Joanne Donovan


This conversation is closed.

What are human rights? How do we decide and are they universal?

Are human rights the starting point we begin with when looking at how our societies function, or are there more important issues? How true is this statement; 'when people focus on being ethical without being pragmatic they end up being neither.'

Closing Statement from Joanne Donovan

Thanks to everyone who participated in this conversation. Some excellent threads. All the best to you and your families for the new year 2012. Peace.

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    Dec 21 2011: I wonder if it might be clearer and simpler to think in terms of responsibilities rather than rights.

    Universal responsibility can be simply stated: Every human being is responsible to live in a way that does not cause lasting harm to people or our planet.

    Thinking in terms of rights seems to put us in individual frames of reference. People whose rights are not diminished seem to have difficulty expanding their frame to include others they do not know or understand. Modern culture tries to overfill our frames and crowd out perceptions of distant people may be suffering.

    Thinking in terms of responsibility creates an “us” frame of reference since the effects of our actions extend well beyond the context of our individual lives.
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      Dec 21 2011: Bob: The idea that “every human being is responsible to live in a way that does not cause lasting harm to people or our planet” is very appealing.

      But then every time I take a long airplane trip I think “man am I exceeding my harm limit”. How can your principle be put into practice considering cases like this?
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        Dec 21 2011: Hi Tim,

        The very fact that you ask the question "am I exceeding my harm limit" is a first step in putting the concept of universal responsibility into practice. The world can become a much better place to the extent we all ask, and then answer such questions. Working out clear and simple ways to calculate our carbon footprints keeps us from stepping on other's health and the sustainability of our planet.

        Imagine apps and websites that tracked the carbon footprint of every person, organization, business and corporation. Imagine Accounting systems that track and audit environmental and human costs Imagine economic, educational, and political systems that supported and reinforced the concept of universal responsibility.

        The concept of "rights" tends to be fragmented with much debate and disagreement over which or whose rights are more important. Universal responsibility is much simpler and clearer and can serve as a driving principle for developing systems and structures that serve humanity and sustain our planet.
      • Dec 22 2011: Tim,

        I once saw some unnamed activist on John Stewart, and when Stewart confronted him with the fact that he had flown from Australia, the activist responded, ( to paraphrase) "before I boarded the plane I had planted x amount of trees, which more than offset the pollution engendered by my fraction of the population aboard."

        I am not saying this would always work, but the idea of unrelated balance may be applicable in some of these situations.

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          Dec 22 2011: Humans are so adept at rationalization, aren't they?
    • Dec 22 2011: This is very interesting idea. However what do you consider to fall in category of lasting harm and why only lasting?

      Harm seem to refer only to physical world? What about concepts such as freedom of choice or expression?
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        Dec 23 2011: Zdenek Smith wrote "Harm seem to refer only to physical world? What about concepts such as freedom of choice or expression?"

        I would define lasting harm as that which prevents a person or community maintaining health and attaining their full potential.

        I recognize that our current educational, economic and political systems cause lasting harm under this definition, which is why I believe one of the most important things we can do at this time in history is to explore designs for systems that support and reinforce sustainability, health and personal development.
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    Dec 19 2011: Mr.Francis -
    I prefer to say in other way :
    The devil whom all of us are afraid of it - lives in us.
    we`d better know him instead of denying him.
    Thanks for your attention.
    • Comment deleted

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        Dec 19 2011: Pierre -
        You pointed out a complicated phenomenon which I didn`t understand and define to myself yet : Love.
        I think your meaning is some phenomena like a mother`s love or a soldier`s sacrifying for saving other soldier`s life or such things ............
        I have a justificatin for these happenings but maybe you don`t accept it ..........
        In one of the TED talks (paul zak : oxytocin) mr.Zak did a research about some feelings like trusting depend to some chemical materials ,etc.
        in this link :
        scientists claimed that a mother`s love is because of this hormone (oxytocin).
        I accept that it can`t justify anything but ..........
        see : imagine you`re a soldier. you have two choices :
        1- sacrifiying yourself to saving other`s life.
        2- remaining in your shelter - seeing your friends` dying and feeling regret and uselessness for rest of life.
        In cases that soldiers are faithless to their mission we see the second happen , otherwise the first one.
        you see it`s still a trade : feeling uselessness and disgusting for rest of life or dying.
        I think other situations are the same.
        maybe some reactions seem loss in that trade to you - but you`re not the judge !
        surely values are different to that trader .
        Romeo killed himself because he thought he will suffer a lot in his life without Julliet so dying is better.
        maybe you call it loss but he didn`t !
        I hope I told my meaning well enough.
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        Dec 20 2011: Pierre ...
        I think you used to asking hard questions ...
        Ok - in this situation we investigate the trade :
        It demands to your value and the value of life to me.
        If your value seems more to me - and if I don't sacrifice myself for you- I destroyed the holly saint that I made from myself in my mind !
        I'll have a painful and regretful life with no hope.
        I can't love any other - because I know I'll betray to them because of myself.I will live such a zombie !
        Surely It's hard to decision, but it's a deal !
        Choices aren't always between two goods.
        May you should choose between losing more or less.
        And if you are one of my close friends - I'll make an insult to the world (!) and do sacrifice.
        And psychologically it's more possible when humans are young- because life's value increases by the age ...
        By the way - what's your conclusion about it ?
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    Dec 16 2011: The issue with globalized ethics is that in our attempt to impose an ethic that applies across the globe, the dominant global perspective..that which wields the most "power" tends to be what we expect others to adopt--resulting in a colonial ethic that doesn't reflect or suit the local contexts in a way that can facilitate discussions globally. What we need is a commitment to true dialogic communication--- a commitment to valuing both the SELF and the OTHER equally--and a commitment to seeking out difference and allowing ourselves and our conception of the world to be truly shaped by that difference. We must allow meaning to emerge out of respect for viewpoints--whether we agree or not is less important than our willingness to remain open to personal and collective transformation.

    Too often we strive so hard to find common ground, we force it, and lose the beauty of the diversity that should comprise our perspective. We look for ways to come together at the expense of growing from the differences between and among us together. We share a responsibility for the creation of this type of world. I write about these kinds of issues here, for anyone interested in exploring my blog--
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      Dec 17 2011: Much of what you say make perfect sense. Thanks for the link to your blog, I will pay it a visit. So Kathy, in your opinion their are no human rights or ethics which are universal?
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      Dec 19 2011: Kathy,
      Good note (meaning I agree with most of it). The feverish urge to spread a democracy-engendered platform of "Human rights" around the world smacks of philosophical colonialism, akin to the west's religious missionary effort that unfortunately is still attempting to get the "3rd world" to see God our way. We might do better by letting "rights" find their own way.

      But I'll add a couple of quibbles. (That's what communication is about, isn't it?) You say that "What we need is . . . a commitment to valuing both the SELF and the OTHER equally."

      Perhaps you don't mean this quite literally, because in most contexts this must be biologically impossible. Humans, like all species, are equipped with a very strong sense of self-preservation, which makes "no.1" number one. "Love your neighbor as yourself," was a wish by a famous dreamer, but has no bearing on reality. It's just not possible to value your mother equally with other people's mothers (she wouldn't like it one bit), or yourself equally with other people. This would be destructive of family and group loyalties, and would undercut trust and in the end social organization. What is possible is being fair to other people, to take time to learn to understand their viewpoint, and I think that's all one can demand.

      By the bye, I note (from your profile) that you have high hopes for the "power of communication to shape reality." I agree fully, but think it's important to stress the danger that lies in this power. Great skill at shaping reality through mastery of communication was shown by A.Hitler, B.Mussolini, and Rev. Jim Jones, among many others of their ilk. Politicians, trial lawyers, evangelists, "yellow journalism" and salesmen use skill at communication, specifically tailored to shape the reality they wish to construct. Communication is, in a sense, morally neutral; it is its aims and methods, its degree of honesty and relation to facts and truth, that place it in each case somewhere on a good-evil axis.
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        Dec 21 2011: Paul - It does seem that philosophical colonialism is prevalent today. The promotion of sexual equality in Afghanistan is a case in point. Obviously, our hope for humanity is the equality of the sexes. But I’ve heard several interviews from people on the ground in Afghanistan that without promoting economic development there will be no equality. So, for example, it might behove a poverty stricken woman to invest more in the education of her sons in order to advance the family economically. Is it the role of the “developed world” to tell them this is the wrong approach?
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          Dec 24 2011: Colonialism is littered with tragic stories of one culture seeking to 'enlighten' another only to destroy its very fabric, creating unhappiness and disenfranchisement.

          So perhaps as Kathy has put so well, we can extrapolate from that, 'human rights' can be contextual rather than absolute. Are there any Tim, which we can describe as universal?
    • Dec 20 2011: Kathy, and others in this thread...

      I can only agree that the extrinsic rights conferred by the risen powers of the west are colonial in nature, but is that all bad?Jimmy Carter demand that the El Salvadoran government cease slaughtering thier own indigenous population or he would cut of thier finacial aid. William Wilberforces imposition of a very christian repulsion to slavery drove England to declare slavery on the high seas illegal, and thus enforced, cripple and eventually almost destroy that millenial old institution.

      A few examples that I think should be considered in any conversation that casts rights into a un-culturizing or relativistic roles, faith leaders teaching that inoculations carry disease, divorce by incineration in the Punjab,clitorectomies, gang rape as punishment for the female adultry among the Chimpayu and to many others, the exucution of homosexuals in Uganda, the degredation of the female gender across entire hemisheres.I know that no one here endorses this kind of brutality.

      Mazlov's pyramid of hierarchical needs teaches us that the man at the bottom, with nothing, cannot worry about the ethics of feeding his kids, only the practicalities. Those at the top have the luxury of analysis and theory. If we truely believe that an educated and free society is better, are we not, by virtue of our wealth and power, obligated to offer those advantages to each individual? That means every girl in Afganistan is offerd an opportunity to read. The reading matter, well that should be up to her, but the ability to do so... can we in good conciense refuse to act?

      I challenge, go read the Univerasal Declaration of Human Rights and find one of the 30 primary articles that you have a right to refuse any living person. And are any of them examples of seeking to oppress cultural differences? These are the human rights the "west" is trying to impose. I personally think it is for the better, and once thus empowered those now oppresed might agree.

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        Dec 20 2011: Hello Ian,
        Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your concern with accepting relativistic views on ethics...I share that concern as well. I am not promoting relativism as a viable approach to ethics. There is a right and there is a wrong--I'm just saying that it, in my view, it is nonsensical for one culture to impose their view of right on another without being informed and open to alternative viewpoints on seeing the world. There is a major difference between saying "to each their own" and that anything can be justified and saying that we need to work, and work hard, at being open to differing perspectives as we negotiate a common understanding of what is right and wrong. Imposing one cultural view on global society is, in my view, egocentric and superior, and inhibits meaningful communication across cultures.

        The examples you cite are not limited to countries outside the westernized world. Much of what is considered normal in this part of the globe would be considered atrocious and morally wrong in another part of the world. The extreme sexualization of women and young girls comes to mind first--though certainly is not the only morally corrupt part of westernized culture. My point here is that no culture is without its ethical or moral problems, so to say one culture can and should impose their perspective on another without being truly informed by those cultures with whom they share the global stage is, in my view, short-sighted.

        It's essential that we do define clear ethical standards that are not relativistic in nature. The process, though, is complex, difficult work. I would argue that one must first recognize and publicly claim the limitations of one's own perspective and positionality and articulate how this inherent bias necessitates a dependence on alternative, often conflicting viewpoints to enable a meaningful discussion aimed at gaining a more complete understanding of the world.
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        Dec 21 2011: England's motivation in passing the Wilberforce anti-slave trading act in 1807 may have been as high-minded as you suggest (based on a "christian repulsion to slavery"), but other motives may also have crept in. As the British well knew, the U.S. constitution, in force from 1789, forbade the Congress from interfering with the slave trade for 20 years. By 1805 it was clear that the Congress would ban importation of slaves on the very first day they could do so under the constitution, i.e., January 1, 1808. On March 3, 1807, President Jefferson signed the law that made this ban effective. This changed the economics of slave trading, and three weeks later the British Parliament duly passed Wilberforce's slave trading ban.
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      Dec 21 2011: Good point Kathy. It does seem that “universal human rights” tend to have parochial interpretations (something like “common sense” being very culturally based). In reading up on this topic, the wikipedia entry on the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” points out that several Islamic countries objected to the wording.
    • Dec 22 2011: I think we need to carefully separate the concept of universal rights, that apply to all people regardless of which religion or culture they were born into, from diversity through culture as art, dance, music and celebration.

      I always see people to claim that rules that go against universal human rights but are endorsed by local culture or religion are rules that need to be respected. I think that is wrong.

      Why? People are born free from any ideologies or rules. The only needs they truly all have and share are embodied in universal rights and freedoms esp. the right to make own choices and right for freedom and equality.

