Friday, June 18, 2010

Help me out here…

How can there be essential, universal human rights if there is no essential, universal human nature? To whom or what are the rights ascribed if there is no substance from which they derive?

I can call for universal Smurf rights but obviously those are pure fictions. Why, then, if "human nature" is just a historicized myth, are human rights no less fictional?

We grasp, however, that certain rights are universally valid––and that certain misdeeds against the bearers of those rights are universally wrong––, therefore essential human nature exists.

In the following video clip, George Carlin lampoons the very idea of "having rights":

Note a precious irony, however: In the very course of arguing against the reality of rights––by showing how useless "citizens' rights" were for Japanese-Americans in 1942 when they were arrested in interment camps––Carlin implies there is something wrong with imprisoning citizens in interment camps, which is to say, humans have a right to be treated better! Carlin is right (…) to say that Americans enjoy "privileges" as opposed to rights, if by that he refers to the historical fragility of human rights which renders them into mere privileges under a hostile regime. Otherwise, it is a fallacy of equivocation, since "rights" can mean both conventional and absolute proscriptions. Indeed, precisely because rights which are granted by human authority alone can be, and are, violated at a moment's notice, as Carlin is wont to note, we have a valid recourse to a superhuman authority in order to ground the very right to protest violations of our rights and those of others.

His argument, however, that "rights aren't [natural] rights if they can be taken away" is erroneous, in the same way that saying "abilities aren't [natural] abilities if they can be taken away." For while I naturally have the ability to speak, I can lose this ability, as, for example, how the "innocent Russian believer" in Andrei Rublev during the Tatar siege of Vladimir was deprived of his ability to speak and walk by being beaten, branded, bound in gauze and having molten brass (?) poured down his throat, just before being dragged to death by a horse (at the junction of parts 12 and 13 on Youtube). Does anyone have the "right" to do that to another human being? Does anyone have the "right" not to have that done to himself? I suspect Carlin would say no and yes, in that order, but only to make more stale anti-religious hay. After all, why else did Carlin rail against "bullshit" so often if not to defend his right and ours to the truth? If truth is merely a privilege, then lying is a privilege of equal ethical merit.

No comments: