Thursday, 29 October 2009

Demanding Dignity.

Commentary: BeeBee Brouwer

In essence, Amnesty International’s ongoing Demand Dignity Campaign(1) seeks to secure respect for and defense of the basic human rights of all people, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, race, religion (or lack thereof) etc. in accord with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2) as ratified (though widely disregarded) by most (3) members of the United Nations, with a specific focus on the shocking disparity in maternal mortality between the so called “first” and “third” worlds as being indicative of a fundamental disregard for the basic human dignity of those cultures and peoples who lack economic resources by those cultures and peoples of relative economic prosperity.

For clarity, let’s examine a few key terms; it does little good to discuss such abstract concepts as “dignity” without a common understanding of the word. (4) defines “dignity” as :
1. Bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.
2. Nobility or elevation of character; worthiness: ‘dignity of sentiments’.
3. Elevated rank, office, station, etc.
4. Relative standing; rank

For the purposes of this article we shall accept this definition as read, with a further caveat to the reader, who is advised to examine other sources, specifically Wikipedia (5) which reminds us that International Proclamations to date have failed to define the term. (see references provided by Wiki)

Rights in the context of this article and applied as a noun, whether singular or plural, are defined (again by (6)
As a just claim or title, whether legal, prescriptive, or moral: ‘You have the right to say what you please.’

The subject and definition of ‘rights’ has occupied legalists, moralists, and philosophers for quite a while with arguments about what is and what is not a ’right’ possessed, claimed, or asserted, by any individual or collective entity; this writer asserts that in all such contexts it is demonstrably ‘true’ that the possession of any ‘right’ is ultimately contingent upon the assertion and exercise thereof.

“A ‘right’ is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only ONE fundamental right (all others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life.” - Ayn Rand in “Man’s Rights”

Ms. Rand further states that “Any alleged ‘right’ of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.”

Returning to the definition of ‘rights’ accepted as read for the purposes of this article, we find that the justice of any claim to a given ‘right’ is essential if the claimed ‘right’ is to be validated as such.

With the subject of justice we arrive at the crux of the matter at hand and eschewing lengthy discourse on the definition of ‘justice’ we shall again accept as read the simplified definition offered by Dictionary .com (7) “1. The quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness”

This writer asserts that human beings are innately conscious of what is and is not “fair”, “right”, and “just”, and that semantic hairsplitting discussions on the subject are deliberately employed to confound the issue and invalidate the a-priori understanding of such that every child is born with in order to rationalize the invalidation of justice inherent in the assertion and exercise of the ‘right’ to deprive others for gain.

We who enjoy the benefit of a “first world” lifestyle and have inherited a sense that we are rightfully entitled to our comparative wealth, are (generally) accustomed to projecting a sense of our own dignity; we accept, as a matter of unquestionable fact, that we are deserving of the respect we demand, and that the relative material wealth we possess through inherited advantages afforded by the circumstances of our birth is ‘rightfully’ ours.

For us (particularly in the United States) it is unthinkable that our innate or codified “rights” should be violated or impinged, our persons assaulted, disrespected, or violated, or our possessions and/or property taken or damaged by others without our ability to exercise our ‘right’ to recourse, redress, and the pursuit of “justice”.

We, individually and collectively, routinely abnegate the responsibilities inherent in our assertion and exercise of our ‘rights’ to the elected or appointed ‘leaders’ whose function it is to act in such capacity as serves to consolidate and exercise our power and ability to define, assert, and defend the ‘rights’ we take for granted.

Having thus forfeited the individual authority and power of self assertion, we as individuals must, perforce, rely on the systems and leadership of our respective governments for the ‘rights’ we take for granted.

The ‘rights’ of states, as exercised by their respective governments, are claimed, defended, and exercised in the name of their citizens, each of whom has in fact abnegated their personal responsibility for the acts, actions, inactions, crimes and coercions perpetrated in their names, both domestically and abroad, by virtue of the sublimation and subjugation of the individual to the state.

Criminal citations issued by governments frequently charge that the alleged acts were ‘against the peace and dignity of the state’ and seek redress through the systems of law by which statehood is defined, this writer asserts that such citations seek to assert the ‘rights’ of the collective citizenry over the ‘rights’ of any individual.

In corollary, it is the assumed and asserted ‘right’ of the state to conscript the citizen for use as an expendable asset on a battlefield from which all lesser coercions and abuses of individual ‘rights’ are drawn. Regardless of whether the soldier is drafted or volunteers, his or her life is government property and the uses to which that life is put become the responsibility of the government, this has the legal effect of absolving the individual of responsibility for the theft and murder which is the essence of war.

“The term ’individual rights’ is a redundancy: there is no other kind of rights and no one else to possess them.”

“Any group or ‘collective’, large or small, is only a number of individuals. A group can have no rights other than the rights of its individual members. In a free society, the ‘rights’ of any group are derived from the rights of its members through their voluntary individual choice and CONTRACTUAL agreement, and are merely the application of these rights to a specific undertaking…A group, as such, has no rights. “

“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

- Ayn Rand in “Collectivized Rights”

Taken as read, we find that the ‘rights’ of states derive from the individuals who comprise their citizenry.
Further, we find that no individual has the ‘right’ to impinge upon the rights of any other individual.
It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the state has no right to impinge upon the individual’s rights, nor does it have the right to deprive any individual of their rights.

If we accept this conclusion we are forced to acknowledge that nations and states, claiming, asserting, and exercising rights they do not in fact possess, are fundamentally criminal in their essence.

Rooted in “the Divine Right of Kings” whose questionable legitimacy stems from the ages of barbarism wherein “might made right” this writer cites kingship and nations et al as the most basic expression of the need for the individual to take back, by force if so required, the rights and responsibilities of being human.

The social evolution of man is such that we must recognize and accept that, in the words of Rand, “Any doctrine of group activities that does not recognize individual rights is a doctrine of mob rule or legalized lynching…” and that “A nation that violates the rights of its own citizens cannot claim any rights whatsoever. In the issue of rights, as in all moral issues, there can be no double standard.”

This writer posits that we who would assert our own rights have a moral and ethical imperative to secure and defend the rights of others lest our claim to those selfsame rights be invalidated.

WE, the individuals, regardless of nation, must expose, face and accept the fallacies inherent in our presumptive and arrogant assertions that the “First World” is economically ascendant because of our supposed moral superiority; ANY honest reading of history will reveal that ‘First World’ economic power and the inherited advantages that accrue therefrom (lower infant and maternal mortality rates, better health care overall, a comparatively well fed and educated population…etc.) are DIRECTLY attributable to the morally and ethically reprehensible exploitation of the resources and assets which were and are BY RIGHT the property of the indigenous “Third World” populations enslaved by our forebears.

WE must face our complicity in the death of every child soldier who dies in the corporate proxy wars of Africa.

WE must validate our own claim to dignity by asserting and ensuring the dignity of those upon whose bones our ascendancy continues to stand.

WE have a moral, ethical, spiritual and HUMAN imperative to reclaim our individual and collective ‘rights’ from our governments; WE must force those who act in our name to act to establish the ascendancy of right (adjectival application) which is a fundamental requirement of human dignity.

Write to the ‘leaders’, instruct them to follow the guidance of the individuals they represent; write letters, publicize the activities of conscienceless corporations and divest yourself of their stocks. Refuse to ignore, participate in, condone or profit from the extractive exploitation of the impoverished, powerless people of the ‘Third World’ and insist, no.. DEMAND an end to exploitative business practices. Demand DIGNITY for all, or face the invalidation of your own.

(BeeBee Brouwer, an SL resident since 2006 for Amnesty International-E)








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