The first capital of the United States, Philadelphia lends itself to new ventures.
It’s an apt place to launch this blog.
Its history is bound up with humanism and democracy. Flagship social contracts of the modern era, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were signed here.
But Philadelphia also presents features that make a human view of the world — an encompassing and representative one — challenging.
Like many other cities, it’s home to diverse cultural communities — a microcosm of the world. And it’s deeply divided by class and race. 
The City of Brotherly Love
Visiting Philadelphia has been a stimulus to thinking about the values the US represents, and the values I acquired growing up here and in the UK.
This week I walked past the place where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence — including the famous words,
We hold these truths to be self-evident,
- that all men are created equal
- that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights
- that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
What Jefferson was really arguing for in the Declaration was the equality of American colonists with the British who had ruled over them.
As the historian Andrew Cayton comments:
The Jeffersonians claimed to be a band of brothers or friends. … They were creating a democracy of civilized white males. Other peoples (Indians, for example) might join this fraternity but only if they became like Jefferson and his friends. Blacks, however, were not invited…. Nor were women…. 
The history of Western politics since the 18th century has been in part a struggle to extend membership in the club more widely; admitting even those who wouldn’t “become like Jefferson and his friends.”
Part of this project has been gaining a greater comfort with cultural difference. But it goes beyond cosmopolitanism.
In others’ shoes
One of the highlights of my time in Philly was having dinner with a friend who’s just finished medical school and who’s doing a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology here.
Working at a clinic that serves a marginalized community in the city, she delivers many babies who, like their mothers, are dependent on methadone.
Thankfully there are ways to wean these babies off of drugs.
But, having had a stressful time in gestation, they’re often born early or small for gestational age.
Their parents are often without health insurance.
They’re clearly at a disadvantage from the get-go.
All are not born equal!
Of course these children are born equal in the sense that they’re just as human as other children.
But not in the sense that there’s a level playing field for them to compete with others for advancement, or even for survival.
Whose fault is this?
One school of thought holds that it’s the parents’ fault — if they’d just gone straight, then the child wouldn’t have had the set-back to get over. (“The sins of the mother will be visited upon the daughter.”)
But what if the mom too grew up with the odds stacked against her?
In that case wouldn’t the prevailing ideology of “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” lead to punishment of victims, generation after generation?
Through others’ eyes
This blog is intended to address human issues with what Richard Shweder calls “views from manywheres.” 
I can’t speak with equal authority from all perspectives. (No-one can.)
But like all of us I can try to see through others’ eyes.
And I can draw on the work of people who have often spent years trying.
Sometimes the effort pays off by providing another dimension to an issue, a new insight into a problem.
In Philly it’s been rediscovering the truth of Thomas Weisner’s proposition that the place you’re born has a greater influence over your life chances than anything else. 
I’d go so far as to say that acknowledging this may be a prerequisite for social and political progress in the US and the world.
Phil-adelphia — brotherly love — was all very well for the 18th century.
This century we need to establish Philo-xenias — communities that embrace difference.
 Cayton, A.R.L. (2001). Overview: The revolutionary era and the early republic. In M. K. Cayton & P.W. Williams, eds. Encyclopedia of American cultural and intellectual history, Vol. 1 (p. 164). New York: Scribner.
 Shweder, R. A. (2003). Why Do Men Barbecue? Recipes for Cultural Psychology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
 Weisner, T. S. (1996). Why ethnography should be the most important method in the study of human development. In Jessor, R., Colby, A., Shweder, R. A., (Eds.) Ethnography and Human Development: Context and Meaning in Social Inquiry (pp. 305–324). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.