Can you hear that? In the distance? Can you feel the drumbeat in the ground? Is it coming from Iran? Maybe it’s Syria. For a while I thought it was North Korea, but I don’t think so. Can you hear the drums of war getting louder and louder? I can. I can hear it in the rhetoric of our leaders. I can hear it in the facile rationalizations of our “liberal” media. I can hear it in the militaristic cheer leading of family members’ Facebook posts. I hope I am wrong, but it seems inevitable that some time soon we will be sending our troops across the sea, again, despite the fact that we still have not paid for our last two adventures, both of which we have not finished. Indeed, the fear created by our debt hawks here probably has so many Americans eager for the release of bloodshed. Continue reading
It is astounding how much can change in a decade and equally amazing how some things do not change. Ten years ago I was still deep in the closet about my gender identity. Ten years ago I was in college studying political science and international relations. Ten years ago I thought, despite my distrust of the motives of our leaders, that sending our military into Iraq was a good idea. Continue reading
Some events, some issues, some conflicts seem to never want to resolve themselves. They stick around long after smart, caring people have worked very hard to send them on their way. They remain despite the fact that often those caring people may have come from opposite sides and have managed to reach out, each to the other, to heal rifts. Such is the case with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Continue reading
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
And finally we get to an important disclaimer. All across the political spectrum you can find people who will point to the opposite point on the spectrum and accuse its adherents of manipulating regard for these rights to increase their own power, to set themselves or their group above others. All across the political spectrum you will find instances where these accusations are unfortunately all too accurate.
These rights need to transcend political, religious and yes even personal ideology. Am I emotionally invested in them? Certainly, but that has absolutely nothing to do with their ultimate importance and why they need to be, as is right in the Declaration’s name “universal.” Yes, we feel better about agreeing with the Declaration, but its importance lies in the fact that adhering to it makes the world a safer, saner place for everyone, including ourselves.
To deny these rights is to invite continued chaos. It denies people a place at the table of community and when they are so denied, after a while, they decide to take a place at the table. That is undeniably, empirically true. To quote RATM “hungry people don’t stay hungry for long.” We’ve been sharing this planet for possibly 2 million years. We’ve been able to save and share our articulation on that experience for at least 12 thousand. We are long past the need to continue the cycle of power exchange and resource hoarding that has plagued us as long as we’ve been “us.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an important step in breaking that cycle. Let’s help each other out by spreading the word as far and wide as we can.
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
There has always been a curious dance between individual liberty and community responsibility. These are not mutually exclusive ideas, but they are often at odds. Sometimes the individual can thrive when the community allows him to, or the community can benefit greatly from a strong individual. Still, it is the rare person whose wants and needs never conflict with those of their neighbors.
In all likelihood the struggle to balance these needs will never be completely settled, but Declaration, along with our own Constitution and the Constitutions of most Industrialized Democracies, reflect an honest attempt to resolve this. Have we fallen down? Have we failed to live up to our high ideas? Have we even ignored them in the name of base desire? The answer to all those questions is yes, but that does not mean we should give up on our attempts to find a more perfect harmony between the one and the many.
At best giving up on solving that question is a sad admission of weakness. At worst it is opening the door to chaos and pain. When the individual is lost to the community we lose the very things that make being human special. When the community is forgotten in the chase for individual gain, despotism takes root. Neither is a very appealing outcome. We may never have the answers, but the search for them is a necessary endeavor just the same.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
Sixty years. It has been sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been written and in most of the world most people do not have access to most of these rights. Indeed there are groups that have access to none of them. We have done such a poor job of meeting the needs of the oppressed even though there is more than enough wealth to meet everyone’s needs and still have the ridiculously wealthy enjoy their lavish lifestyles. What stops us from keeping the Declaration’s promise?
Part of the problem is the lack of institutions. The UN has tried to enforce its rules over the years, but lacks any real teeth. Unless the most powerful nations agree on a course of action, it seldom acts to protect the weak. This happens, in part, because the most powerful nations disagree not so often as to what needs to be addressed but rather how to address it. Our own nation, rather than take advantage of the international courts in dealing with Saddam Hussein, damaging both the courts’ and our own legitimacy. Sometimes this is a matter of simple misunderstanding and stubborn insistence on the primacy of our manner of handling things.
Much of it, though, is selfish neglect and a certain degree of dangerous nationalism. Many fine, compassionate people, particularly in the Western World, still have problems with their beloved nation being second guessed by a larger organization. This works fairly well for the moneyed elite around the world, as such an organization could keep them in line as well as the brutal dictators they often deal with. Because people put their national identity above the collective good, their politicians either ignore the UN’s needs, or actively malign that body.
So far that has worked OK for the relatively wealthy people of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and the rest of the great economic powers. That can’t go on forever though, and as our civil liberties are eroded, as our basic human dignity is stolen from us by a financial crisis that turns us into beggars or slaves, the more we may wish there was had a guiding order to the international community to protect the rights set down in the Declaration.