Right vs. Law

Professor Eric Posner of the University of Chicago Law School makes the case against Human Rights. In short, he claims that the Human Rights have failed, and that the world needs a more humble approach to replace our current effort.

It is, in essence, a lawyer’s view of a philosophical issue. His interesting, but in my opinion completely wrong argument was summarized almost ten years ago by George Carlin:

These are not rights; they are Privileges. Privileges!

Posner makes the same comment, but – as someone who implements law – draws the wrong conclusions. He argues that Human Rights aren’t – nor can ever be – universally enforced, and hence must be abolished in favor of a better, new (yet unspecified) construct. He may be right from view point of someone who considers case law a viable method of jurisprudence. He may even be right if you are primarily concerned with implementation versus ideals.

From an ethical standpoint, however, he’s completely off the mark. Yes, Human Rights, unlike Physical Laws, can be broken. They are rights, not laws, and it requires an effort to have them enforced. Most countries, including the USA, UK and most European countries don’t enforce them enough, or legislate around them (e.g. the USA allowed torture in the wake of 9/11 – as Posner points out).

Carlin was spot-on: Human Rights are privileges, and a country must be in a position of relative wealth to ensure them. No country is there yet; many are far, far away from the day where all human rights are universally enforced.

But abolishing human rights is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As Rousseau once remarked, Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse. Human Rights are a good first step, and they have improved over time – proving Rousseau’s quote. We are where we are today after more than one hundred years of limited progress.

Human Rights, given enough ethical reasoning, become obvious once you start pondering the questions of what defines humanity. So the question shouldn’t be ‘what new construct should we use to replace Human Rights’, but ‘what must we change how to better implement Human Rights’ – even if we suspect that this may be a fool’s errant.

To give up and re-set would be phenomenally unwise. We can talk about replacing our current human rights with new constructs as soon as we have something that is objectively better. Until that day Posner is merely pointing out the obvious: our current implementation of Human Rights is lacking. Unless we have something better, we should stick with what we have and try to improve.

Why bother?

Often, I’m asked why I even bother; why don’t I just shut up and ignore all those religious idiots? After all, it’s none of my business; I really should care less about what people believe. As one exasperated fundamental Christian asked: ‘If you don’t believe in God, why do you keep talking about Him’? And isn’t belief in a benevolent God a good thing?

Of course, most of that is correct: I shouldn’t care about other people’s religion; mostly I don’t. Belief in supernatural beings can be benign. The problem is, however, when someone’s superstition adversely affects the freedom and well-being of others.

In 2004, a devastating Tsunami hit the Aceh province in Indonesia. A horrendous tragedy. Every rational person agrees that this happened naturally. In deeply religious (and therefore scientifically retarded) Aceh, however, those in power saw it as a sign from God that they weren’t pious enough. As a result, Aceh now has one of the most draconic, barbaric and misogynistic Sharia in place that punishes even trivial things like not going to prayer on Friday. It’s irrelevant if you are a muslim or not, by the way. You either go to prayer – or the stockades, awaiting your punishment. Sharia has outlawed cinemas, heavily restricts what – if any – music you may listen to. Women must no longer straddle a motorcycle, nor are they allowed to wear pants.

If you now think that perhaps I’m citing an extreme example to make a point – please recall that less than 50 years ago, children’s playgrounds where closed on Sunday, and dancing was forbidden on holy days – in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and most other European countries.

So the next time you ask why bother, ask yourself: how would you like ten lashes from the whip for skipping a service for the Flying Spaghetti Monster (blessed be his noodly appendages)?

That is why I bother.

And so should you.

Human Farce

The Tories in the UK are proposing a new Bill to end the ability of the European Human Rights Court (ECHR) to oversee England’s legislation. On the surface, it even has the semblance of reason: removing oversight, the Tories argue, will make sure that foreign criminals and terrorists lose their right to stay in the UK.

Is this a wise course of action? No. Hell, no!

