identical twins (triplets, etc.) and clones would be the same. But two twins, even identical ones, are never the same, let alone equal. Sometimes one twin is right-handed, the other left-handed. Sometimes one is sickly, one healthy. Genetics does not determine everything. Nature versus nurture.
"Same" seems to not carry a value judgment. Outside of mathematics, "equal" tends to. Even in much of mathematics, it refers to a type of value. If two numbers are not equal, one of them is greater than the other (similarly, the other is less than the other). If we say two people are not equal, then we seem to imply that one is greater than the other, and the other is "less."
Given a particular characteristic that can be measured such, this may very well be true. My brother is taller than I am - hence, in that category, he is greater than I. If "shortness" and not "tallness" were the category, would I not be the "greater" one because I am shorter? However, I am heavier than he - in the heaviness category, I am greater. So, he is greater in one category, I am greater in another. Who is greater overall? Height and weight are not measured on the same scale - if they were, perhaps we could attempt to get a sort of "absolute value" (square-root of weight-sqaured plus height-sqaured - sounds pretty stupid to me) and compare those.
There is part of me that says, well, they must be comparable. In the language of energy and matter, if we assume that is all the universe is really made of (and since E=mc2, energy and matter can be compared), then there must be a way - theoretically - to compare any such characteristics. Let's assume this were possible. In the end, we could determine some sort of comparison for any two people, taken over their lives, for example. What would this tell us? It would tell us something in terms of energy and/or matter. No more.
Hence, it would be useless for whatever purposes we are likely to have. That is, the comparison of individuals in a moral, ethical, social, economic, and politica sense.
We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal...
What does it then mean that all men are created equal? The authors of this document then continue that each person is "endowed by his creator" with certain "inalienable rights". If this is the essence of what it means for all men to be equal, we can draw the following conclusions:
A "creator" is assumed.
These rights are "inalienable", which indicates not only that they can't be taken away, but also that they are a property of the individual in question
Equality is defined in terms of everyone having these same rights; other "characteristics" are not considered important.
Can such rights be inate without a creator? I don't think so. I don't think such rights are inate, and I believe history backs me up on this simply by way of the ways in which these "rights" ("life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness") have been violated and even annulled throughout both ancient and modern history. Even with a "creator", I see no guarantee that these rights exist.
Instead, I claim, these rights are merely rights that a society can chose to use as its basis. Plenty of societies function without these rights; however, I would like to live in a society in which these rights are guaranteed.
That is, I wish, for example, to live in a society in which "all people" are "equal before the law". A society in which I can say what I want, in which others can can what they want, etc. No such society exists. Nor has such a society ever existed, except, perhaps, in the form a society based around a single individual.
Societies are collections of individuals whose collective whole is greater than or equal to the sum of its parts. A society is the interaction of a group of individuals. A culture is something else. A society consists of all of its members, although in a society some members be wield more power than others.
I would like to live in a society in which each individual wields the same political power. I would like to live in a society in which each individual wields comparable social and economic power, and in which such measures of power are established by way of the personal merits of each individual and that individual's interaction with the group. Such measures would be comparable because each individual contributed according to his/her ability, and when chance looked down upon an individual, other individuals would give that individual a helping hand.
Societies should not be rigidly set in stone by codified rules, even though a set of living laws would be necessary as an abstract social glue. The members of a society change. Hence, the composition of the society changes. Hence, the society changes. Hence the glue that binds a society together must take such changes into account.
Individuals in a society should have equal rights and equal responsibilities. Individuals are equal insofar as they have equal rights and responsibilities, and to the extent that they can achieve equal representation within the political and judicial realms of society.
A principle of equality between individuals within a society is, in my opinion, a good thing. That this is not a prerequisite for forming a society is clear. The only option to this is a system which eventually resorts to power relations between individuals. Might makes right. If I am among those with might, then it is perhaps in my best interest to strive for such a society. As no two people can have identical amounts of power, and power is a characteristic based upon many other determining factors, many of which can change, this implies:
Power relations are likely to be unstable
Only one individual can have "the most" power
Hence, the chance of my being the top dog is quite small. Secondly, even if I were "at the top", I would have to worry about losing this power to another. Unless power is my main goal, such a system does not seem to benefit me. Instead, a free and open society based upon the principle of individual equality, seems to best fit my interests.
Since the only characteristics needed by an individual to participate on this level in society is one's "personhood", that is, that one is a living person, then other characteristics should not play a role in determining the access one receives to these political and judicial structures. Societies also tend to place a restriction on such participation based upon minimal age. To some extent this seems rational: should a 1 year old be able to vote alongside 47 year old? I do not think that is feasible. Still, an arbitrary marker such as "age 18" seems at times problematic.
There is no one my equal. What that means, however, is not unambiguous.