      Some cultures and religions goes against those basic needs, typically making women less equal and oppressed and non-believers subject to limited freedom and speech.

      If I am born in a certain country I don't think anyone has the right to impose local cultures and religions on me. Many of customs are dated centuries and were introduced either as necessity to deal with harsh life or to gain power by leaders of the community.

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    Dec 15 2011: I think that Humanity already knows what Human Rights are. They are built into our DNA, and they are universal.
    Human Rights could be a good starting point for re-designing society: start with the basics, health, love, family, joy, and work from there.

    When people focus on being ethical, they are being pragmatic. Whomever said the statement above "they end up being neither" must have been feeling cynical. When people act in ethical ways, the rest falls into place. You can "take that to the bank"...but it's too bad we need banks.
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      Dec 15 2011: I am inclined to agree, and this is actually what I hope to explore. What is innate to us? We are essentially a hairless ape with a big fatty brain. Like all other apes we prefer to live in troops and work to cooperate with the other chimps in the troop upon which our survival depends. Perhaps the problem with many of our societies today is that we think we are not an ape afterall but something else, and consequently our troop is of no importance, only we as individuals are.

      Are concepts of human rights an extension of what is natural for us? To care for the people in direct proximity? What do you think Thomas.
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        Dec 19 2011: I think that is an excellent way to describe human rights. "an extension of what is natural" and "to care for people in direct proximity"...the trick is for Humanity to understand that from here-on-out, all 7,000,000,000 of us are in direct proximity with each other.
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          Dec 19 2011: I agree Thomas, lets keep spreading the word!
    • Dec 16 2011: Well said sir. I agree with everything except for the ethical part in: "When people act in ethical ways, the rest falls into place."

      Perhaps you meant to use the word moral instead?
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        Dec 19 2011: "Moral" would be a better vocabulary word; however, I try not to use the word "moral", because throughout my life I have noticed that "morality" is associated typically with religion or sex. It seems that "morals" are imposed upon others. I do not like imposing anything upon others, other than making them stop hurting others.
        On the other hand, a child can learn to be virtuous, or shaped to be ethical, and there are "ethics courses" in colleges...
        Is it possible for a person to be ethical, or is the word ethical only used for groups?
        Thank you!
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      Dec 18 2011: Thomas - I take it you feel that it is cynical to believe that all behavior is motivated by self interest. One definition of cynical is “distrusting or disparaging the motives of others.”

      If one trusts that people act out of self interest and don’t disparage this fact, are they being cynical?
  • Dec 27 2011: Well,
    When individuals do things we find abhorrent, we take away their rights! But, there are no rights!
    I still think so-called human rights should be looked at as needs. We all have needs and the most important ones, off the top of my head, are the same for everyone on the planet. These are needs our environment has to supply or we die, or live lives of constant struggle, slavery, poverty, and worse, if we don't die. Education. Some say it isn't a right, but it is a need, whatever that education may be.
    I agree with this David Hamilton about having the right to kill. The real power of life is that one can do whatever one wants. And I do not believe there is such a thing as karma. People will try and exact karma upon you, that is true. But an existing power called karma, I don't believe in. Many, hundreds, even thousands, perhaps millions of people have done things to others and never been caught, accused, suspected, or stopped. They died without ever being held accountable for what they may have done. And, likewise, I don't believe there is a judgment after we die, the wishful-crutch many cling to concerning people who did "bad things" and got away with it.

    Until we have something like "Universal Needs Are Rights FOR Everyone", we will never have common ground for change, discussion or even working together. We will always only have platforms for arguing, resisting, fighting and war.

    I mean, why are so many people so fucking afraid of humans having rights? What is wrong with you people?
    I don't get it. Without our same-universal-needs being made into universal rights, those of you who are still young, will more than likely re-think your thoughts about having the right to kill when the way the world is going puts you into a kill mode to survive. The entire thing is rigged to make you fight with one another for survival. So many believe we are a higher animal but continue to support an "unspoken right" that we live like wild ones, fighting each other to live.
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    Dec 23 2011: Human rights are something we all have the power to give not the right to take. When one takes, it is usually with conflict, one we give we give with the power to make change.
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    Dec 21 2011: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights appeared and had the possibility of existing only in relatively recent times. Before the 20th century people discussed only the rights of different groups. The Bill of Rights of England, the Bill of Rights in the United States, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France are not the forms of universal human rights. They have constituted mostly the limited political and legal agreements within specific political circumstances without constituting of universal human rights.
    Neither the Greeks nor the Romans had any concept of universal human rights; slavery, for instance, was justified both in ancient and modern times. The impulses which led to creation of the concept of universal human rights occurred in 20th century during a time which is known to us as democratic. Within the democracy not only the philosophers, but all people became able to accept a thinking concerning the question of what the human being is, and about the meaning of this in a universal sense.
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    Dec 19 2011: Hi Mr. Colgan! nice to meet you on this forum!
    I would use the definition of cynical as "distrustful of human sincerity or integrity" or better yet "bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic" with pessimistic being the better word of all. Maybe I should have used the word "pessimistic" instead of "cynical"...oops...

    I think Humanity needs to find a balance between "The Narcissistic Self-Indulgent Individual" and the "Borg Collective" I will have to look up the definition of disparage, but if one acts out of self interest, without consideration of others, they may have some cynicism...

    Thank you for asking, I really need to practice thinking and writing, Mr. Medina above helped me understand the difference between "ethic" and "moral".
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      Dec 21 2011: Hi Thomas. I’m about to passionately address you as if I were controlled by a need to be right. But don’t take it personally. As you say I also need practice thinking and writing. Plus, debate is just such good fun!

      OK. So if we trust that humans are sincerely concerned with their self interest (and by extension, THEIR family’s interest and THEIR community’s interest) and have the integrity to admit it, then are they cynical?

      And if they are optimistic that if everyone honestly concerns themselves with this self interest that the world in general will benefit, then where is the negativity in this viewpoint?
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        Dec 21 2011:'m confused. Humans that are concerned with their self-interest (and by extension their family's interest, and their community interest) and have the integrity to admit it, then they are the good guys.

        People who act in their own self-interest with-out consideration of others may be cynical...

        If people are optimistic that the above viewpoint will benefit the world in general, then there is no negativity.

        I disagree with the statement that "if people focus on being ethical without being pragmatic they end up being neither" Vocabulary definition aside, It seems that if people focus on being ethical, that is being pragmatic as well. (I know I am right about this...;)

        But alas, if someone with bad ethics think they have good ethics, then I just changed the whole subject didn't I ? (do I win this debate yet) (I really need to be right about this, or my daughter will laugh at me.)
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    Dec 17 2011: Human rights is in my opinion one of the most disagreed topics in world politics at the moment and one of the trickiest yet unescapable issues imaginable.

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (by UN, 1948) says in it's first article: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." The Declaration has been critiqued to be a "declaration of western values" for example when it comes to equality of men and women in muslim countries or child labour in South East Asia or Africa etc. In my opinion it is cultural relativism to, for example, claim unequal power relations between sexes acceptable just because that is how it has always been in that particular culture or religion. That something has been some way doesn't mean it should be or that it's acceptable in any way. In my opinion religions with their usually quite strict ethical and moral teachings have blinded people of the ethics of just being a human. If we strip human kind off of cultures and religions, we're all pretty much the same. If you know the basics of global political economy and it's history, you will understand the power relations of today's world a lot better. It's very important to question these things and to ask yourself who benefits of this kind of a world order, who tells us what is ethical and what is not and how do we know our ethics are better than someone else's?
    I believe in human capacity of compassion, empathy and caring. I believe we are all the same, all equal and all worthy of other people's respect. Cultures, religion, power relations, a divided world with nation-states and their nuclear weaponry has ripped our human kind apart and caused a great deal of suffering. So for me human rights really means a right to be a human, to be free to make one's choices and live one's life without constant fear and oppression and it's a human duty to help everyone have that.
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      Dec 17 2011: you nailed it Emma, thanks for your wonderful comment.
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    Dec 16 2011: Hi Joanne, as usual great topic for a debate.

    Regarding human rights, I have seen that there seems to be consensus on most areas, and some divergences in a few. Right to property is one that usually causes sparks, as we have discussed at great lengths in other ted debates.

    I think that the issue is not in the definition of what human rights are but, as your question hints, in their implementation.

    First, my bias: I think that the very basic point must be to agree that we are human beings, who share the same basic needs: food, water, shelter, non-hostile human contact. Another point we must agree is that we are social animals more than hermit crabs. If we cannot agree on these two, there is bound to be problems agreeing down the road.

    Now, we can build on top of that, always keeping these basic human needs in the back of our minds as our guide.

    Being familiar with John Locke's unalienable rights, or the U.S. declaration of independence, and even after reading the International Bill of rights (, it appears that the same topics are repeated over and over: life, liberty, property, no slavery, no discrimination, privacy, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, etc.

    They all make great sense. I like them all.

    If the world population was 100 and there were 1000 acres of productive land, plenty of sunshine and a river accessible to all 100, it would be quite easy to grant most (maybe even all) of these rights to everybody.

    But what if the population was 100,000? Human interaction almost ensures that there will be conflict when trying to satisfy all human rights for all individuals.

    Such being the reality we live on, I think that not all rights are born equal, some rights are more right than others, I think we should prioritize them and use the prioritization whenever conflict arises between them.

    Ethics should give us destination, pragmatism should build the path to it
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      Dec 17 2011: I am out of my weekly ration of thumbs up for you Andres, but what a great response. I think your remark; 'Ethics should give us destination, pragmatism should build the path to it' arrives at the point.

      I am interested in exploring whether or not you think that a concept of human rights is innate to us as social creatures, as Thomas seems to think, or whether it is a social construct, a political trade off, as Amirpouya suggests.

      I agree with you that as soon as competition for resources comes into play, conflict results. Are we naturally inclined to follow a system of ethics as regards our fellow man, or is it imposed on us?

      I believe there are studies which show the number of people who shoot to kill iin times of war, is fairly low and that it has been shown that most people shoot to miss about eighty percent of the time. In fact, it is quite difficult to train a person to kill, which is why most armed forces basic training is so harsh and dehumanasing.

      When Hitler trained certain personel among his SS to man the death camps, a careful screening programme was put in place. Young SS were recruited to work in the medical facilities he used to wipe out the mentally ill and infirm. When an recruit was not able to commit euthanasia as was required, he was simply reassigned without any dishonor or demerit. Thus Hitler's team managed to find the small percentage of people who are indifferent to the suffering of others, or who actually enjoy it. These men were sent to run the death camps.

      These examples seem to suggest that human beings do seem to have an innate sense of care for their fellows. This leads to the question; is it the stresses of civilisation which lead humankind to acts of brutality or neglect? Is a sense of ethics toward our fellow man innate to us? Or are human rights something which must be claimed and defended as Amirpouya says, and are just another power construct.
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        Dec 17 2011: Hi Joanne,

        In a nutshell both Thomas and Amirpouya have a point.

        In the case of Thomas: humans are innately attuned to other humans. Babies cry when other babies cry, kids get worried when they see another kid suffering. The secret for this capacity lies in our mirror neurons, a mechanism that evolved long time ago to help us read the mind of another individual to understand their motivations. Another great example is the complex hormonal and brain structure change in the parents of a newborn. Humans that had a weaker attachment to their offspring probably didn't have many grandkids or great grandkids to spread their genes. Humans with a stronger attachment saw more of their offspring grow up to reproductive age. Some rudimentary moral feelings helped people maintain group structures.

        In the case of Amiropuya: The basic, more ancient brain structures that we share with reptiles, still have a lot of influence in the way we react to other individuals; territorialism comes from that ancient drive to scare away competition from scarce resources, food, mates, nesting places. As humans started grouping together in order to survive, distrust of "others" (xenophobia) was a mechanism to maintain cohesion and improve life expectancy. Mechanisms evolved that discouraged individuals from drifting apart: group rejection triggers areas in our brain related to physical pain. Submission to leaders and a drive to climb the social scale is also embedded in ourselves.

        There is no way to turn off those genes. They are part of what makes us human.

        So each individual is a collection of conflicting drives that amazingly finds equilibrium every day.

        I think our best shot at defining human rights is to understand what it means to be a human, to accept ourselves as such. The next step as Kathy points out is to reflect that acceptance outwards to other humans, see them as equals.

        And yes, this means consciously fighting all of our ancient human drives, every single day
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          Dec 17 2011: Andres, thank you for your fascinating post. Where does that leave us? We can conclude, based on that, that some ethics are innate to us, but also that we have powerful drivers out of which counterproductive conflicts arise. Some of us reason that it is the second group of human characteristics which will ultimately protect us. Other people think societies are better places when we are governed by our innate sense of ethics and use reason to over come the drives which make us territorial and xenophobic.