Repealing higher authority on Human Rights issues opens the door to the same totalitarian government that was rampant in Europe not 100 years ago, and still is in those European states that are not signatories of the ECHR act. Because it’s not only the rights of terrorists that are being repealed – it’s everyone’s rights that are being encroached upon. It used to be that the need of many outweighs the need of a few. Now this principle is stood on its head: the need to get rid of a few, it is argued, outweighs the need of all to protect their human rights. This is a very, very dangerous idea.

Similar to the PATRIOT act in the US, legislation already passed in the UK gives authorities rights to seize and imprison you under trumped-up charges. A brief example: David Miranda, partner to the Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwalt who broke the NSA Snowden case, was held at London Heathrow under terrorism charges, was denied access to lawyers, and all his electronic devices where confiscated. Yet Miranda never was a terrorist suspect. Demonstrably, this was an attempt to get at Greenwalt for exposing the NSA Scandal. This is a direct violation of European Human rights, but already legal in the UK under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act (people stopped under schedule 7 have no automatic right to legal advice and it is a criminal offence to refuse to co-operate with questioning. Critics say that among other things, this curtails the right to remain silent). Do you really want to remove the last vestiges of oversight that prevent security forces from running roughshod over your loved ones in order to get to you?

The Human Rights are a central pillar of humanity. Are they perfect? No. But we should strive to increase their influence and better them instead of lessening the authoritie’s incentives to adhere to them.

The core of the human rights are

  • the right to live
  • freedom from torture
  • freedom from slavery
  • right to a fair trial
  • freedom of speech
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • freedom of movement
  • [EU exclusive] freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity

Look at the list above and ask yourself: Who in their right mind would want any less of that? Who would want to curtail everyone’s access to above rights? Do you really think the UK would be better off if they rescinded these rights in order to get rid of a few unsavory characters?

The Daily Express has called the Human Rights ‘madness’, the Daily Mail a ‘farce’. I know that learning from history is something that isn’t en vogue these days. But comparing their comments with what the Völkische Observer wrote in the 1930s gives me an unwelcome deja vu.

The scary people over at Express and Mail have called Torie’s new proposal a ‘triumph’. Well, if that’s what you think it is, here’s another scary phrase you should become comfortable with:

Sieg Heil!

Dark Horse

US pop star Katy Perry has produced a video for her song ‘Dark Horse’. In it, she portraits a Pharao or queen with magical powers who, among other antics, turns people bearing gifts into sand – and keeps the gifts. Simple imagery, simple melody, everyone gets it.

Except, it would seem, for some stuck-in-the-mud hardline Islamists. UK citizen Shazad Iqbal has started an on-line petition asking YouTube to withdraw the video. Why? Blasphemy of course. From the petition:

The video is considered as highly controversial to its viewers as a result of its portrayal of blasphemy.

At 01:15 into the video Dark Horse; a man is shown being burned, whilst wearing a pendant (also burned) forming the word ‘Allah’, which is the arabic word for God.

Such goes to show, that blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video, since Katy Perry […] engulfs the believer and the word God in flames.

A couple of things:

  • what’s with the self-righteous passive wording? If you think the video is controversial, Iqbal, just say so. And ‘highly’? I think not. 50 thousand signatures vs. 50 million views – that’s not even a minority. That’s a rounding error.
  • have you watched the video? The actor at 1:15 is turned to sand, not burned. Not that it should matter.
  • you obviously do not object to other people being ‘burned’ – yet burning an inanimate pendant that spells ‘God’ is too much for you to watch? You definitely have your priorities wrong. 

More than 50’000 like-minded have signed the petition within three days. What is wrong with these people? Just don’t download the video if you don’t like it. Religious freedom means that Katy Perry does not have to bow to your beliefs. Just because you feel offended does not make you right. I feel offended by people wearing white socks. Does anyone care? And where’s the moratorium on people not using deodorant?

This whole thing is as absurd as if someone starts a petition to force YouTube to withdraw the video because they don’t like the song.  

Well, except that I would probably sign that one.

