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Collectivising Human Rights

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
How do we see Human Rights in a way in which the person is not separated from the community?
How do we see Human Rights in a way in which the person is not separated from the community?

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As I sat, sipping my coffee and reading one of the local newspapers the other morning at “red's in Ramsay” (a diner here in Calgary, Alberta), I found myself frustrated by what I was reading. There was an article about “The Interview” with a headline that was proclaiming that freedom of speech was being upheld.

“The Interview” and all the brouhaha that led up to it's release is an interesting news piece: if we deconstruct and analyze it, we realize there are 3 major important pieces of information we can gleam from it.

The 3 important pieces of information are as follows. 1) It was used to cover up and hide the Senate torture report thus exposing how government and corporations collude with each other to to set or change the narrative within the body politic.2) It exposed HollyWood as being a tool for Government propaganda and American imperialism. 3) it exposed the politicizing, narrowing and hypocritical use of “Human Rights” by the American Government and mainstream media.

These are all important pieces of information to delve into, but for purposes of keeping this short enough to keep your attention I am gonna stick to looking at the third piece of information, namely, how the U.S uses the issue of “human rights” in a very politicizing, narrow and hypocritical way.

What do we mean when we use the term “Human rights”? From Wikipedia we get, “Human rights are moral principles or norms[1] that describe certain standards of human behaviour, and are regularly protected as legal rights in national and international law”. This definition, in my opinion, fails to get at the essence behind the term “human rights”

The narrow use of human rights by America and the west can be seen by the fact that America and the west do not view us as having rights as a result of being born (these rights may actually be better understood as responsibilities). The American/Western view of human rights is that they are given by God to the rulers of the western world to bestow upon their subjects. Rights viewed in this way, removes them from being about the social interactions of people and makes them ahistorical and turns them into a social construct. Have you ever wondered why our(Canadians) charter of rights and freedoms is not a document of inalienable rights but rather a document of crown prerogative that can be given or taken at will?

America and the west have a capitalist understanding of Human Rights, meaning they apply capitalist values to Human Rights. With America/the west, the rights of individuals to express and promote xenophobia, imperialism and racism, trump the rights of a whole peoples to be free from having the aforementioned bigoted and hateful ideas expressed against them. In America/the west, the individual is free to express anything that is devoid of social responsibility, such as the right to private property(to exclude people from land) while the social rights of millions to have access to healthcare and affordable homes are ignored. This hypocritical stance is necessary for the continued dominance of Western Capitalism. Western Capitalism demands and ethos of individualism that is devoid of any sense of social responsibility and one of the great ways the west sells this idea is by wrapping it in the warm fuzzy wrapping of “Human Rights”.

We in the west are raised in a culture of individualism and as such it can be difficult for us to comprehend of human rights as being collective rights. So then the question becomes, how do we conceive of Human Rights as collective rights? How do we see Human Rights as rights that are developed and are the product of material interactions? How do we see Human Rights in a way in which the person is not separated from the community?

Some say it is money that is to blame and to a certain extent, I believe they are right. I come from Nova Scotia where there is less money and there tends to be a stronger ethos of shared collectivism. However, when we begin to look for others aspects of society that can lead to an individualist concept of Human Rights, we can see that it can be any number of contributing factors from weak unions to reduction of the commons to private property.

I do not think the question of “how do we see Human Rights in a way in which the person in not separated from the community” is a hard question to answer. I think once we start seeing people as not separated from community, then our view of human rights with reflect that collective ethos.

Tackling questions on paper is the easy part. Without collective effort, collective organizing and without building unity in action we are going backwards. Theory is great for building strategies and tactics but we must remember that theory springs from action, not the other way around. For those who have already stepped up to the plate to take action to build a more progressive society, thank you. For those still waiting, it is time. You are the ones who hold our future in your hands. Please don't drop it.

Aaron Doncaster


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