Friday, July 3, 2015

The two sides of "human rights"

Consider this sentiment: Basic human rights are not up to vote.

This is a very easy sentiment to agree with. After all, we shouldn't be, for example, exterminating all black people or all jews even if the majority of the population votes for it. That would be a horrendous crime against humanity.

That's completely true, indeed. However, there's another side to that coin. Namely: How do we determine what are "basic human rights", and what are those "rights" that are up to vote? When you think about it, the question becomes a lot more complicated, doesn't it?

Moreover, how do we stop this sentiment from being abused for a political or ideological agenda?

If you have a political or ideological agenda, and you are politically powerful enough (eg. "you" form the majority of the government and/or the press), what stops you from declaring a particular idea a "basic human right" and thus above criticism, public opinion, and vote (ie. majority citizen decision)?

What's there to stop those in power from declaring, let's say, the "right to not to get offended" a "basic human right", and therefore all legislation that criminalizes "offensive" speech to be beyond criticism and public vote? Or gun ownership. Or unrestricted immigration. Or criticism of religion and other world views. Or any of the myriads of other things (regardless of your political leanings.)

My point is not the support or disapproval of any of those (or any other) examples. My point is that the sentiment of "basic human rights are not up to vote" is so easy to abuse to stifle people's free speech and their democratic ability to affect legislation that concerns them, or to simply express their opinion on things. It's essentially a way to implement "soft totalitarianism" while still keeping up the pretense of a constitutional "free" democratic society.

And also, I don't mean that we should get rid of that sentiment either. That's not at all what I'm saying. I'm just saying that it's a much, much more complicated question than it might seem at first.

A constitutional free democratic society is a precious thing to have, and something that is lost too easily. We should be very careful with it and not simply take it for granted.

No comments:

Post a Comment