Human vs. Religious Rights

Should human rights always outweigh religious rights?

This is the title of a recent debate produced by the BBC that aired as part of ‘The Big Question’ last sunday, January 12, 2014.

I was stunned that the question had to be asked at all, and it’s a sign for rational thinkers that there is lot to be done. For one, religious rights do not, or should not, exist. Modern rights have nothing to with religion, and everything to do with justice. But let’s assume they do. Obviously, the underlying question is really

‘if human rights and religious rights are at odds, which one should take precedence’?

If the two agree, there is nothing to discuss.

Voice for Justice UK“, is a christian belief organization that focuses on maintaining “the original Articles of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights”. Yes, you’re right – that’s a deceptively benign name for an organization whose main purpose is to fight certain human rights like freedom of sexuality or children’s rights (these were ratified after 1948). But anyway, VFJUK sent Lynda Rose to act as Voice in the debate. In a comment posted before the broadcast, she wrote:

But now, apparently, the newly claimed sexual rights of a minority are being prioritised over all other traditional rights, to the extent that ‘religious’ rights are now being assigned a separate, and seemingly subsidiary, category

First of all, it doesn’t matter if rights are new or old – they are only ‘new’ in a sense that they have been written down recently. They should have been universal from day one. Like the laws of Physics, they existed before their discovery. Unlike natural laws, they can be broken. But the human right to live didn’t just exist since 1948 – it existed before; it merely wasn’t enforced. What’s more, all rights apply to everyone, not just some minority. It’s impossible for Lynda to not know that. Claiming that a minority has ‘special rights’ is skirting dangerously close to fear mongering.

I should also point out that ‘Traditional Rights’ in the context of her comment include rights that have been discarded, like the right to own slaves, or the right to discipline your wife if she disobeys. Just because traditionally some people had them does not mean that they were well-conceived. ‘Traditional’ does not trump ‘just’, Lynda, and it troubles me greatly that I must point this out.

Not surprisingly, the ‘newly claimed’ rights that Lynda rails against are the rights of homosexuals to not being discriminated against. It really puzzles me when someone calls the human right not to be discriminated against ‘new’. It’s not new, it has been the right of every human from the dawn of time. It’s only been recognized in 1948, and somewhat later been amended to extend to sexual discrimination. Homosexuals don’t have more rights than anyone else; they have exactly the same rights, and the amendment was necessary because the civilized world recognized that some were being withheld from them.

More disappointingly, though, Lynda seemingly argues that there are universally acceptable ‘religious rights’. This is emphasized by her introduction:

what really astonished me was the easy assumption that human and ‘religious’ rights are different.

They are not.

Yes they are! There is no such thing as a ‘religious right’ – there are merely privileges that many believers feel they are entitled to – and they react violently when they are denied. There simply are no religious rights – which shows the extend of irrationality that this debate is based upon. Rights based on religion or divinity are thankfully a part of our dark past. Today’s laws are mostly built upon humanism. The right of religious freedom is not a religious right. It allows you to do to yourself, and only to yourself, whatever religious thing you want. It includes the freedom to not being religious, and therefore cannot be called a religious right. It’s called a ‘human’ right for a reason.

Most disappointingly of all, though, Lynda closes her comment with this:

On the programme I was reviled for saying we are approaching a time in this country when we may well see active persecution against Christians. I am forced to admit I was wrong – it has already begun.

It’s incredibly selfish and revealing at the same time that Rose tries to make victims out of perpetrators. New legislation was formed to stem the tide of injustice committed by believers. These people seem to think that since it is their ‘tradition’ to mistreat some people it should be kept as a ‘traditional right’. They assert that the new legislation ‘persecutes’ them. Christians in the UK don’t know what persecution is. All they are experiencing here is that some of their self-asserted privileges are being curtailed in the interest of a more ethical community. That’s not persecution. That’s merely called ‘justice’.

There are human rights, which are universal and unalienable. There are no religious rights, only religious privileges.

So, should fundamental human rights always outweigh religious privileges?

Hell yes.