          It seems that people are polarised into these two camps, which have been the nucleus of many TED debates, and more yet to come, no doubt.
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        Dec 17 2011: And since i didn't want to leave you on a low note... please watch this video (is in spanish but requires no translation) about an experiment that was performed with young kids in Spain. It is very much related to some of those innate drives that Thomas aludes to:

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          Dec 17 2011: I did not find you post a low note, quite the contrary. I'jj enjoy taking a look at the video. thanks.
  • Dec 16 2011: In regards to universal human rights, if they are being conceptualized through our moral framework and not so much our culture specific ethical systems, I guess that would make them universal enough to be considered universal. However, "human rights" can embody alot of different ideas that various cultures won't agree on, i.e: democracy, freedom of speech, etc. Also, cultures have different aspects about them that influence our views, i.e: some cultures reflect a strong presence of personal accountability and are less inclined to feel bad for ppl who put themselves in bad situations. So i guess, as far as universality, I say it depends on the actual "human rights" subject and details surrounding it.
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    Dec 15 2011: I suggest you to read the "Leviathan" by Thomas Habez .............
    I didn`t read it completely but my idea -which is inspired by that book- is the current society is in basic conditions which there`s no right and everyone should fight for his/her right.
    And if a government or a king or even a person claim for respecting to human rights it`s just an arrangement to gain some benefits -for example make people calm for taking taxes from them- and every time which suits for them they can break any right -like what we see in wars unfortunately-.
    This was my idea .
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      Dec 15 2011: Hi Amirpouya, you seem to be saying that anything done in the name of human rights, a constitution, or a judicial system, a social welfare project, are just further constructs of a capitalist system, designed only to keep the majority from rioting and overthrowing the people holding the reins. Do I have it right?
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        Dec 16 2011: Hi Joanne
        As I understood from nature and society till now- unfortunately yes.
        but as I said it is my idea.
        I don`t deny that we had -and have- some men and women like Gandhi or Cyrus the great -one of the ancient rulers of my country who wrote the human rights charter- who believed that humans should have some basic rights without wanting any money or power for themselves- but ......
        Leviathan -and another famous book : "Z"- changed my idea from an idealistic world to a real one.
        we have a famous idiom which means about : "Right is not givable.It is takable." or no one gives your right- you should get it.
        so everyone has the right which he/her fought for it before.
        • Dec 16 2011: You said - ""Right is not givable.It is takable." or no one gives your right- you should get everyone has the right which he/her fought for it before."

          Here in the United States, we equate that to a lawless Wild West, with cowboys and whatnot, heard of it? This sets the stage for serious abuse. And in all honesty, to put it roughly, when you consider how govts create and/or support their own religions (ethical standards), as a means to an end, they are influencing "human rights" - regardless.......
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          Dec 19 2011: I think you are quite right about "rights," Amirpouya. They are basically taken, not given. A person's rights are similar to, for example, an antelope's rights. They are defined by the flock or group. It's in the flock's interest to protect its members, so the members can count on a right to be defended. Of course humans have carried this somewhat further than antelopes, and more and more "rights" are claimed here and there. But in the end you get the rights that the society is willing to give, and the history is that every such right had to be fought for, or "taken." The reason is usually that ensuring a right for me involves an obligation on someone else or on the group as a whole. Perhaps it even intrudes on someone else's presumed rights.

          (By the way, we spell the author's name Thomas Hobbes in English.)
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        Dec 16 2011: sorry but it was impossible to reply to your last comment .......
        you can equate my idiom to wild west or even the cavemen ages - but nature is always constant.
        And if your last sentence was about the current conditions of my country - you`d better know I`m a victim of these conditions and I agree with you.
        but I believe that the world everytime and everywhere have the same ruler: nature.
        and nature`s rule is power.
        It is what I understood from Leviathan.
        and we have another idiom that I think suits this place : (no cat catches mice for God sake.)
        sometimes in history the people had some rights which didn`t benefit their rulers apparently -Gandhi and Cyrus the great- but it was because of they loved their people.
        and that was not a "right". it was because of they benefited mentally by people`s was an "arrangement" which everytime everyone could break it.
        I know what you and Derek have in U.S but see what your gov did in hiroshima - Iraq - Afghanistan - Pakistan -Vietnam - Iran and long before it to Indians in America.
        I believe that those genosides was because they didn`t benefit them as much as you are.
        I hope you to forgive me for my frankness.
        and I suggest you again to read Leviathan. I think It`s a dictionary rather than a philosophy book.
        • Dec 16 2011: My comment was not directed at your country or your situation - what ever that might be.

          Anyway, are you proposing that no good deed can be done out of pure love for another? If not, why do you assume that Gandhi and Cyrus created the human rights charter as a means to an end (their own happiness) as opposed to love?

          The author sounds to me like a moral Nihilist.
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        Dec 16 2011: moral nihilist .....
        Thomas Habez didn`t say what I say exactly.
        I said my thinkings are inspired by him.
        Even in some fields I disagree with him. so I think those words suit me !!!!!
        I believe that every right is giving because of a trade.
        for most of situations the trade is "right - power(or money)" and in rare ones (Gandhi and Cyrus the great) is because of love or "right - mental satisfaction".
        It is my thinking honestly. you can call it everything.
        And in all of types of government "democracy-monarchism-aristocracism-feodalism-anarchism and ...." always there is a trade - especially in feodalism and current societies : capitalism.
        If the matter of trade is love - it`s still a trade , but the society will be more happy and active.
        and if not - the society will be like a group of lambs that if the shepherd give them more grass - It`s because he wants gain more money from the butcher.
        yes - it`s totally nihilism - but could you call it False ?
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          Dec 16 2011: Unconditional love is not a "trade". It demands nothing and gives everything.
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          Dec 20 2011: By Helen's definition of unconditional love... Women should continue to love men who beat them. No offense Helen...
        • Dec 20 2011: David,

          The loving can be unconditional in action, but not in state. I may love my brother unconditionally, and be willing to go past the line for him, but let me find him abed with my wife, or daughter, and then watch the state change.

          The unconditional love she refers to seems to be more primarily unconditional, as in resting on a percieved firm foundation, than perfectly unconditional, as in just plain dumb.

          That some spouses actually do continue to love thier abusers is, methinks, another matter and more the latter.

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      Dec 16 2011: Amirpouya,
      1. what country do you live in?

      cuhs in the US, we have rights guaranteed in a constitution that, except in very extreme cases, can;t be infringed upon. I'd say those are the greatest human rights you could ask for. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

      2. I have heard plenty of people say what you said in some shape or form

      Usually, those people do not reside in the continental U.S. To be honest, the writer of that book sounds like a conspiracy theorist. Because I haven't spent one ounce of energy fighting for my rights, but I still have them. They aren't something tangible that can be taken or abused. Yes, our troops have gone in and it was a little shady. Sure, off the records ops and what not.

      The only reason I can't agree with you is cuhs I'm not seeing that in my life.
      • Dec 20 2011: Derek,

        The trade Amirpouya mentions is self evident in my society, and I am next door in Canada. I Daily trade mutual rights, such as not butting into line ( right to space and equality) , I do not steal others goods though I am trained to want them (right to property), I don't insult others religions or sexuality,(right to freedom of expression), etc...The union movement of the '20s, the civil rights movement, womens liberation, right to abortion, gay rights, are more glaring examples and all within living memory.

        Thomas Hobbes is a 17th century political and moral phisolsopher hailing from merry old England. In political philosophy he is held in the same reverance as Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Kant, etc...Hobbes examined the then current concept of the "Social Contract", an Idea that individuals in a society have an underlying agreement of what rights are accorded to what individual. Whereas Rousseau ( 18c.)used the social contract to support very liberal arguments for governing, Hobbes followed the same concept to a justification of absolutism, such as monarchy.

        It seemed to be his feeling that man's natural state was conflict, over resources, mates, security, etc... In doing so he also recognized mankinds rational nature, and thus his desire to gain peace if possible. He thus theorizes the best course is to not do unto others what we would have them not do to us.

        Notice the difference between that and the adivce, do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The first is passive, the second active. Say we each have an apple.To Hobbes, the passive, - I don't take your apple, because my act would then legitimize your attempt to do the same to me. while the proactive - I should offer to share my apple, and you in turn might share yours. The former casts us as adversaries, and the latter allies..

        You decide which you preffer.

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      Dec 17 2011: Thanks Amirpouya, you have given me an interesting point of view, and I have been thinking about it for most of the day. I find that I disagree with you. I think we are born as loving whole complete entities and a sense of human rights comes out of this natural state of completeness with the world. Of course civilisation is a story of conflict and power struggles, so an individual's grip on ethics becomes distorted or in many cases. lost. Yet the closer an individual is to his original pure state (Ghandi, Mandela, Mother Theresa) the more connected to a natural sense of ethics, he or she will be. What do you think?
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        Dec 17 2011: Joanne -
        I'm not sure but I think you didn't understand my meaning very well.
        I think that our utopia are not so different : a city which what politicians say happens !
        what Thomas Habbez drew in Leviathan is a picture from basic situation of a society:
        a situation which we can see in wars or some movies like "gangs of New york".
        A situation which anyone fights against anyone else.
        Or as a philosopher -I forgot his name- said : kill your enemies and if you could your friends.
        My utopia is a place that everyone love their society and the purpose be society's benefit.
        But see the reality : everyone trade. Physically or mentally.
        As Helen replied on my comment the real love unconditionable - but who can claim he/she loves someone who hates him/her ?
        I believe that love is a phenomenon that converts pain to joy.
        But still lover gains something instead of giving something.
        When we are born , we have a clear and pure mind and full of love -
        but what nature teachs us is this : you can't love lambs and love hamburgers too.
        And I believe that if everyone believe to human rights like a religion - it becomes a respectful thing in that society - but we should wait for a renaissance ...
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          Dec 17 2011: I can see why, Amirpouya, you would look around you and form that conclusion. Yet I am interested if it is the only possible reality, i.e. if the current reality was inevitable and thus belongs to us humans completely, or if we have it because of a highly complex set of circumstances that began around ten thousand years ago.

          I think it is the latter, and therefore, I too wait for a renaissance.....
    • Dec 20 2011: Amirpouya,

      If you have not, I would suggest a reading of Rousseau and his concept of the Social Contract, and the rights of the governed, which were in active debate with Hobes and his Leviathen of a book. I might also reccomend Erasmus and Voltaire, as representative of liberal philosophy in the period. Hobes I think, isolated the individual and it's complex relationship with rights, overlooking the fact that rights require a community in order to be pertinant. Without a cohesive group you have simply anarchic rights, i.e: those that you can take. In this model, effective groups are much less likely to form, as there is less benifit to the individual members.

      Hobes, we must recall, wrote during the rebellious years which ended aristocratic absolutism in Europe and his concepts of real-polotik were based on his time. His period, and it's associated value system are incredibly removed from that which is common today, in that I despite being in the lower classes I find life to be anything but, "...nasty, brutish, and short."

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        Dec 20 2011: Ian
        To be honest with you I love to read those books -especially mr.Rousseau whom I read nothing by him- but since I came to this university (PUT) I couldn't even finish Leviathan...
        I will thank you if you explain your thoughts here.
        But I want to add something :
        I give an example from what mr.Hobbes said.
        Imagine we're living in a society.
        Have I any right about your life -to taking it- ?
        Mayebe you answer no - but mr.Hobbes answers yes !
        But you have this right about me too !
        So it's the deal : I forgive my right to you because I want you to do it too !
        And if you break this deal and harm me - there's no more deal. It becomes anarchy.
        So do you really think that safety has a meaning here ?
        Could you tell me what can I be sure about it ?
        And please care about the concept - not who said it.

        • Dec 20 2011: Amirpouya,

          By "not who said it", do you mean the origional author of the idea?, because Icertainly cannot claim to be author to thier thought. I assure you I have nothing against Hobes, if that is your meaning

          As to the distindtion between Rousseau and Hobbes, well they start from the same foundation and build entirely different ideas. The Social Contract they both addressed is an idea that within society we have a series of agreements which inform us as to the rights and wrongs of a situation as well as to whom our duty lies.

          Hobbes and his exchange of negatives, i.e.: I won't do to you what you won't do to me does accuratly predict behaviors in many cases, but that does not make it correct. As I said earlier it is also a very lonely philosophy, because it portrays life as conflict at every level, even into the family, mankinds oldest institution. I preffer, do unto others as I would have them do to me, as this is proactive and communal, rather than passive and individualistic.

          We are, I would argue, a communal species, and as such a theory of rights is a theory of groups, not of individuals. An individual has all and every rights, as the only man on earth who is to stop him? It is groups that must build the social contract.

          The rights accorded to individuals among hunter gatheres, (perhaps man's natural state) are informative here. Within the tribe it is very much do for others as you would etc... , but with outsiders it is more like Hobbes, I am not going to feed you if you are an unrelated group, but I will not attack you if you in turn don't attack me. A lame man among the hottentots vollunteered to be left behind during a hard desert crossing, rather than slow, and perhaps kill the clan. That is doing unto others... and I assert, a better method of grouping than Hobbes presents. Rather than a market of exchange, consider it a community of equals seeking the same goals, and recognizing that sharing our rights is better than hoarding them.

