Fantastic, brave and thought-provoking article from David Mitchell at the Guardian:
Sacrificing our rights and freedoms, or the use of them, for the greater good is much called for at the moment. There’s pressure to recycle, pay higher taxes, not travel on planes, avoid products manufactured by enslaved children, stop borrowing money we can’t pay back, stop lending money to people who won’t pay it back and abstain from tuna. And psychologically we couldn’t be worse prepared.
For decades, our society has trumpeted liberty and its use, choice, self-expression, global travel and all forms of spending as inalienable rights. But only as the environment and economy teeter are we gradually becoming aware that with the power such liberties give us comes the responsibility to deal with the consequences.
But any self-sacrifice feels to us westerners like tyranny. We’re not ready for it. Our evolution into apex individualists has superbly attuned us to injustices against us while atrophying our awareness of the vastly greater number that work in our favour. It’s not our fault, it’s how we were raised.
Our fear of being encroached upon has made us forget that there are few freedoms that can be fully exercised without impinging on someone else’s. The freedom to stab has long since been subordinated to the freedom not to be stabbed. But we still have the freedom not to recycle and to borrow or lend money recklessly, regardless of others’ freedom to live on a habitable planet and in a functional economy. We’ve hugely prioritised our rights over our duties because it’s only the former that tyrants try to take away.
This blog has long covered the major problem of social reality, which is where people band together and create a consensual reality-image in order to protect themselves from anything they don’t want to do. This very negative thinking at its core is defensive, and knows what it hates but not what it loves.
It also makes us easy to manipulate: tell us that something is “not-free” and we are “free,” and we’re automatically against it, banded together into a lynch mob that doesn’t care about the details.
But “rights,” itself, as a paradigm, may be a bad design. It’s not a goal, but it is a surrogate for a goal. Instead of “do the right thing,” we have the mandate to “protect our inalienable right to do nothing we don’t want to do,” which makes us into brats who avoid doing the right thing because then we lose some of that freedom.
There’s another insidious problem which we see here:
The latest session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which ended this past week in Geneva, was marked by a series of attempts to weaken the body.
Diplomats and non-governmental organisations have expressed concern over efforts by some states, including Cuba, China and Brazil, to muzzle independent reporting.
For many observers, a point of no return was reached during a special Council session on Sri Lanka in late May. The Sri Lankan government was able to impose the principle of non-interference in order to refuse an on-the-spot independent investigation.
“Rights” confers an implied right to dominate to whatever individual, group or political body is promising more rights. This is post-WWII logic that the UK and USA used to justify much of what they did in defeating the Germans and Japanese, and later, what they had to do to keep the Soviets at bay. Us=good got replaced by us=free; we had more rights, they had no rights, so we had a moral imperative to destroy them.
But the problem of rights as a concept is that it empowers selfishness.
In developing nations, this is more poignant than in the West. If you’re trying to get everyone to work together, build an infrastructure, get educated and update your technology — because organization of society, an end to corruption and technology define passage toward the first world — people demanding their right to not cooperate become a problem.
And many of these people were the same ones who benefitted from primal kleptocracy, which is the order we see in most of the world today, where corrupt warlords rule not for the good of their people but for their own lifestyle. It’s natural, in a sense: if the people around you are too disorganized to build an infrastructure, you might as well exploit them and get it for yourself. But it perpetuates itself.
In the same way, in the West, the rights of individuals have trumped positive changes in countless instances. We don’t want anyone to tell us where we can or can’t live, who we can or can’t marry, what we can or can’t do, what we can or can’t ingest, and so on. But that leads to a universal monoculture of anti-culture, where there are no shared values because any value imposed causes someone to send up a shriek about their rights.
As David Mitchell points out, this is culminating in a legacy of disaster. Our society is neurotic, alcoholic and hooked on pills, sexually miserably, unable to form families, politically corrupt in that genteel way that nothing gets done but everyone still takes full pay, filled with unproductive and mindless jobs, hampered by regulations, endlessly frustrating to anyone halfway intelligent, and so on. That’s the kingdom of rights.
This blog has suggested in the past a simpler course of action: instead of asking reality to adapt to us, we should adapt to reality, which is a series of patterns created by natural forces. These natural forces do not limit themselves to material, but reflect degrees of organization; for example, a social group can experience entropy just as matter does and just as ideas do when transmitted multiple times. That’s reality, and it’s something that requires careful study to understand.
But we’re not even trying. We’ve created a kingdom of brats who just want to do what they think they want to do, and even if the results make them miserable, they’re still going to persist. It’s good to see this illusion of rights slowly unraveling.