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.
Dictionary.com (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 Dictionary.com) (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 dictionary.com 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)
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Commentary: BeeBee Brouwer
Sunday, 18 October 2009
The 16 Days of Activism against gender violence is an
international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.
The 16 Days Campaign has been used as an organizing strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by:
- raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels
- strengthening local work around violence against women
- establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women
- providing a forum in which organizers can develop and share new and effective strategies
- demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world organizing against violence against women
- creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women
A coalition of social justice groups within Second Life will be marking the 16 days campaign here in SL by organising a series of discussions, presentations & exhibits highlighting violence against women internationally.
Topics will include: women fighting for peace in isreal & palestine; the white ribbon campaign and mens role in challenging male violence; anti slavery and trafficking in women;
commercial sexual exploitation & the links between different forms of violence against women; rape and sexual violence as a human rights issue; the situation for women in iran; femicides in mexico; amnesty international campaign on ending violence against women and taking back the tech - representations of vaw in SL.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Thursday, 15 October 2009
16 10 09
(detail will be filled in by Plot on the night – the meeting should not be longer than an hour tops.)
Intro (Plot) Why we have met up tonight.
Intro (everyone else who turns up – introduce themselves and something about the activism they engage in in rl/ on the Web and SL)
Date of Next meeting
Sunday, 11 October 2009
‘Surrogates,’ is a thriller about a world in which no one leaves the house any more because we all have robot versions of ourselves that can be controlled remotely, allowing people to experience the world without risk to their selves, and also to project whatever image of themselves they like.
The main plot of the film features two versions of Bruce Willis’ FBI Agent Tom Greer-firstly his unpleasantly photoshopped, waxy surrogate, with a comedy blonde toupee. But when the machine is damaged he is forced to come out into the real world in his real, bald, bearded, fragile and aged self. He does this to investigate the first murder that has occurred in years, using a weapon that is somehow able to kill a surrogate and the remote operator.
If the main plot sounds a bit silly, that’s because it was. The main charm of the film, in a way not unlike ‘Children of Men,’ (but not done nearly as well), is the background details the makers have created. The film opens with the staple of many a sci fi movie-the fake news reports that explain the background that sets up the world of the story. The one in Surrogates is particularly well done, with many of the fake pundits featured very reminiscent of a certain brand of nerd-hypester, insisting on TV the world shaking significance of the latest technological breakthrough. And throughout the film, little details, such as the advert that says, “Give every child the perfect childhood: Surrogates for children,” help to build up the atmosphere to make a creepy allegory about the alienation of early 21st century techno capitalism and the technological changes it has bought to social interaction via creations like Second Life or Facebook.
However, despite the fact that many details help to build a believable world, there’s a lot about it the social and political background of the film that’s unsatisfyingly resolved. A minority, but mass, movement around the world opposes the use of surrogates, and has formed reservations where they can live fully human lives. These people are led by a dreadlocked Ving Rhames, who plays ‘The Prophet,’ who inexplicably has the same first name as the former name of the Democratic Republic of Congo-Zaire Powell. We get to see a bit of this movement and their autonomous spaces, which are ramshackle hippie communes, but with a lot more green space and real looking people than the fake urban robot world outside. At one point a horse and cart is clearly meant to channel the idea of the Amish for the viewer. However, they’re never really fully fleshed out as a group, and remain a bit of a caricature.
But less well done than this is the throwaway mention at the start of “racism and sexism rapidly disappearing.” Why this should happen is never explained, and it is flat out contradicted in at least one scene, when we see two men using their surrogates to beat up a fellow robot woman, apparently simply for pleasure. But more than this, the implied point throughout the film, in a clear metaphor for the internet (with its flame wars and invented personalities for users), people use surrogates to live out their fantasies. Everyone can project whatever image of themselves they want, and more often than not, especially for women, this a sexualised stereotype of the human ideal. In another scene we see a bald, white, geeky scientist whose avatar is a much taller, well built black man. What does it say about this man that his fantasy version of himself, presumably in contrast to his nerdy self, is an athletic black man?
This raises a serious point about the makers’ impression of the changes being wrought in our society by the internet and new technology. One of the greatest economic drivers of the growth of the internet is the vast increase in pornography it has brought about. As a consequence our society is increasingly influenced by the ridiculous sexuality and extreme racism portrayed in porn. In many ways the internet (and its metaphorical version in the film, surrogacy) hasn’t eliminated sexism and racism-in fact it’s heightened it and made it worse.
As well as this, the issue of class and economic inequality is never really dealt with. I know I shouldn’t really expect that of a mainstream Hollywood film, but it did leave me wondering-can poor people afford surrogates? And in a world of such advanced robotics, why is there still the need for many people to even have jobs?