  • Dec 15 2011: I think the broad nature of the current system of human rights reflects the ideals encompassed in them not so much the legal enforcement. If every human being could say they are being afforded the basic human rights we would be living in a very different world to the one we have now and, as the idea entails, a much better world.

    To call them rights is a bit lack luster, how can something be a 'right' when more people don't have them than those who do?
  • Dec 15 2011: Very interesting debate. I would like though to answer the more practical aspect of this question.
    Human rights "officialy" are the base of all democracies. A question i never understand is, how come corporations from the US, Europe or Israel care about human rights in there own country, but when it comes to poor workers in india or china, who cares about their rights.
    Yes, they should be universal. A farmer in Africa and a worker in Indonesia should have the same rights as a lawyer in NY or a start up bussines man in Israel.
    And this is the moral reasons why im socialist.
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      Dec 16 2011: I'm gonna half agree with you. I agree that morally, a perfect socialist government would be the best. But tell me where this exists. Where everyone is treated 100% equal by the government, and the elite have the same rights as the poor. I hesitate to say human rights, and only say it for the lack of a better word.

      As for the corporations, they have to care about the employees in their country because of laws that protect the workers. It's as simple as that. Our (i live in the US) government protects us from the corporations for the most part. In China, or other 3rd worldly countries, the standards are much lower. so this brings my first point-- maybe human rights are just a product of government and civilized morals? And with all of the intolerance in the world, I'd say Universal human rights is impossible. Not a chance it would work. Thoughts???
      • Dec 16 2011: First of all, about socialism. Equality is like Osmosis. I agree with you there will never be a situation of 100% equality between people, but if thats your ideal you will always be close, and economic and cultural gaps will not be high at all.

        About corporations, "cheap work force" is one of the leading terms in capitalism. and when you think about it, "cheap workforce" simply means work force with out rights. I reccomend you to read the book "grapes of warth" which is happening in your country. a wonderful book that describes exacly what we are talking about here. If corporations would pay under the minimum wage to its workers [which happens with mexicans in the US and Africans in Israel], and not respect their civilians rights there would be raped by the media. But when workers in 3rd world countries have no rights we call it "cheap workforce". Dont you think thats an absord?
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    Dec 28 2011: I give you bonus points for mentioning Monsanto, btw. Probably the greatest human rights violators on the planet. Their view of intellectual property, and their lawsuits against farmers who "save seed", a practice they are corporately responsible for outlawing... Is probably causing more human beings to starve, than any other power on the planet, including the US government.

    They also directly violate everything good about the American Agrarian economy, that Jefferson, and most good people here, always wanted.
  • Dec 27 2011: To me, our rights are simply an extension of the human person.As a living entity, and as one human family, rights are simply the duties we have as partakers of a community.Beyond that,our rights will be an abuse of our free will.Our rights can never be separated from our duties.
  • Dec 27 2011: Amirpouya, just because you do something doesnt make it a right. That is a choice not a right. If you choose to hurt someone that is a choice it is not a right. You have the right to speak your mind, the right to think what you want, but your rights stop when they begin invading anothers space. You will do what you want to do and I will do what I want to do, but in the end Human rights are what dictate if you did or didnt break anothers space, comprimising their freedom.
    As to being stronger, my friend you are only as strong as the next one, sooner or later someone stronger than you will come, they always do and you will have to submit to their choices (following your logic) which I simply cannot understand, that is a dictators mentality, selfish and egocentrical. TEDS is supossed to be an organization that brings people together so that they may share information, knowledge, not this illogical take on Human Rights. Too much sitting down behind a screen, not enough living...
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      Dec 27 2011: Tiago,
      I didn`t say all of humans should fight and strongers should win -
      I just said the reality is this.
      I`m not the strongest person in the world - and if someone want to take what I claim is mine, I fight.
      And if the enemy is stronger - it`s not mine anymore.
      when Cyrus the great made the human rights charter - he was one of the most powerful kings in the world. so human rights became respectful.
      but during a war -unfortunately there are lots of examples- if you- as a soldier - talk about human rights , the answer won`t be pleasant at all.
      A right is a desirable thing that a stronger human promises to give to a weaker one - normally because of gaining something like power or mental satisfaction as I said in my recent comments in this conversation- and the right`s lifetime depends on the strong man`s honesty.
      So if you live in North Korea - you can`t say : I have a right to access to internet.
      In the end I want to add always we`re entering to each other`s space - not only geographically.
      And the only way to preventing a fight is trading.
      It`s my conclusion.
  • Dec 26 2011: Read this article, especially the five footnotes.

    December 26, 2011
    The Roots of Liberalism and Conservatism
    By Paul Shlichta
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    Dec 26 2011: Hi dear TEDsters and Joanne
    I know there is not enough time at all for continuing this conversation but I feel there is a huge gap which made this conversation illogically.
    I prefer to fill that with asking a question :
    what`s the exact definition of "right" there ?
    If I can do something and I want to do it - It`ll be done.
    And if someone want to stop me to do it - He/she should be stronger than me or change my desire with trades.
    If a trade tastes me - I`ll forgive one thing which I can gain or I have.
    what is "right"`s definition there ?
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      Dec 26 2011: Sorry Amirpouya, I hate boiling things down to syntax. Is there a point? Anything can be discussed on this level, even the hair on your head can be argued out of existence like that. You still get up and comb it each day, don't you?
  • Dec 26 2011: I would like to finish by saying this: David you have done wrong through out your life, everyone has, you have hurt people and disrespected people and no one can say otherwise for no one is perfect. Now I leave you with this question. Say in high school you disrespected me, do I have the right to hunt you down and claim your life because you screwed up, because you were unperfect? Set the example! Stand tall and proud and shield those who have no hope. Dont speak from behind a screen, from a country that has given you everything, even the right to say such imature things upon the web. You want to be a hero? You want to one day for others to look at you and see Superman? Well then do something constructive, dont talk about murder, because the day you do, is the day someone you have done wrong to does the same...what a mess! I cant believe Im actually having this conversation on TEDS.
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      Dec 27 2011: This sounds like an argument from moral relativism... I don't subcribe. You're trying to compare a man who murdered hundreds of thousands of muslims for no reason, and erased my bill of rights... to me disrespecting someone.

      I no longer have a bill of rights... I could easily be thrown in jail, in this country for what I have written. I have human rights to freedom of speech, and the right to evolve, an pursue happiness, seperate from the country I live in. I also admitted that this was one of my most horribly written, and least rationed out responses, so I tried to amend.

      I do not advocate violence... I merely suggest that if we don't punish George Bush for his crimes against humanity, what example are we setting for our children? Is a nutjob, the only thing that can fix this problem? I am not emotionally convinced that any of us should be this nutjob, I am merely stating intellectually, that I do not understand how a moral world can deal with such problems... The fact that I cannot find that answer in the modern world "keeps me up at night".

      It's called honesty. Also my parents were glorified servants, who are now debt slaves to the housing crisis, so the whole "country that has given you everything", is nonsense. I don't even have the right to say these things in my country anymore... I take it.
      • Dec 27 2011: Had you used this arguement the first time you wouldnt have recieved my input, because now you are speeking from a human rights stance not from one of anger based on a choice of murder. What you say now makes sense and brings true content to an arguement worth speeking about. Because when it comes to murder it is not based on an arguement of moral relativism, there is nothing relative about the subject the way you put it. Now when it comes to being thrown in jail for saying what you just said, that is a bit exagerated but I get what you are trying to say. I agree when you say punish but not when it advocates death as a form of punishment. I still believe that you live in a country that has given you more than you realise and that you once again are defending yourself from an anger focused point of view, which is relative none the less. Your parents situation makes it understandble that you are angry and hurting but there is more to life than that and I believe points of view should be based on a lot more than what we experience ourselves, especially when it comes to a topic as heavy and important as human rights.
        Go live in africa and then say that you are not privilaged, come here to Portugal and speak of not living in a country that still offers you more opportunities then young adults your age here...
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          Dec 28 2011: I agree with you in part... but actually, personally, I am considering moving to Africa, for moral reasons, though it would be very difficult for me to find a country not more immoral than the US. I have actually taken a vow of poverty, which stops me from helping my parents, since the war in Iraq began.

          I would rather barely subside on a sub living wage, than contribute a single dollar to the indescriminate murder of muslims. If I knew of a place with a relatively benign government, but with much worse poverty, I would move in a second. Unfortunately poverty tends to correlate with abusive government.

          So far, I used to think my best chance was trying to become a Kiwi, strangely enough. Now, it sounds like they have similar abuses and problems in their public sector as we do... but at least they have a less violent and aggressive history. I think you deny how subtle the difference however is, between "are nutjobs the only tool we have left", and "I have every right to be a nutjob"... but I did write in an extremely inflammatory, and almost violent manner, on purpose, so I guess I have to cut you some slack.

          I wasn't ever suggesting that violence was the correct response, merely, since the government seems to believe it has the right to engage in indescriminate violence against regular people, can it really say that we don't have the right to organize against them in the same manner? Again, it is not that violence is the correct solution, but does anyone who kills people have the right to tell you, it's not a solution you have a right to pursue? It's not a right I'm interested in taking, but I think it's fair to at least talk about whether or not said right exists, in a violent society.

          It is an especially emotionally charged issue though, and I understand your instant negative reaction out of anger, which was similar to my own. "Is he crazy? Or are we, who remain unperturbed in an insane world... The crazy ones?" Akira Kurosawa
  • Dec 26 2011: There must be ethical before there can be practical...but that does not mean one is forced to be perfect. There must be a structure, ideals in which we can find the necessary basic laws that allow us to function as a society and a human being. Human rights do not represent the individual, they represent the mass and that is how it should be. If it represented the individual it would be a mess, total anarchy!
    However this means that certain laws do not yet exist, or are insuficent to meet the needs of some, but unfortunately and fortunately human rights is an evolving thing, it takes time, it takes thought and structure so that it may one day stand as a pilar of our existance.
    I am shocked David, and I apologize before hand because I do not want to offend anyone, but it is apaulling to hear an educated American speak in such a way. I take ethical over practical any day to eliminate such ways of thought that may one day lead to serious actions. Living is a right no one has the power to extinguish and the day they say otherwise my friends is the day we have gone mad! No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, that is for the law to handle, the most we can do is hold the law accountable.
    David you asked what can you do when all of those things continue to happen, well you can continue on, continue to demonstrate, continue to move forward with the help of others, but the day you choose to go "Ape" is the day you lose me as a brother.
    Heroes do not resort to violence as a choice, they do so because they have no other way at the time. Dont compare yourself to Superman which you will never be, and the fact that you think and say such things proves this. Dont tell me that someone is holding a gun to your head, dont dare talk about the torture to others when it has not happened to you first hand, ask anyone who was in a situation like that, and they would ask for justice above all, not more death and evil. Heroes are ethical not practical, they fight for the common good.
  • Dec 25 2011: Joanne, I prefer to think of rights as part of a fuller discussion on relationships. The Center of all creation is Paradise, the personal residence location of God. From there and extending are relationships with the Trinity, plus Sons of many different levels serving in many different universes. The total Universe (Cosmos) consists of many smaller universes and much of this is peopled or is intended for habitation. Many Sons of God are needed to manage and teach, to serve the many ascending sons such as us mortals who move on from our nativity spheres. The total concept is untold number of beings relating to one another in a virtual unlimited number of ways and purposes.

    Considering this, not one of us mortals (or angels) could claim rights to do anything one wants to do without affecting others and therefore a divine concept is to be learned, discovered, yielding increasing peace and harmony. The Creation is too big for us mortals to see all these relationships.

    Again, if we earn our rights, we make an effort to harmonize for the betterment of all. Rights is a thing we learn; not demand. Rights is achievement and if we are in harmony with God, we are graced with peace while yet discovering even more of life. When a person is in a peaceful situation with another, there is no demand for rights because we serve each other with love. In this situation, we give to each other by allowing, by self restraint, by self control, by self mastery. Rights, then becomes a condition and not a demand. There is nothing left to covet. In short summary, we discover and accept divine nature. As a planet and nations, we have a long way to go! Individually, there is no divine requirement to wait on others to grow. We can have heaven now!
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    Dec 25 2011: every time i try to pick my point on this i keep finding a way to contradict my own thought, but ill try and make one any way. we have an individual right to try and maintain our own life. by observing nature and society it seems that co-existing in groups helps beings to do this. there are ever changing sub rights that are specifically determined by an extensive algorithm that has evolved with the developing brain over an individuals life. the right to take life might be true when all the variables show that the individuals life is going to be compromised. with in the same parameters the right to steal can be possible to sustain life but doing so the individual accepts that the other then has obtained a right to kill. with out rambling on and on i think you can see what my point is (hopefully). The only concrete born right is the right to live, situations bring forth and take away non concrete rights. um on a lighter note i just saved a bunch of money by switching my car insurance to geico!
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    Dec 25 2011: Human rights, God given rights, inalienable rights, bill of rights, etc ... mean nothing if they cannot be enforced. In some countries women walk behind men, cannot drive, cannot vote, female children are put to death. In other countries there are equal rights for both male and female. We have dictatorships, socialism, Republics, democractic republics, and all sorts of other governments and religious based governments. Each of these countries express rights differently. Throughout most of our history we had the rights of Kings and those of royal blood. By the overthrow of royality we now express leadership in terms of power. Governments are maintained or overthrown by militaries. Until there are established long term governments rights are transitory. The United Nations has attempted to establish "rights" but lack the enforcement arm to assure this occurs. Therefore I do not believe rights can be universal. Even God given rights would not be consistant. Is God Lord Budda, shiva, Jesus, Allah, Jehova, (please excuse spelling)? Each religion proclaims different rights. Constentine attempted to bring all religions into alignment. A great attempt but not successful. Rights cannot be the starting point due to the wide variations and therefore cannot be universal.
  • Dec 24 2011: Food for thought for everyone here: Rights may be considered privileges granted by higher authority. The lower the level, say, individual vs national, the more levels of granting persons or agencies above. It seems to me the highest is God. People use the term "God given rights', so it is there I think this discussion should begin. God grants man privileges: life, discovering life and its values, commerce and economy, reading, love, procreation, work, wage, food, fun, entertainment, time off, recreation, ad infinitum. We could complicate the discussion by asking, "Does God grant the right to be lazy without consequences?" Or does God grant the right of reward for work?

    I don't know how we decide what is a right. The concept of "rights" is developed in the mind of a person who wants something or who feels he's earned the right to have something.

    Are rights universal? Well, if enough people accept a certain concept as universally valuable and agree to allow it as a normal, then it is universal when the majority votes to accept. Law may be an example of granted rights, but also is involved in preventing someone from driving 100 miles per hour on Main street.

    It seems to me that rights are indeed privileges when one has demonstrated ability for good behavior, good management of oneself and ability to learn and develop skills. Passing tests, achieving requirements, and demonstrating abilities are basis for states to issue licenses. Rights are given upon demonstration.

    God given rights? Prove yourself to others you are honest, loving, willing to work, and do not intend to harm others. Then enjoy life and its rights!!!!

    What say all?
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      Dec 24 2011: Hi Mark, as attractive as this idea might seem on the surface, granting us the ability to nominate any human right as 'god given', I can see a huge downside. Mainly that some people might begin to use this power to the detriment of others. For one example; God says your wife is your possession, and must obey you no matter what. God says it is your right to kill your neighbour if he has harmed you or stolen from you.

      Who decides what is a god's law? Human beings.
      • Dec 25 2011: Yes I agree, but not what I intended. I take a dim view of anyone who claims something as "my God given right" to do something. It is the earning of rights that I give credit, but also, life is by the grace of God. Rights are given; not automatic. When someone demands something based on his understanding of his individual automatic right, then a good review is justified. My humble opinion.

        Also, there is no guarantee mankind has properly understood all that God has said or intended. I am not convinced that all which has been attributed to God is actually from God. Man is far from omniscience and therefore not all he understands to be true is full or replete.

        You do well to get us thinking about rights. I suspect we have a lot more development, evolution of thought to go before any nation will have a divine ideal Constitution. The USA Constitution is far better than dictatorships of old, witch doctor rule etc of far gone years, but regarding rights, we likely have a lot of adjustments yet to experience.

        You have a good topic going here! Congratulations!
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          Dec 25 2011: I appreciate your participation, and you have opened up an interesting perspective. I like your idea that rights are more often actually privileges.

          Perhaps the whole idea of human rights is something we in the wealthy countries have dreamed up and is a result of our extreme privilege then?
  • Dec 23 2011: Hi and hey Joanne! :)
    When it comes to " human rights" , there is nothing more important. When it comes to being, ethical, it is as important. This world, has neither. Ya all can debate and put your fancy words into it. This world has neither. So, you said neither too? Take care!! :)
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      Dec 23 2011: Welcome Tishe, thanks for participating.
  • Dec 23 2011: Human rights are a standard of living that delivers basic needs in which fulfill requirements of life and happiness. And no they will never be universal because for most of us, personal standards differ from ourselves to our neighbour let alone between people in other countries...
  • Dec 22 2011: I think the basic concept is pretty simple and straight forward. Individuals are born free of ideologies, customs, rules etc. They all share basic needs, including the need to have control over our decisions (choices), freedom to express ourselves and our thoughts, and have equal rights as others do.

    I think these basic needs are the foundation of universal human rights. United Nations created a declaration of human rights and majority of countries signed the treaty:

    This notion of universal human rights should be valid regardless of whether how people, during their childhood, are raised within certain culture, religion and customs. People might decide to follow certain ideologies and voluntary restrict their personal freedoms. However people in their community and nation should not be forced to do so as well.
  • Dec 21 2011: Suggested universal ethical framework

    1. Life is the universal process of self-directed growth
    2. Life's creative power must be channeled appropriately in order to sustain an ever-more complex and diverse community of life
    3. All life has the privilege to choose how it wishes to contribute to this community of life
    4. By choosing to contribute to the community of life you are responsible and accountable for the consequences your actions have on the community
    5. As you create more life, treat others as you wish they would treat you
  • Dec 21 2011: There is no such thing as inherent universal human rights. The concept is shaped by cultural and individual values. nature is as cruel as it is nurturing.
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    Dec 21 2011: Rights come with responsibilities. If we talk about rights, we must mention responsibilities. Universal human rights arise only where there are universal responsibilities. What does that mean? Responsibility to be a good citizen of the world, to respect other people, to act rather than just speak. I feel if we start evaluating societies based on the above points, then we can build a good base for rights. Otherwise, talk about rights, is just talk.
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    Dec 20 2011: You have whatever rights you want to have, until there are demonstrable consequences.... Human rights are universal, but they are also individual... I have a right, to shoot George Bush, or Dick Cheney, point blank in the face, they are horrible human beings, and they deserve to die. That right, is completely inarguable. There is nothing anyone could do to take that right away, I have it, whether anyone likes it or not.

    If people witness me commiting this crime, they have a right to think or act, how they will, in response. I might have the consequence of going to jail, for ending the life of an evil man... or a jury may sympathize with the fact that, that man erased my bill of rights, and let me off. Obviously it's more likely that if I did what I consider to be the noble thing, and killed an evil dictator, I would likely experience consequences... but that is my choice, the law can't take that choice away, it can only punish me, after making it.

    There is absolutely nothing, stopping anyone, from doing everything they want... It's just a matter of if you are willing to accept the consequences of your desire. I think the easiest example of this, that I can describe, is the way a post feminist society deals with wife beaters, versus, how a pre feminist society dealt with wife beaters. In a pre feminist society, it was perfectly legal to hit your wife, but it was also perfectly legal for her brother to come over your house and beat the shit out of you for hitting his sister... The rule of law, has made it illegal to beat your wife, but it has also made it illegal, to beat up a wife beater.

    So the rule of law, has protected women with the strength to contact authorities when they are mistreated.... but for the women who won't contact the authorities... It's now much worse. The rule of law, demonizes certain choices, it does not take them away. Nothing can eliminate an option you have, except yourself.
    • Dec 23 2011: I disagree with the notion that you or anyone has the right to kill someone else. You have the ability to do so but not the right.

      You have the right for e.g. freedom of speech or choice. However even that right is limited by circumstances. For example, you do not have the right to, through your speech, entice people to violence.

      Now you might happen to kill somone and then court determines whether, in that specific situation, you had the right to do so because, for example, you were defending yourself and your life was in grave danger.

      In summary human rights give you freedoms that are not absolute (as we all need to share space and resources) while we do not have rights to hurt others (except in situations similar to what I described above).

      Now whether society has right to execute someone is a very difficult question and personally I don't have an answer.
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        Dec 23 2011: Yeah, honestly, my response wasn't well written. I believe in superman, and the heroes journey. I believe my rights, stem from what is morally right, not legal. I believe I am self actuallized, and in my mind, there is absolutely no excuse for America not executing George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Carl Rove after what they've done to us. So, if I happened to find myself in the crazy situation where I had a gun, and they were there, I may choose to teach the next generation of Americans, that evil actions, have consequences. I believe I have the right to make that choice, as a self actuallized person, who is completely willing to sacrifice himself to make the world a better place.

        I believe that the only thing that allows evil to triumph is that good men do nothing... Luckily, I don't own a gun and don't plan too... Also, I'm a bit of a narcissist, so I tend to think I have the potential to find a much more beautiful, and life affirming way to improve my country... My point was simply that a lack of rights, doesn't take away choices... It punishes them, after the fact. Everyone has every right to make their own choices, whether we like it or not.
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          Dec 24 2011: I appreciate the rationale behind your ideas David, and I have enjoyed many of your other posts too but as politically opposed to people like Bush and his mates I am too, I hope you would refrain from discussing violence against them, even in a hypothetical example. It brings the discussion down to a level that is beneath us, David.

          I would be more interested in the ' beautiful, and life affirming way(s) (you can think of) to improve (your) country.'
        • Dec 24 2011: David I share with you your frustration and disbelief about what the previous government did in Iraq however we cannot approve violence as a solution.

          " I believe my rights, stem from what is morally right, not legal."
          I think this is a bit more complicated. Most people will disagree on what exactly is or is not morally right. Most of the time it is not even possible to decide whether something is right or wrong at least not without extensive analysis and even then philosophic doubts remain. However we should strive to improve our legal system to represent the best morals we can with certainty establish and then let judges decide the rest?

          " there is absolutely no excuse for America not executing George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Carl Rove after what they've done to us"
          As Joanne pointed out we do not want to entice for violence. I am absolutely in agreement that Bush and others should be prosecuted and charged according to laws. We cannot take justice to our own hands because that will lead to lawlessness and chaos and lots of injustice at the end. Everyone has the right for a due process with fair trial.

          "I believe that the only thing that allows evil to triumph is that good men do nothing... "
          Yes I agree. What good men need to do is to demonstrate, educate public about the issue, vote against corrupted officials, file petitions and perhaps engage in some civic disobedience.

          Take care
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        Dec 24 2011: Interesting, and very fair. As I said, this was probably one of my worst written responses, and it was designed to express an idea that is revolutionairy, and completely contrary to current views of morallity... I am curious however if you would concede to me, that people like George Bush will always exist?

        People who are entirely accepting of murder, slavery, torture, etc... have throughout history run our world, in my opinion... and is there anything beautiful, someone can do to stop them?

        I worry that a universal dismissal of violent actions is what allows these people to thrive. Basically, if you would agree, that George Bush did not have the right to manipulate America, Australia, New Zealand etc. into murdering muslims, torturing Bradley Manning, and erasing the Bill of Rights to do so... Can't you also concede that the only person with the power to stop things like that from happening, would be a slightly crazier, more second amendment friendly, and less optimistic version of a person like myself?

        Can nice people defeat murder, with words? I don't know... It keeps me up at night sometimes. Like I said though, i'm optimistic enough, i'd never actually suggest violence in my own life... but in the most sympathetic example, if a soldier who lost a limb, decided to shoot him... I'd say it's a moral act, he had every right to engage in. That is the slippery slope to true evil though... and I will, and do in general, try to avoid this incredibly negative, and dangerous line of thinking... I just haven't proven to myself that I should yet.
        • Dec 24 2011: I think that we will always (until perhaps we treat the condition of psychopaths) have people that do not consider others. However I am optimistic we have increasing number of people in the government that are intelligent and peaceful like Obama.

          Looking at the big picture, George Bush alone is not the guilty. In some sense he is victim of his upbringing. Politicians in Congress are guilty of not stopping invasion of Iraq, for example. Powerful Israel and military lobbies in Congress are also guilty. Then half of American people are guilty of voting for G. Bush and other politicians with agendas. So I see this much more complex and if the system is a problem, removing individuals will not solve it.

          Nice people were able to overthrow many regimes and politicians in the past, for example like in former Easter Block and Egypt.
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          Dec 25 2011: Hi David, re this remark ' I am curious however if you would concede to me, that people like George Bush will always exist?' It is a question that worries me too. It seems that so often, the worst people rise to dominate in general, and in times of stress, a more violent right wing minority often rise to take control. We can look at the psyche of these individuals and many of those people will have certain things in common. However I think it is more fruitful to look for answers in the social structure as a whole and the circumstances around it.

          When societies are under stress, they usually become more divided, there is more fear and distrust. People are more inclined to blame and hate. This creates a perfect climate for more right wing attitudes to dominate.

