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« Philanthropic Self-Help: The Rabelaisian Method | Main | The Twelve Most Common Objections to Social Justice Philanthropy »

May 07, 2008

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leighcia

Well said. The language of human rights so easily leads us to understand them as what we demand to receive from others, rather than a guideline by which we are to treat others. The phrase "human rights" suggests that we are consumers (and perhaps makes us out to be complainers) whereas the phrase "human responsabilities" suggests that we are to be the agents of change.

HIV Information for Myanmar [him] moderator

A bit of Googlework before you wrote this posting would have led you to find that there IS a declaration on human responsibilities: http://www.peace.ca/univdeclarticle.htm But is it really necessary?

[him] moderator

Albert

Actually HIM Moderator, there are many declarations of human responsibilities, but none of these, as far as I know, is a UN declaration.

As for necessity, I don't know enough about the history of these kinds of documents to assert that they've never stayed the hand of some tyrant or had some other beneficial effect.

HIV Information for Myanmar [him] moderator

Aah, I see. You think we need the UN to endorse a responsibility declaration? How about this example?

http://everyhumanhasrights.org/responsibility/

[him] moderator

erasmus

I get FeedBlitzed so I can look at your soiled briefs? And then I discover it's all about guilt? What's up with that?

Albert

Long face, no see, erasmus. I'm wearing Captain America briefs these days almost exclusively. I misplaced my lapel pin. And for the record, my post is more about original sin than it is about guilt.

The word is overused, but human rights abuses are sustained by an economic, political, and social "ecosystem." I don't want to downplay the effects of particular moral agents -- tyrants, for example, who send dissidents to the gulag. I note, however, that those of us in the West who are appalled by China's treatment of its dissidents (to take just one example), can easily send a strong message to the Chinese government by boycotting the Beijing olympics. This won't happen, at least not in large enough numbers to make a noticeable difference. There are so many people in the West -- travel agents, airlines, TV stations -- poised to make serious money from the summer olympics. Our governments don't want to rock the boat, nor do our business leaders who want to tap into Chinese markets. Some of us may have already bought our tickets ...

You get the picture. What strikes me most about this picture is how consumerist it is, as if a whole lot of buying and selling can make up for the experience of thousands of dissidents rotting in Chinese jails.

We elect the political leaders we do because we know (or at least suspect) that when asked to weigh the pain of a few thousand dissidents against the economic consequences for millions of Americans, they'll cast their lots with us. These leaders don't typically take office with a mandate to consider the good of the whole human family.

By the way, having tried the exercise, I know how difficult it can be to find goods that are not made in China or do not contain Chinese-made parts or ingredients.

As for domestic human rights abuses (Gitmo, for example, and Katrina), these stories too have a distinctively consumerist cast.

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