However, when parodying our world and how we interact with each other online, the details of the film are very successful. The world of surrogates is clearly false, but no one can conceive of life without them. This is personified in the character of Bruce Willis’ wife, who is angered when he starts refusing to use one, and is using hers as a means of disconnection from the painful, human reality of their past and current relationship. In contrast to the plastic, cosmetic surgery version of perfection of the surrogates, all the human operators we see are old and fragile, and bear all the hallmarks of our world’s obsessive computer user, with bad skin and damaged eyes.
Many of the action sequences feel a bit tacked on to appeal to people who just want thought free excitement, but despite this a scene were we get to see the US military in operation, with faceless robots descending on a desert enemy who we never really see (are they human or surrogate?) there is a nice touch: the soldiers themselves are sitting in a glorified gaming room. In an amusing comment on how the proliferation of war games to a generation that has fought in Iraq, we see how the conduct of war now really is like a game-when killed you reset to a specified point and go back to correct your mistake.
There’s a lot about ‘Surrogates,’ that’s very of our time. Recently there was a media controversy after a leading artificial intelligence researcher claimed we’re 10 years away from artificial people that can be bought for sex appearing on the open market. And as more and more people, via laptops and iphones, mediate every part of their daily experience through computer technology, are we really that far away from the world of the film? And of course, more than this, there’s the obvious parallel with alienation through consumerism, with people only able to experience the world and feel fully human by using and owning inanimate things.
However, where the film falls down is it wants to be two things at once-intelligent meditation on the theme of consumerism and techno alienation, as well as Bruce Willis futuristic cop action thriller. In trying to do both it doesn’t really succeed in either, but there are enough elements of a cleverer film in there to at least hold your interest.
Although agreeing with Jack Ferguson on quite a number of points in his review of “Surrogates” (SSV; Friday 2nd October), I have a number of points I would like to add to with a lesser pessimistic view of new technology and the internet.
I agree that there are some people who are obsessive computer users - perhaps with bad skin and damaged eyes – but I cannot agree that this is the norm. An image of the “typical” Facebook user, or Second Life User has been adopted by lots of commentators on these phenomena – and I would argue that the media put across a negative view of these alternative media and the user because they threaten their income and they also threaten the “clearing house” represented by our twentieth century media houses. I agree that there are those who have placed their first life on hold and live their lives through these new media – but the reasons are much more complex than “obsession” or “geekiness” (perhaps one I will go into in depth in another article). Those who have placed their real lives on hold are, in my opinion, far outnumbered by those who use these tools to educationally enhance their lives/ activism etc.
As someone who was a regular user of Second Life (I have not been involved so much in the interface for most of this year, but still stay in touch with a lot of the people I befriended there through twitter, email or Facebook- all of which I can access on my computer and phone), I came to see the positive aspects of this “world”. Yes, it did have the porn aspects and the “flames” etc – people were able to say, “do” and act out fantasies – and still do, though porn has now been relegated to a parallel “Second Life” in which you must sign up with a credit/debit card in order to access – but there were other aspects of this media that were being used by friends, activists and business that were – and are less than “geeky” or sinister.
I won’t go onto ground I have already covered in The Scottish Socialist Voice, Red Pepper (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/Left-unity-in-Second-Life) or Frontline (http://www.redflag.org.uk/frontline/feb07/03secondlife.html ) about the Second Life group a number of us set up nearly three years ago – Second Life Left Unity – which is still going strong, with a women’s network that spreads across the real world and an activist base who meet up periodically to share ideas, links and articles from across the left spectrum. Although these groups – and the individuals involved, operate within this digital “world” – they are using this medium as an aid to their very real life – it is a tool that allows them to talk (Second Life can be used with microphones as well as type) to people involved in real life actions ranging from Palestine, through to indigenous peoples rights activists in North America, New Zealand and Australia and people involved in the recent Greek uprising and also the recent left victories in Portugal and Germany. The first hand knowledge these people can pass on to activists across the real world is invaluable – name a cheaper way for real life activists to meet and question each other on what is going on in Uruguay, Paris, the outback or Glasgow? I would say the only barrier to this medium to being much more popular and useful to activists is the length of time you need to take to set up and learn how to use it, though as time goes on and the technology is opened up to more developers etc, this set up time is reducing – and after a few hours of practise, it is an easy interface to use.
Facebook and other social networking sites can also be frivolous and entertaining etc; but I - and many others - also see them as ways to link up across the world with people of the left and share information about local/national/international campaigns. Through Facebook, I have spoken to people in Scotland I have never met in “real life” and they have, through reading my posts, become supporters of the Scottish Socialist Party, or have educated themselves on various issues. This is, of course, reciprocal, an almost Freirien educational experience, were everyone becomes teachers and learners.