          I think the more equal and serene a society is, the less it is threatened by need and want, the less likely these kinds of people will rise to take power. The answer for me lies in continuing to struggle for social equality, for decentralised power structures, and for more even distribution of resources.
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        Dec 24 2011: What do you do when they torture you for demonstrating? What do you do when they mace you? What do you do when they bash little asian american women with battering rams in the most liberal city in the world? What do you do, when the only modern hero you have, Bradley Manning, is literally tortured, and imprisoned, illegally, for being that hero?

        What do you do when you live in a society where it's immoral for good people to be violent, but there are still evil people beating, imprisoning, and murdering you constantly, and they're the ones in charge? They're the ones who make the laws...

        I just don't know anymore. I haven't switched to violent resistance... I just can't convince myself anything else is capable of working yet... If me from a few years ago could read me writing this right now, he'd punch me in the face... It's not a few years ago anymore... These are dark times.
        • Dec 24 2011: It is a slow process but with the Internet people are starting to organize themselves, demand a change and educate others about the issues. Some things will take years or even decades to change but if you look at history we do make progress in human rights. Women are equal in most of the world, gay rights are becoming norm and people in various countries take it into streets to protest and they do make a change. In some cases in self defense they take on armed resistance (Libya and Syria) however those are exceptional circumstances.


          Perhaps you can join local activists and see how you can help to forward your cause. I think civil disobedience is the most radical method one should take in democracy.
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        Dec 26 2011: This is going to be a long response Zdenek, and I'm going to try and to remain intellectual and detached but please forgive me if I get a bit heated, because I mean you no offense, but I believe several of your premises, are dangerously inaccurate, and once again, I have to say... That I don't think you realize how dark of a time period the American people are living in.

        "I am absolutely in agreement that Bush and others should be prosecuted and charged according to laws." They changed the laws... Nothing they did is illegal now. Torturing and murdering Americans who disagree with the current pollitical power structure, without trial, is now perfectly legal, and it didn't stop when George Bush left office. This is simply the new political reality, America is now, officially a totalitarian state. George Bush, and the other cronies responsible for this totalitarian state, will never be brought to trial, and never be punished for their crimes. George himself, will actually be protected by American tax dollars until the day he dies.

        "In some sense he is victim of his upbringing". I find this reasoning unacceptable, because many people had worse lives than George Bush, and never chose to resort to torturing people.

        "Politicians in Congress are guilty of not stopping invasion of Iraq, for example". Every one of them should be in jail as well... but this is still a false premise, Bush invaded Iraq without congressional support. The President of the United States, has always had this power, no one has ever used it to avenge their father before. The only way congress could have stopped him, was to stop funding the troops he had already sent overseas, and that would have been a political disaster.

        "Then half of American people are guilty of voting for G. Bush and other politicians with agendas", first 47% I think... Second, it was double speak, and lies. They didn't vote for the patriot act, or the war in Iraq, they voted for less gov't, and less spending.
        • Dec 26 2011: David I think we are in agreement in most things thou I have more forward looking optimistic view. I will explain it below.

          "That I don't think you realize how dark of a time period the American people are living in."
          Yes and no. I do agree with you on how certain laws being introduce to limit people freedoms esp. online. After 9/11 security increase lead to many worrying trends about what government and local authorities can do without warrant and judge oversee.

          However at the same time I am looking at the enormous opportunity and means that the Internet is offering to this and future generations in terms of education (about human rights and politics), ability to organize, communicate and share ideas and thoughts. I am surprised how much recently the Internet allowed people to make a difference. Look at Middle East (Libya, Syria, Egypt), protests around the world against financial system and recent protests in Russia against corrupted political system.

          I believe this is just a beginning. More technologies will allow people to discover each other and organize themselves. In Europe people start be directly involved in city operations through online voting and participation. We now have organizations like EFF (where I regularly donate) that fight for online freedom. We have Wikileaks that allowed the world to see what is happening behind the scenes.

          "They changed the laws... Nothing they did is illegal now."
          I don't think that really matters. What matters is whether substantial number of people will organize themselves to change the system and get rid of corrupted politicians. As long as most people don't care or do not spend the effort to understand these issues things might get worse before they get better.

          " The only way congress could have stopped him, was to stop funding..."
          Clinton had to leave for private affair so I don't think it would be problem for Congress at all to remove Bush. However Bush has such a strong support this was not possible.
        • Dec 26 2011: "Second, it was double speak, and lies. They didn't vote for the patriot act, or the war in Iraq, they voted for less gov't, and less spending."

          In my opinion large number of people vote for republicans because they want to preserve their conservative beliefs (like disagreement about legalizing gay marriage). Otherwise non-middle class citizens will directly benefit from more government and more spending?
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        Dec 26 2011: "Most people will disagree on what exactly is or is not morally right." I disagree with this entirely. I think we all agree on the same morallity, "the person who instigates violence against unarmed civilians, is the the one who lacks a moral code". By this definition, my own intellectual sympathy for violence against the man, becomes suspect. I would argue however he is not unarmed, he's a violent murderer with millions of supporters.

        "However I am optimistic we have increasing number of people in the government that are intelligent and peaceful like Obama." DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! DANGER! Obama has a more peaceful personallity, and is certainly a more intelligent speaker, but he has expanded The Patriot Act to include "lone wolves", also know as "bloggers, and civil disobediants, who are against the American government, but do not participate in a terror cell or organization"... basically people like me, who think the republican, and democratic party are obselete antiquities that need to be replaced. Given that America was founded on the principle of "individualism"... I take extreme offense to the term "lone wolves", being an excuse to arrest people without trial.

        Also Obama is a master of double speak. We voted for him to get an investment in green technology, a national public health insurance option, lobbyists out of DC, transparency, and an end to the Iraq and Afghanistan war... Me may have gotten the last one... but the other 4 have completely disappeared from his narative. Obama also talks about middle class jobs, American manufacturing, and racism... but he's not engaging in strict diplomacy to raise the Chinese standard of living and bring middle class jobs back, unemployment is still skyrocketing... Obama, did let gays in the military, and did normallize crack cocaine laws, and I'm a big fan of those two things, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and those tow aren't the ones. Everything has been the same for 3 years.
        • Dec 26 2011: "Most people will disagree on what exactly is or is not morally right." I disagree with this entirely. I think we all agree on the same morallity...

          I am sorry but my original quote was about morality in general rather than about morality of invasion.

          "but he has expanded The Patriot Act to include"
          What I want to say about Obama is that he is so much better than Bush but at the same time I agree with you that some of his administration work is of concern. However we don't know his position and it seems to me that he is pressured to a great degree by republicans and who knows what other entity is involved. When you realize that president election campaign cost several hundred million dollars than how much freedom such president has in making decisions given so many entities and people paid his campaigns?
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        Dec 26 2011: My final thought, is... If George Bush doesn't go to jail... Aren't thousands of children being taught, that his behavior is acceptable? Aren't we literally creating psychopaths? How can you raise your children properly, when a man responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people, and the end to the greatest experiment in democracy that ever was... Is still rich, and free?

        What tools are left to the American people to fix this problem?

        I would love to hear answers. I would love for you to prove yourself right. I would love to stop thinking in this way... because, honestly, emotionally, i'm not built for a world of violent resistance... I'm a good person, I couldn't live with myself if the only answer was to get violent. Intellectually however, I have great difficulty seeing any light left at the end of the tunnel.

        Finally, Joanne, I totally agree "I think the more equal and serene a society is, the less it is threatened by need and want, the less likely these kinds of people will rise to take power. The answer for me lies in continuing to struggle for social equality, for decentralised power structures, and for more even distribution of resources." I'm just getting scared it's going to take a revolution.
        • Dec 26 2011: George Bush will become an example of how bad politicians can become and what are the consequences. Perhaps this is worth something to teach kids.

          As I mentioned above in other posts I see the power of the Internet helping us to decentralize the power. Also America will cease to become a single super power but rather the world starting to see other nations entering negotiations about how we keep peace and economic prosperity. It is not any more US vs. USSR or US alone but we will have China, India, Brasil and others as additional players that will force everyone to cooperate and prevent individuals to have much power alone.

          I think we need to look positively toward the future where more people will have say in politics and and organize around a world community for the purpose of creating lasting peace with no one having much of power over others =)

          Yes Joanne's note is so true. Yes it might take revolution to do that but I believe and hope the revolution will be through demonstrations, online activism and organized community of people working to peacefully make our political system better.

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          Dec 27 2011: So much of what you say resonates for me, I too think the Patriot Act is a very dangerous document. We do not succeed though, by using conventional methods, and certainly not violent methods, not in thought or action in my view.

          The problem lies here. We still think if we are dominated by unjust laws, by an unjust system that causes suffering, the will of the people will eventually win out. There will be a tipping point, and the people will speak and effect change.

          I do not think that can happen because we are in a unique situation never before seen in history. Today, the most powerful economies on the planet, the entities that hold and control the real power, are no longer governments, they are companies and they have found ways to elevate themselves above governments.

          Today it is banks, huge companies like Monsanto and the oil industry that pull the strings behind governments. In my country, they have just executed a perfect spearhead manouver into education, circumventing the democratic process to put in place a seemingly innocuous system of private school that will pave the way for a govt sell off of state schools within ten years. This will open the path to schools which are purely profit machines, and education as a right of every child could well be a thing of the past for us, if Kiwis don't wake up in time. This is the kind of action we see going on in every economy world wide.

          Now Goliath is so huge, we can't even see his face, and David, doesn't even know where to aim his sling.

          I think people like you are very important, because you care and you speak out, and that is the most powerful tool we have. Don't make yourself a target in the process.
        • Dec 28 2011: "oday, the most powerful economies on the planet, the entities that hold and control the real power, are no longer governments, they are companies "

          Joanne while I agree with you, at the same time it does not matter how much power companies have. Companies are still made of people and cannot survive without customers.

          In the mankind history there were always kings and dictators and corrupt companies. However what has changed fairly recently is the ability of people to communicate and organize themselves. If people loose ability to communicate then I see a huge problem. Laws can always be changed or ignored.

          Here is a great article that explain how society can change if there is a medium where people can share their common feeling and actions:

          Transparency is also increasing and that prevents the people in power to have the same degree of ability to do anything they want as they did in the past.
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          Dec 28 2011: Hi Zdenek, it is true that ' what has changed fairly recently is the ability of people to communicate and organize themselves.' and that 'Transparency is also increasing and that prevents the people in power to have the same degree of ability to do anything they want as they did in the past.' This is, I agree our best hope for change and I also agree with you that it cannot be underestimated.

          While I find your posts uplifting and encouraging too, I still worry about that the depth and breadth of Oligarchic power globally. Look at Putin's face during his recent election. He had just dropped right throught the floor of his public approval, there were protests against him all over Russia and yet he hardly batted an eyelid. He displayed an attitude of 'business as usual' that reflects the supreme confidence of someone who knows he has covered all his bases behind the scenes.

          Like Putin, the biggest companies have learnt how to sidestep almost any social event, using propaganda and finely tuned marketing strategies. They use strategies we cannot even dream of to 'prime' new markets and generate public feeling in a certain direction, in order to harvest in a five to ten year projection. They enter the hearts and minds of people with emotive rhetoric, that blinds them to their real intentions which is to harvest profit. Did the occupy movement cause anything but a blip on the radar world wide? No. compare this to the reaction of the British royal family after Diana died. Their fear was palpable. They remembered all too cleary revolutions of the past and reacted accordingly. Instead, during Occupy, the barons of industry worldwide remained inside their glass towers and gated communities, laughing at us, calling us fools and imbeciles.

          I am actually an optimist too, though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise after this post. It is just that I want people to understand the true face of the problem. Only then can we develop strategies to try to fight back.
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        Dec 27 2011: Wow... Very well written responses, that took a lot of thought, and I can find almost nothing to disagree with... Thank you, for enhancing my optimism for a moment : )

        I have 2 little issues, that I would like to bring up, that I think are concerns you address. One, is simply that America is now the driving force behind destroying the internets ability to distribute good ideas to poor people, and I worry that the EU, and various other entities especially Canada, Australia, and New Zealand... aren't fighting us on it.

        I would like to see a stronger world movement against the US, when it is wrong, and for the US when it is right... I think we did good work for a couple generations, and now people trust us a bit too much.

        The other concern I have, is that you mention China will be helping to carry the load... I feel the opposite. I feel Russia, China, and if it continues into bankruptcy, even the EU, will come out against freedom of speech. The Russians and Chinese have never had freedom of speech, and still don't, but lots of people are pretending that they have an equal philosophy of governance to US... I would argue that they do, now that we're the bad guys who are screwing everything up... New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan, and a few other nations are actually starting to make the US look like an antiquated and incompetent political system... I would like to see that continue, rather than an adoption of Chinese and Russian principals.

