Human Rights as I See It

My post Imposing Human Rights and Moral Values on Others has received more than twice the number of visits as any other posts on this blog since December 2013 when it was published.  Most readers seem to come from outside the United States giving me the impression that the views expressed have relevance.  When discussing this topic with  others in America I get a feeling that some feel we need to exert more diplomatic and military pressure to bring about peace, democracy, and civilization to regions of unrest.

The problem, as I see it, is that our values and form of freedom, democracy and government will not work where religion plays a dominating role in every aspect of life.  Even in the U.S. it is difficult to maintain the separation of church from state among some fundamentalist  religious groups who want to impose laws on everyone that support their religious convictions.  Many fundamentalist Muslims abroad are far more fervent about their faith and willingly support governments where their religious beliefs are an integral part of their laws.  Of course there are many moderate Muslims as well who are much more tolerant of differences between people but you don’t hear about them because they are peaceful.

Over the centuries the Western world has developed human rights values that are less based upon religious doctrine than upon a rational right of All human beings to dignity and “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  I believe in these principles and feel that the world would be a far better place if everyone were to live by them.  But much of the world is not yet ready.  We cannot cram our values down the throats of those unwilling to accept them without long-term consequences.  Look at how we forced civilization upon the native American Indians, robbing them of their dignity and heritage, and see what has become of them.  We simply do not learn from history so we keep on repeating our mistakes.

It took us hundreds of years to develop the principles of freedom, democracy, and equality and it did not come without a revolution and much bloodshed.  During the Dark Ages we were very much like the very people we are trying to change.  The Church was pervasive in all aspects of life.  Huge cathedrals were built as testament to the amount of money and effort both rich and poor put into building these monolithic temples reaching towards the heavens.  So we are fundamentally not that much different than they.

We cannot expect that nations, where religion still plays a pervasive and controlling role in every aspects of life, should suddenly change to our way of thinking.  There are still many in the U.S. who believe that religion should be part of our government.  So even our social evolution is not complete.  Change must come from great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Malala Yousafzai who risk and often sacrifice their lives to bring just values to their own people as our founding fathers risked it all to bring to our new nation.

Human rights has never come cheap.  It struggles to lift its head above ancient traditions, often violently so.  It must be left to evolve naturally from within like a mother in labor while naturally giving birth.  Sometimes it is successful and sometimes not.  Each birth is unique as is each new nation.  We cannot force human rights and social justice upon others.  It will come as people realize how just it is through smart phones and social media.  They simply need time to struggle and express it.

It took hundreds of years for us to get where we are.  We must allow the same consideration for other nations.  But things happen much faster now.  Genocide exists because one dominating cultural/religious group tries to suppress another just as Americans in the south tried to suppress Blacks only 50 years ago.  We must allow others the chance to evolve as we have.

We must learn to let nature take its course.  That is not to say that the UN and Peace Corps cannot give humanitarian aid to those in need.  Countries will be far more willing to receive aid if they can trust that help does not come with strings attached.  They are more likely to adopt our values if we work peacefully together with then instead of violently against them.  That’s how I see it.

However if our presence in foreign lands, especially the Near East, is really for self-interests such as oil, then I’ll need to leave that for another discussion.

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6 Responses to Human Rights as I See It

  1. PaulP says:

    Frank – you make some very good points. it is Interesting that you are looking at these human rights as a natural progression, as if they are inevitable consequences of what we might call the progress of civilization. From my perspective there are many countries other than the US where human rights, especially the right to live free from religion, is more advanced than here in the US, the birthplace of modern democracy. In fact the US seems to be regressing in this regard. People who choose to adopt a favorite mythology and treat it as if it were somehow “truth” seem to dominate the political and social landscape. Most of Europe gave up this fantastical set of world views long ago. Here in the US the behavior persists like a viral infection. Personally I think it is not unreasonable to provide a nudge to others toward rationalism ( in a gentle and reasoned way). The alternative, accepting irrational world views in a world filled with deadly technology, may be a recipe for disaster. Look at just how dysfunctional our democracy has become in the past decade or so. Religion and irrational beliefs dominate politics and social discourse. Pushing back on this insanity (gently) is a gift we can all give. Not only is it a gift but IMHO promoting rationalism over dogma is, to some extent, the duty of all rationalists rather than an imposition,

  2. fgeefay says:

    I have written this article from the perspective of how some if not many Americans see our role in world affairs. I agree that much of Europe is far more advanced socially than we. They faced the realities of a devastating war on their lands which made them think more deeply about what they were about and about peace, family and basic needs. We in the U.S. were largely sheltered from the horrors of war and didn’t have our economy destroyed so we developed economic wealth and a false sense of security placing money and the myth of an American Dream before all else which has resulted it social problems. Now we are under the illusion that we know what the rest of the world needs and are bent upon creating a world in our image without really understanding the world or the image we think we have for it. The religious and political extreme right backlash we are experiencing is a result of some people’s frustration that thing are not going their way so they are panicking and hitting the reset button in an attempt to bring us back to a point where they believe things were in better control. In fact they are simply compounding the situation. There is now a lack of an effective feedback loop in our government and social fabric.

    Regarding the gentle and reasoned nudge, I would exercise that with extreme caution. I don’t think this country has the understanding yet to know what reason is reasonable. Our foreign polity has largely been a failure (not resulted in its intended purpose). The odds of us getting it right are not good so why do anything. Let such organizations as the UN give gentle nudges. We best leave things alone and focus upon the many pressing problems facing our own nation which we are also not good at but have no choice other than do our best and learn from our mistakes if that is possible.

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  5. Mathew John says:

    Maybe its time others gave the west a “nudge”, to stop interfering with other cultures, just so that you know what “nudging” feels like.

    • fgeefay says:

      I am basically a peace loving person. I abhor violence. But I feel that we are the ones who should take the initiative to carefully weigh the consequences of imposing our moral and religious values on other cultures. If it is in this country there are also legal consideration. This should not be about right or wrong but about what is most appropriate considering the circumstances. It requires reaching beyon ones moral upbringing and really understanding the other culture from their perspective. In the end it is a carefully weighed judgment call.

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