I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.– Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
For people who value human progress, science, and so on, this should be a solid argument for giving everyone – nationally and globally – a real opportunity for good education. (1)
For every Einstein, Newton, Rembrandt, or Bach, there are likely hundreds (or thousands) with equal talent who never had the chance to develop it because of their life circumstances. And it’s up to us to nudge our community – and the world – in the direction where more have that opportunity. (By voting for political parties that do a real effort in that direction, by supporting NGOs, through volunteering, and so on.)
As SJG suggests, it’s valuable to all of us to be able to benefit from the genius of more people. In general, it benefits all of us to live in a community and a world where people are better educated. And it just feels right to give others what we would like to receive in their situation.
And for those of us who value people no matter their skills and contribution, we don’t need SJG’s particular argument. Giving as many as possible a real opportunity for education is just the right thing to do.
I assume SJG mentioned this as a nudge to those in the first category (after all, they are reading his book) who may not have thought this through properly.
(1) What does it mean to give someone a real opportunity for a good education? One basic thing is to make sure they don’t live in poverty. If people have their basic needs met, they can send their children to school instead of having them work to help support their families.