        I think it's still US vs. Them, for another generation or two... but the US, is now free people of all races, not just the US... In fact... The US is becoming one of them if people like me don't stop it... Through peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

        In the words of Howard Zinn "Civil disobedience, has never been our problem... Our problem, is civil obedience." This should hopefully never come to violence of course, I just have a growing fear it might, and I like expressing my freedom to discuss that fear.
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          Dec 27 2011: David; what has been going on here in New Zealand, is just as you describe. My people, who are too trusting, and therefore inclined to apathy and obedience, are being swayed, and blinded by the propaganda they hear about the 'great success' of the what is termed 'the free market' and persuaded to view their own system as inferior. Selling assets, for short term gain, the pillage of forests and marine ecosystems purely to enlarge temporary economic growth and short term gain, dazzles people and blinds them to the costs and long term effects of such a path. This is even after the massive collapse brought about by the American sub prime loan scandal in 2008

          I think the Nordic countries from Germany up, are really the only economies which stand against this tidal wave of corporate greed and we are witnessing a concerted attack against them at the moment. In the Eurozone, credit ratings are lowered below expectation. Who decides these credit ratings? Every media agency talks about European collapse as if it is a foregone conclusion. Why is that? Who would be served best if the Euro was to fall?. I note the new Greek and Italian presidents both worked for the same American Bank at one time. Is that coincidence? Probably not.

          These are issues of paramount importance to all people on the planet. Massive, behemoth companies and banks already have too much say over us, how our societies are set up and run, and they are not driven by any other moral motive other than profit. Perhaps after all that IS the new human right, and not for the many, but for only a very few.
        • Dec 28 2011: Thank you David.

          ". The Russians and Chinese have never had freedom of speech, and still don't, but lots of people are pretending that they have an equal philosophy of governance to US"

          Yes I agree with you and I am very unhappy how they vote in UN security council. At the same time I see positive signs - Russians having large demonstrations and growing middle class in China will eventually start having demands as well? Not sure but I am trying to be an optimist =)

          In any case it was great discussion, good luck and lets hope the Internet will indeed help people to become free and have say in how their country is run =)
  • Dec 20 2011: Further thoughts...
    This concept or rights overlaps with epist/ont/the-ology in that, if a creatior exists, and it is not a deist one, it is the universal arbiter of moral / immoral, good / evil. This was the worry of Socrates, ( and Macarthyism) , that atheistic interpretations of the physicists would emasculate morality. However, lacking any comprehensive view on this theology seems to do more damage to individula rights, due to the differing theological viewpoints, than it does advantage. With this said, I think conversations of individual rights should forgo any theological basis.

    As to the conflicts of ethics and pragmatism, there are may historical approaches to this conflict. Machiavelli would argue that he with the gold makes the rules, while Augustine would assert that it will all balance out in heaven, and we were in the roles the allmighty deemed best.

    One of Lincon's reasons for the emacipation of the slaves, but continued legal segregation, was that the immediate and radical change would lead to greater conflict than the gradual evolution of equality. He had other reasons, including his own bigotry, but this does seem to be a legitimate argument on it's surface. Further, the dropping of the A-bomb on 2 civillian targets in Japan was in one way justified by themillions of lives it prospectively saved by shortening the length off the war. Can arguments like these hold water, and if so, what does this "ends justifies means" stance lead us to?

    I would agree that a focus solely on the rights of individuals, which universal rights tends to do, forgoing any appreciation of the context witrhin which those individuals act, is shortsighted. Consider the end of South African enfranchised Aparthied, and the exoneration of guilt of all parties under the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission. Individual rights to redress were considered factionary and unlikely to bring about any reconciiation.

    Is this another "ends and means" argument?

  • Dec 20 2011: Some passing thoughts...

    There is an important distinction, I think, between legal and moral rights. This may be as simple as does my right to freedom of asssembly allow me to block traffic and impede anothers right to free movement, or as complex as does my freediom of religion allow me to be polygamous. Rosa Parks, for example, had no leagl right to refuse to move to the back of the bus, and the police had the legal right to prosecute her.

    Broadly stated, there are two kinds of freedom, fisrt freedom from X, and then freedom to X. In the words of J.S. Mill , "The freedom of my fist ends in the rights of your nose". Commonly freedom from X, outweighs freedom to X. My freedom from opression overrides your freedom of expression, should that expression be oppressive.

    I would argue that rights, legal and moral, are based on a mutually idealized and enacted fiction. In nature, red in tooth and claw, there exists nothing similar to this concept. It is like money in this aspect, unless we agree upon it's value, it is valueless, (except as exergy expressed in compost or btus of heat.) You cannot have a conversation with Pol Pot, or Ghengis Khan about what we concieve to be rights without some mutual framework upon which to hang your ideas.

    The second meeting of Congress agreed that the phrase, "...all men are dreated equal..." pertained to white men. And in The "Decleration of the Rights of Man" that accompanied the french revolution universal sufferage was understood to refer to men only, which we today would hardly call universal.

    This breeds a concept of the social and cultural relativity of rights which lead to some very murky moral waters. Pitiably this relativity has been used to defend every type of bigotry, mysoginy, and brutality.My freedom of sexuality, or religion, or speech, is viewed differently by different parties. Lacking a univerally agreed upon moral arbiter, who can we trust to be empowered to arbitrate between these perspectives?

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    Dec 19 2011: Mr.Paul Lillebo -
    unfortunately there was no way to reply your comment - so I made a new comment.
    thanks for your attention.
    what you said changed my mind a little - but .....
    see : what you called "right" is still a trade which two sides can break it.
    there is no gurantee.
    remember what we see in riots - especially the racist peoples- or wars.
    in that situation there`s no "right".
    there is just a cancelled arrangement. there is just a more profitable trade for who is stronger.
    we`re not speaking about a society that all the people have equal power- like your example about antelopes.
    there is a leader which arrange the trades.
    p.s: thank you for your notice. I read that book one year ago in persian.
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    Dec 19 2011: Hi Paul,
    Thanks for your response--I see what you're saying and think you have some interesting points to consider. When I refer to caring for the Self and the Other equally--it is kind of a radical notion--and it can be difficult when you consider this in terms of personal relationships. We do care for some individuals more than others. What I am promoting is valuing the idea of difference as a chance to grow and emerge anew in our own identities rather than seeing it as a distant reality or worse, a threat. I wouldn't argue that there are differences in individual closeness---I agree with that notion. My mother is more dear to me than your is to me---having said that, I work hard everyday to grow past my egocentric orientation to this world and recognize that my viewpoint is tainted by my own social positioning within our global community. That positioning necessarily impacts who I identify with most readily and who I don't--who I am drawn to and who I am most likely to distance myself from--and then work through that and figure out how I can value all perspectives as equally important in the global discussion.

    As to your point about the danger inherent in the power of communication--you are absolutely right that when we fail to recognize communication as a dialogic process in which each perspective should shape reality, those "skilled" communicators have the ability to manipulate a reality that serves self interested motivations and ends. True communication, in my view, is not motivated out of self-interest, it is motivated out of a desire to grow...however, the term itself has been misappropriated and used in a way that advances those with power--my hope is that we can re-shape what communication itself means to unleash agency for all global citizens.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments--I enjoy working through my thoughts with others....
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    Dec 19 2011: There are no such thing as human rights. The only person who can decide how we live our lives are each individual. The whole idea of rights is born on the principle that all agree to treat each other in a manor that is consistent with dignity, understanding and respect. If they do not exist then human rights also fail.
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    Dec 19 2011: Apparently some things are too simple for most people to understand: the only right people have is to be free from the initiation of the use of force. This right stems from the fact that man owns himself and everything he acquires from nature, and through voluntary exchange.
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      Dec 19 2011: How did you arrive at this definition Kaloyan?
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    Dec 18 2011: Joanne: Where do see human rights emerging from? Can you give an example of a human right and explain how it came about?
    • Dec 20 2011: Tim, if I may add 2 cents here...

      Human rights, I would argue, derive from a need to find coherence and communication between disperate groups. An individual has no rights, and requires none, A family has less than a tribal group, and need of them as well. In turn a tribal group has less need of rights than a nation-state. The more groups you mash together, the more rights you require..

      A list of some intrinsic human rights may include...

      The right to pursue my own existence derived from the fact that I exist.

      The right to freedom of thought, should I know what that thinks like.

      The right to pursue breeding, and placing the value of the welfare of those bred over the welfare of others. Derived from the biological imperative.

      The right to own two things, the one in my right hand, and the one in my left. This of course derives from my bipedal nature.

      The right to place my groups value system above that of others, deriving from the necessity of community in ongoing tribal existence and competition for resources.

      The right to a provincial, self-cetered viewpoint of the world, derived from brain physiology.

      The right to take what I can from those weaker that I. Because it's an ape eat ape world, and we would not have survived to come so far if we din't know the virtues of a monkey sandwich.

      The right to dream that it could be better. That one I think, is just human nature.

      And thankfully, the right to construct fanciful moral grounds to unperpin my emotive appreciation of what life should be, and then offer that construct on others. This last being derived from the desire for a good life, and the realization I am unlikely to have it for myself, unless I also share it with a group.

      All other rights are extrinsic.

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        Dec 20 2011: I think you're missing my point Ian. Pick just one human right. Now, explain where/how it came about.
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          Dec 21 2011: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights appeared and had the possibility of existing only in relatively recent times. Before the 20th century people discussed only the rights of different groups. The impulses which led to creation of the concept of universal human rights occurred in 20th century
        • Dec 21 2011: Tim,

          Forgive me, I am often a tad tongue in cheek...

          A short awnser on freedom of religion...

          We need it because the rise of monotheism created the possiibility of a unified codex of truth, a spititual right and wrong, which had not previously existed.

          We have it because of the spread of literacy during the rennaisance, and the enfranchisement of the individual during the post-absolitist enlightenment.

          I am happy to provide a more comprehensive examination of this idea if you like.

        • Dec 21 2011: Sergi,

          i went on to read your other post, and cannot help but agree with your analysis of the Universal Decleration, though I am loath to disqualify the Decleration of the rights of Man and Citizen as a precursor document.

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        Dec 21 2011: Ian - So, in your religion example you must admit that there was a time when such a right didn’t exist, then a later time when the right was established. So, at least over time, the right was not universal. Moreover, it became more widespread (over space) gradually, thus initially it was not universal (globally that is). Perhaps at some time it will be (if not already) accepted by all governments (i.e. - groups capable of enforcing the right) and will then be called universal.

        But the idea that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” is one I find hard to justify historically. In fact it has been said that this wording was utilized merely as a propaganda mechanism to gain support for the American revolution. When it came time to actually write a legal document in the form of a constitution the wording was much more constrained.

        What do you think? Do universal human rights exist apart from society’s willingness and ability to defend them?
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          Dec 24 2011: It's starting to sound like you're not drawing a distinction between recognizing a right in principal and recognizing one in practice, Tim. Surely we can agree that religious freedom is a core human right and has always existed independent of what cultures have evidenced in practice.

          Accordingly, it should be hard to justify rights in a historic context. This in no way dismisses their validity. We live in a society now where scientific tools are at our disposal that can illuminate what restrictions or liberties are better or worse at promoting human well-being and societal flourishing. Prior to this we've had to work off a collective gut-check when we say "this is a right, that is a right" and many of these instincts have been spot on. (some have not)

          As we move into a global mindset different cultures will show different answers to those same human yearnings. Until now there's been no way to objectively say "this value is more important to the well-being of people and cultures than that value". That is measurable now.

          Human rights are those core principals we value and which we build the laws to run a society by, that maximize human well-being and maximize the flourishing of a culture.
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        Dec 24 2011: B. Reynolds. It baffles me why you would believe that “religious freedom is a core human right and has always existed independent of what cultures have evidenced in practice.”

        That is a totally subjective opinion based on your upbringing in the modern world with a western indoctrination.

        Imagine you lived in middle ages Europe. And you were raised in the dogma of the catholic church of the time. You believed that if your children deviated from the right path they would be doomed to eternal damnation and burn in hell without hope of escape. Would you believe in religious freedom? Would you allow influences which might mislead your children? If you truly believed the dogma wouldn’t you want restrictions which would optimize the chances of getting to heaven?

        Rights emerge out of consensus. Why would you believe that religious freedom exists independent of social/historic context?
    • Dec 21 2011: Tim,

      Or perhaps the right to property...

      Some blame agriculturalism for this concept of ownership, as once we settled down to farm we had a place to keep posessions, and it proved individually benificial to do so. Personally I blame the bag, or perhaps the gourd, as prior to this innovation you could only own what you could hold in your hand.

      Then again, monkeys have been observed having a favorite object, like a stick or stone, which they carry about and evidence some interest in claiming as private,( often this object appears to be used as a toy, and this behaviour is more common among younger primates). Perhaps then, ownership is more deeply ingrained than social conventions would inspire.

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        Dec 21 2011: this one was brilliant:) Thanks!

        The right to pursue my own existence derived from the fact that I exist. (as a human, as an animal, insect, plant, etc.)

