Human Rights

Human Rights by David Macfie

I often get really tired of hearing people droning on about Human Rights. Today I asked myself why I had such a gut reaction to the discussion and I realized that it was because the term has become a slogan rather than a concept. It is as if the mere mention of the term is enough to silence any further dialogue and that irritates me. Again I have to ask myself why? So I decided to analyze my thoughts and try to get them down on paper. First I reject the idea of Human Rights as a slogan – I think it is arrogant for us to set ourselves on such a pedestal.

After all, biologically, we are simply a higher form of mammal. I think the idea that we are somehow different, an image of some sort of divinity, is disproved again and again by our barbarity and greed and bigotry. Of course that is a generalization. Not everybody is like that. I fully accept that there are humans on the planet, who epitomize the characteristics that the concept of human rights aspires to, but as a species we are far short of the ideal.

So let’s dig further. I do believe that we should aspire to greater things and therefore we should shape a set of desirable behaviors that we believe should govern our lives. In my mind these are norms of behavior they are not rights. Habitually, we frame these norms in the form of rules or laws or constitutions. Many of our “Rights” are legitimized like that. But, rights cannot be divorced from other realities like interactions with others, impact on our environment and our responsibilities in relation to these “rights”. A right cannot allow us to impinge on an equal right for others or deny the responsibilities that should go hand in hand with that right.

So let’s examine some of these Human Rights.

The Right to Life.

Life is not a right, it is a privilege. It cannot be a right for us unless it is a right for every other living thing. And, if it is a right, then our responsibility is to ensure that it does not deny that right to other living things. If we do not accept that responsibility, we cannot demand the right. Our behavior does not, in general, underpin this right. We pollute the planet; we destroy ecosystem; we over fish and hunt, driving species to extinction; we clear forests and jungles that are fundamental to the wellbeing of the planet; we medically preserve life, often far beyond its feasibility; we procreate far beyond the resources that are available to sustain our numbers and all of these behaviors are tolerated. We see them all as “rights” And in pursuit of these “rights” we cause people to endure poverty and starvation, we denude the planet of species after species of other life forms and we accelerate our race to our own extinction. How can these things be tolerated? How can they be justified under the guise of a Right to Life, when so many of them directly deny the right to life of so many others?

Clearly we haven’t got this correct. We want the right but do not accept the responsibility that goes along with it.

The Right to Lead

As a species we have adopted structures that put people in leadership positions over everybody else. We say they have the right to lead because a political party chose them as the leader. For this to be a right there are obligations and responsibilities that must be met. The obligations are to lead honestly and to behave in a manner that underpins the privilege of being a leader.

That precludes tyranny and oppression; it precludes dishonesty and corruption. It demands that the leader sets an example to others and demands the same principles in the subordinates of the leader. It demands that the leader accepts the responsibilities of the position.

After all, the leader is a servant to the structure that is led, be that a government, a business or be it any other structure like a homeowners’ association or a club or a sports team or a school. If a leader fails in any of the obligations or responsibilities of leadership, that leader should be removed and replaced with another, more suitable candidate.

This should apply to all leaders, including government ministers, CEO’s, sports team captains and so on. And one of the major responsibilities of leadership is to ensure that subordinates also meet the obligations and responsibilities of their positions. People at all levels, must be accountable and leaders must ensure this. If they don’t they are no longer acceptable leaders, they are failed leaders.

Finally, the leader’s most important responsibility is the success of the organization that is led. Such success means the success of all stakeholders, not just some of them. In the context of a country, that means all the legal inhabitants of that country and it also means other structures that are considered essential to the effective running of the country. A structure cannot be successful if it prevents other valid structures from performing successfully. In the larger context the environment is a stakeholder too so behaviors that damage the environment are failures of leadership.

The Right to Work

Again this right has become a slogan rather than a concept. It should be a truism that everyone should have a job, but what does that really mean? It means, first and foremost, that there are enough jobs to go round, or, the number of people has grown too large for the sustainable job market. There is a balance here, which easily can become an imbalance. Where there is unemployment, there is either an undersupply of jobs or there are too many people. Both are failures of leadership. On the other hand if the balance is right there are still responsibilities that go with the right to work. These are among others, the responsibilities to be the best you can be at the job you have; that you accept a fair remuneration for a fair day’s work; that you work for all your stakeholders – your structure, your family, your country, your society. And you do so honestly and honorably.

There are many other “rights” that people drone on about – the right to an education, the right to safety & security, the right to a roof over your head, the right to speak freely, and so on and on.

The fundamental truth about all of these rights is that they are all part of a balance. The balance is the balance between the rights and the responsibilities and obligations that go with them. And this balance is part of the greater balance between the needs of people and the sustainable ability of the planet and the structures within it to deliver effective and efficient responses to those needs. Any imbalance is caused by one or more failures by individuals or structures that do not deliver their own balance between the rights they aspire to and the responsibilities and obligations that go with them.

So let me not hear any more talk of rights, without an equal discussion about the responsibilities and obligations that go with them. I believe that rights are an earned privilege and they should be rescinded for a predetermined period (or permanently in extreme cases) if responsibilities and obligations are not adhered to.