I don’t disagree with Jack that there are people who “fetishise” phones/computers or the like, but I think there are as many people who buy these applications for something beyond the need to have the latest gizmo to impress their friends. New technology has made it cheap and easy to send messages to many people at one time – and this technology has meant that news of events happening in the now can be instantly transmitted across the world without the intervention of “Fox News” or the BBC. During the G8 Auchterarder demonstrations, I was able to pass on information from the news/ the web about why buses were being stopped etc to people on the buses who were not being told any information by the police manning the cordons around the village. Text, and now Twitter and internet phones have made this kind of passing on information easier and quicker. The authorities are panicking about this -this was recently, very graphically shown with the arrest of an activist involved in the protests at the G20 meetings in the US as he was “Twittering” on the spot reports of the demonstrations. Elliot Madison was arrested, along with a friend, in a hotel room in Pittsburgh for using computers and a radio scanner for tracking police movements and then passing this on via Twitter to activists on the ground with internet access on their phones. He is charged with “hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime” (computers and a radio).
The use of Twitter, blogs and Facebook, etc was also very graphically illustrated when on 13th October 2009, the waste corporation, Trafigura was forced to withdraw a gagging order it had slapped on journalists from reporting a routine Parliamentary question. Reporters were able to say in the Guardian, that they “were prevented from identifying the MP who asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found” – and that was basically all. Tweeters and bloggers then quickly tore apart the mystery and began reporting that it was a question tabled by MP Paul Farrelly on the dumping of chemical waste in the Ivory Coast. The activist who blew the whistle had published all the details of the gagging order, within 42 minutes of the original Guardian statement going up. Just over two hours after the Guardian statement was published, Carter-Ruck, Trafigura’s lawyers, contacted the Guardian to alter the gagging order and ensure the Parliamentary questions could be reported. It was a victory for new technology. The actor, Stephen Fry, who is a Twitter user – and who also became part of the “Twitteratti” who made sure the story of Trafigura became the biggest internet expose and “high trending” topic on the internet that morning, said, “Carter-ruck caves in! hurrah! Trafigura will deny it had anything to do with Twitter, but we know don’t we?”
Recently, a billboard advert had to be withdrawn from the streets of Northern Ireland after a group of Facebook feminists organised an online campaign. The advertising Standards Authority said it received a number of complaints about the advert, which featured the image of the cleavage of a woman wearing a white bra with the strapline: “Nice headlamps. What do you look for in a car?” The ASA said the poster “caused serious offence… and was likely to be seen to objectify and degrade women by linking attributes of a woman, her cleavage, to attributes of a car, the headlamps, in a way that would be seen to imply a woman, like a car, was to be selected for those attributes.” Glasgow online activist, “Ledoof Constantineau”, said of this victory that it was “totally magic!” She is a user of social networks and Second Life as an aid to her activism. She said, “Social networks afford a range of opportunities for activism for women. We can connect, engage and share information/ideas/strategies for action now on an international level, without borders.
Feminists in Second Life, for example, have worked to raise awareness of the situation for women in Iran during and after the recent uprising. Sharing information across networks such as Twitter, facebook, and blogs has also been crucial in letting the world know exactly what has been happening there. A coalition of feminists, activists and organisations such as Rape Crisis Scotland are currently working together to organise an event for the 16 days of activism against violence against women. Using SL we break down the barrier of being on other sides of the world (The group comprises activists from Brazil, Mexico, UK, USA, Canada, Holland to name a few). We can collaborate synchronously, sharing ideas and common ground. Social media provides fertile ground for education and awareness raising on a scale previously impossible. As women, it is particularly important that we ‘take back the tech’; tech that often mirrors real world sexism (pornography, stalking, misogyny), and makes us reluctant sometimes to fully embrace what’s available and use it to our advantage.”
With access to the internet and in turn, social networking now possible through phones, how we communicate or self educate – or pass on information, has changed dramatically even in the last couple of years. Sitting here in a park (my son and his friend are playing) , I am able to access the internet to find information on Elliot Madison; access the news in order to see updates on the continuing MP’s expenses scandal, communicate with activists (arranging an SSP Campsie response to the Schools survey sent to all homes in East Dunbartonshire), type this article – and, oh – to arrange meeting a friend for a drink tonight. Only a few years ago, when I brought my son to this same play area, I was only able to read the paper or a book. This new technology has meant information on the go – a new world – and way - of education.
Sunday, 4 October 2009
SLLU meeting on October 16th. All welcome. This meeting will be the first monthly meeting. Members of all left groups are welcome. this is your opportunity to speak to others on the left and perhaps get them involved in your project!
The time for this meeting on the 16th has not been decided... please email me firstname.lastname@example.org with the time that suits you.