        The right to freedom of thought, should I know what that thinks like. (if i do not know i am thinking, and then i exist)

        The right to pursue breeding, and placing the value of the welfare of those bred over the welfare of others. Derived from the biological imperative.(all are eating each others but never eat up all totally, or all are eating each others but all stays like alive)

        The right to own two things, the one in my right hand, and the one in my left. This of course derives from my bipedal nature.(and third one is in the mouth. monkey has four hands)

        The right to place my groups value system above that of others, deriving from the necessity of community in ongoing tribal existence and competition for resources. (the right to struggle and to other entertainments)

        The right to a provincial, self-centered viewpoint of the world, derived from brain physiology. (and from body psychology)

        The right to take what I can from those weaker that I. Because it's an ape eat ape world, and we would not have survived to come so far if we din't know the virtues of a monkey sandwich. (to ape monkey to eat a sandwich )

        The right to dream that it could be better. That one I think, is just human nature. (to dream to have more dreams)

        And thankfully, the right to construct fanciful moral grounds to unperpin my emotive appreciation of what life should be, and then offer that construct on others. This last being derived from the desire for a good life, and the realization I am unlikely to have it for myself, unless I also share it with a group. (with real or dreamed group)
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          Dec 24 2011: Seems to me that there's a much better and more logical argument for some of the rights listed above.

          The right to peruse my own existence not derived from the fact that I exist (which is arbitrary) but instead from the fact that all people want to continue to exist so it's better if we grant that right to one another.

          The rights of free speech and free thought, because my thoughts and speech don't infringe on your right to exist. Only my actions can do that.

          The right to property and ownership because we all have a healthier more trusting society and greater chance of flourishing if I don't have to spend most of my life protecting myself from the thievery of others.

          I disagree with several of the other points above because they appeal to the lowest common denominator. Any universal right is essentially a value we hold that derives it's power from it's ability to maximize societal well-being and flourishing as well as set a floor. "the right to take what I can from those weaker than I, etc..." clearly doesn't do this.
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        Dec 21 2011: I agree with Sergej, Ian. The monkey example is very thought provoking.

        If we say that the monkey has claimed the right to a piece of property, how long does that right last? If he/she leaves it laying around and another monkey lays claim to it, does the second monkey then have the right to the property? If the first monkey fights the second monkey and wins it back, does he/she then reclaim his/her right?
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        Dec 25 2011: Just because ownership is natural, that doesn't mean that the right to ownership is. Or how do you explain the transition?
        monkeys fight over the ownership not over the right of ownership.
        ceci n'est pas un pipe... or something.
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        Dec 28 2011: Thanks! For some reason, I love this line of discussion, re the monkeys. Why I do not know. I guess I long to find out if we are the cruel capricious chimp that bites the heads of sparrows when in captivity, or are more like the gentle more cooperative creatures we see living in troopes in the wild

        Regarding the chimp and the stick; it would all depend on the chimps attitude to the stick. Liking something, picking it up and using for a time does not necessarily imply a sense of ownership. If he or she would defend when another chimp was to try to pick it up/take it/ borrow it/ steal it. Perhaps then a sense of ownership has come into play? If so, then I guess ownership is an attitude, another social construct. Quite a negative one too, since whatever is owned must be defended.
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      Dec 24 2011: Curiously Tim you asked me this question; 'Joanne: Where do see human rights emerging from? Can you give an example of a human right and explain how it came about?' just as I was asking you almost the same question further along.

      Which country? Which culture? The women's right to vote in my country can be linked to a set of socio-economic circumstances which enabled New Zealand's women to claim this right ahead of all other nations on the planet bar one. This is an example of a 'right' which is a social construct and a result of a political power play, as Ampourya has stated.

      On the other hand, if we look at smaller groups of humans living closer to nature, the right to an equal share of whatever resources are at hand seems to be a birthright, granted by virtue of your birth into that group of humans.

      Laws are forged by political strength and will, they are subject, to 'culture' and 'world view'. Strip this away, what human rights remain?. The right to be part of your family, the right to be loved and to give love. The right to breathe air, eat food, drink water. The right to give and recieve help when you need it or when your family/clan need it. All primates seem to follow these basic principles, it seems, to my way of thinking innate to us.

      Andres Aullet put up an excellent post further along the thread about primate DNA and lizard DNA existing side by side within us, forming the cooperative, and at the same time, territorial human chimp.
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        Dec 24 2011: Hi Joanne. My contention is that rights evolve. There is no such thing as a universal right in the sense of an inherent rights. Without the ability to defend a right - either politically or by consensus (which is a kind of politic also) - there are no rights. If there ever arises such a thing as a universal right (in the sense of a right possessed by all humans), it will only be when all political powers and the general consensus supports the right.
    • Dec 29 2011: Tim,

      I am glad I got a chance to respond before the conversation ended, my best wishes to you all for the holidays...

      Tim, I entirely agree that we have evolved our current set of rights out of societal constructs. I found your medieval cotholicism point quite apt. Religious freedom was not even necessary before consolidated religion, (monotheism), as heresthe opposite of religious freedom) was impossible before a codex of beliefs was formalized and enforced.

      I would stress again that "individual rights" is kind of an oxymoron, rights are a byproduct of grouping ourselves. When we lived in religious and racially homogenous groups they were unnessecary, and thus didn't relly exist. Rather than rights we had duties and debts. I think of socially homoginized hunter gatherers here, and the cultural research would agree.

      I would argue that our modern concept of rights are more a product of law and the development of ethical philosophy, both deriving from the ancient middle east, rather than from any universallity of instrinsic values. Human culture has been, and is, so varied that very few, or even none, of what we call "rights" are found in all cultures and times. Roman fathers had the right to kill thier wives and children on a whim, and no one would have the right to gainsay them. Rights have, it seems, evolved in tandem with other social institutions, such as religion and government.

      The right to life seems to me to be a good example of a concept in the midst of that evolutioon, as it it is in direct opposition to a womans right to choose and it's conception, ( if you will pardon the pun) has altered dramatically within my own lifetime. Or perhaps the right to be gay would be another example.

      Or consider the rights we have left behind as we have changed. icelandic law in viking times included a right to seek vengence, chinese custom included(s) a right to infanticide. Does the state have a right to take life for crimes? all evolving with us...

    • Dec 29 2011: Mahai, and Joanne...

      As to monkeys and ownership, I must admit that I read on it in passing and primate behaviour is not my field. I would hazard that ownership is neither natural nor it's counterpart. Blatant disparities may be less natural, but it certainly seems to be in our nature. Does a monkey own a toy once he has put it away? Koko the gorilla had a cat, and it was definitly her cat... but did she learn that from her human teachers? Perhaps just emulate them? Or mabey they do feel that way in the wild. unfortunatelt Koko's vocabulary was not wide enough to discuss much philosophy, and she is as close to the primeval mind as we have yet been able to glimpse.

      As I mentioned above, the development of sedentary agriculture is widely regarded among anthropologists as the root of modern property concerns. For the first time individuals had conspicuous wealth, and a place to keep it. That may just be a coping mechanism... with side effects.

      I think I can understand the ethos behind it, some tribes still hunted, and might take your grain in a cold winter should game be scarce. Should they get the literal fruits of your labors when they have invested nothing and it may starve your own kith and kin? Few parents would gladly hand thier household goods over to the barbarians, had they a choice in the matter.

      Thank you joanne, for an excellent topic and conversation.

    • Dec 29 2011: B. Reynolds

      It seems we shall have to agree on our right to free thought, for thouse thoughts are in conflict.

      You will note the distinction I made between intrinsic, ( those listed) and extrinsic, ( to many to list) rights in my toungeful note above. Intrinsic to any beast is the right to exist, to breed, and to attempt to prosper. this is what I mean. Extrinsic rights are those conferred by society, religious, secular, family etc... In a different society you would have different rights. ( As an aside, freedom of though had been either illegal or heretical through most of human history)

      As to your statement that there is and always has been a right to freedom of religion underlying mankinds societies, though all unrealized. I cannot think of one moralist, or philosopher who would concurr. from Aristotle to Zoroaster, from Austraila to Zimbabwe, I can find no support for that in theology or philosophy. Perhaps we all agree they had that right, though they did not know it, but that is, I am sorry to say, a meaningless and ethnocentric distinction.

      Truth to tell sir, freedom of religion is a a latecommer, and were you to mention it to a pantheist or monotheist at any time before the modern age they would think it mad. The pantheist for freedom was implicit in that there was no universal dogma to enforce, the monotheist for there was only one truth, and you must believe it, like it or no. It is the deists and atheists, by which I mean the french and other revolutionarries of 17-18 c . who wrote the foundations of our modern freedoms. Even the protestant reformers did not want freedom of religion, thier arguement was for some catholic states, and some protestant states, but one religion to a land, and no more. In many ways Martin Luther was less tolerant than the papacy.

      Still, feel free, as I shall, to think for yourself.

    • Dec 29 2011: B. Reynolds

      Upun a closer reading of your note, I would remark on your statement that...

      "Any universal right is essentially a value we hold that derives it's power from it's ability to maximize societal well-being and flourishing as well as set a floor. "the right to take what I can from those weaker than I, etc..." clearly doesn't do this.

      As I mentioned to Tim, The list was a tad tongue in cheek, and if you read the last of it....

      "The right to dream that it could be better. That one I think, is just human nature.
      And thankfully, the right to construct fanciful moral grounds to unperpin my emotive appreciation of what life should be, and then offer that construct on others. This last being derived from the desire for a good life, and the realization I am unlikely to have it for myself, unless I also share it with a group. " may have put that in a different context.

      But while we are on the topic, what rights promote the well being of the Mongol Horde? A perfectly harmonious society that lasted for centuries and commonly forced children to fight dogs for food, so that they might be strong enough to survive the brutal steepe. What we call barbaric they called good parenting. I am not arguing for relevatistic rights, I am saying that they are so, wether we like them or not. Aristotle had the right to own slaves, as did Thomas Jefferson. Voltaire was a rabid and unrepentent anti-semite... there was no need to repent of something everyone knew was true. Viking lords, egyptian pharohs, Han emporers, all were buried with thier slaughtered wives, servants and goods.

      What does all of this point to? We are each a product of our place and time.. the only universal rights I can think of, as applied to all mankind, through all time, are those I listed above... everything else has been open to the interpretation of those people in thier own time.

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    Dec 17 2011: "If you want peace, work for justice" Pope John II
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    Dec 17 2011: Hi Joanne. Thanks for your reply. In my opinion, and, I recognize that my opinion is limited to my own perspective and social positioning, human rights are not something that can be reduced to an ethical frame that we prescribe. I believe human rights, in essence, begin with a commitment to the "Other" and the beauty inherent in our own humanity. The ethic is not a universal code so much as it is a universal commitment to critically and objectively reflecting on our own social positioning and that of the "Other"--and then de-constructing the power structures that enable and privilege some voices and constrain and devalue others. I think a global ethic would require a commitment to seeking out all voices and ensuring they have an impact on the creation of our emergent reality. This requires those in privileged positions to use that power to open a forum for those without power, and, perhaps even more difficult, be willing to embrace the meaning that emerges from inviting these often silenced voices into the discussion--even if it challenges the social structures that privilege them. It's certainly not easy--but, I would argue, it is well worth it if we are to truly embrace a global community.
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      Dec 17 2011: Would you care to give an example of a 'human right' which might not translate from one culture to another?

      Any of these? Food, shelter, clean water, clean air, the right to self autonomy?

      I am interested in your take on it, and I think you make a good point, that ethics in general could be culturally sensitive. But are there none which are universal in your view?
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        Dec 17 2011: I think, broadly speaking, you can say the right to life, the right to health and health care, the right to shelter and, yes, the right to autonomy. However, I believe these things are interpreted and enacted quite differently from culture to culture. So, in general rights can be talked about in broad strokes as applicable to all humans. However, while I think people from across cultures can talk in terms of supporting, for instance, right to life, when you ask people from across the globe what this looks like and how it is interpreted within various cultural contexts, you would find some serious differences in what is and what is not acceptable. Additionally, I think these broad notions of right to life enable these differences across local contexts while simultaneously inhibiting our ability to have a productive discussion about these human rights that might transform perceptions and ideas and encourage growth as a global community. So, if you're asking what I personally believe--I absolutely believe that human rights should consist of a right to life, health (and all that goes with this--clean water, shelter, nutritious foods, access to health care), respect, education, faith, dignity, shelter, and voice. But I think we need to approach our discussions about these kinds of rights dialogically to ensure all voices are heard and considered in the formation of the emergent reality about these global rights and what they look like rather than imposing what our own culturally bound perspectives are on what these rights should look like across the globe and judging cultures from that vantage point. We all need to improve our enactment of these rights, so we can all learn from one another--but we all have to be willing to do so--and that means we have to step outside our own egocentric position and embrace other perspectives as we negotiate what these rights are and how they should look. In this way, we can move forward together to better address these issue
  • Dec 16 2011: Unfortunately, Human rights dos not have a definite definition... the human rights in a communist nation would be much different from those within a democracy. Thus, these tend to be based upon the respective governments often even contradict one another.