Marilynne Robinson in Guernica:
All thinking about the good society, what is to be wished for in the way of life in community, necessarily depends on assumptions about human nature. All sorts of things have been assumed about human nature, and have been found persuasive or at least have been accepted as true over the course of history. We have had a long conversation in this country about class, race, ethnicity, and gender, how the moral, intellectual, and emotional qualities attributed to those in favored or disfavored categories create the circumstances of their lives, and, as they do so, reinforce an acceptance of the belief that these qualities are real, these characterizations are true. When there were no women in medical school or law school, or in higher education, it was easy to believe that they would not be able to endure their rigors. We in this country are fortunate to have a moderately constant loyalty to the idea of equality that has moved us to test the limits imposed by these cultural patterns, some of them very ancient, some of them once virtually universal and now still deeply entrenched in many parts of the world.
Of course we have not realized anything approaching this ideal. The meaning of it is much disputed—does it mean equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? Frankly, if we were to achieve either we might find that it resembled the other nearly enough to make the question moot. In any case, our failures, real and perceived, sometimes manifest as an anger with the project itself, and this distracts attention from the fact that we have made a very interesting experiment, full of implication, in putting aside traditional definitions and expectations and finding that when they are not supported culturally, which is to say artificially, they tend to fade away. We can learn from our own history that the nature of our species, and our nature as individuals, is an open question.