Human Rights Part Three

Abortion is the ultimate question of humans and rights. The practice seems to declare that humans are not humans until and unless we say they are, and have no rights until and unless we grant them. I will start this off with a parable I picked up some years ago:

A woman was on her way to a medical clinic for a medical procedure. Just before she got to the clinic, she was hit by a drunk driver who happened to be speeding. The woman was in her ninth month of pregnancy. She survived, but her baby didn’t. The man was not just convicted of manslaughter, but murder, and sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. He had one too many cocktails.

…And that’s the story, save for the following details: The medical procedure the woman was twenty minutes away from getting was an abortion of her perfectly healthy baby. The man who caused the auto accident was the doctor who was running late from a party to get to the procedure on time. Had the accident not occurred, the woman would have paid the man good money to end the life of her baby and discard the body. It would have been considered legal and moral with no violation of rights. In the car-crash scenario, the woman’s living, breathing baby was murdered by a drunk driver. The baby’s human right to life, irrevocably violated.

A variation of this scenario can and does happen every day. humanity is defined and redefined by what is most convenient for us at the moment. Nailing it down to something specific and eternal, even in the modern age, seems to be quite beyond our capability or desire. We seem to be perfectly content to allow the definition of humanity to remain a moving target.

We have subtly redefined abortion to be something slightly other than a human right. For us, abortion has become an issue of women’s rights. Now, don’t get me wrong, I find women to be among my favorite kind of humans, but they are not the totality of humans. No subset of humanity defines humanity. In that sense, women’s rights are not human rights. They are merely an important subset.

This is exactly the challenge of defining human rights. We say, “human”, but think “subset”. This is precisely how some of the strongest proponents of equality ended up owning slaves without noticing the discontinuity between their words and behavior. When it was emphatically declared that all men were created equally, and endowed by the creator with certain unalienable rights, black people in America were not considered fully human. They were not counted among men. They had no rights.

After much time, activism, and bloodshed, we have a pretty well defined set of black rights. Of course, we don’t call them black rights; we call them civil rights. But let’s be clear; the Civil Rights movement which, now, encompasses many things, started out as a black rights movement. By the way, it was men who were created equally, not women, of any race. Thus, we have that subset of rights we are still sorting out.

In fact, I posit that all human rights are really just human subset rights. We do not actually have very many, if any human rights. We have black rights, and gay rights, and women’s rights, and religious rights, and immigrant rights, and labor rights, and so on. What we do not have are human rights. And that’s just in America. Expand your gaze accross the globe, and you will see more subsets.

Arabs and Israelis view niether humans nor rights the same, any more than do Americans and Chinese. Americans do not seem to view the humanity or the rights of the various people around the world in the same way. It was not Hitler’s genocidal campaign against the Jews that brought us into the war. It seems we, and most of Europe could live with that. We could apparently not sit idly by and watch the conflict between Ceriavo and the Ukrane.

We became the liberators of Iraq, who, it seems, did not want our liberation, while durring the same period, turned a blind eye to some of histories most hideous attrocities in Africa. To this day, some humans seem to be more human than others, and some rights seem to be more right than others. I could scarcely fill a themble with observable, universal, human rights. Perhaps that is because from shore to shore, our oceans are overflowing with human wrongs.

Perhaps in our heart of hearts, we have given up on human rights. Perhaps that is why we have settle for the rights of special interests: human subset rights. But I consider that inhuman and not right. It is a failure of imagination. And though I do not believe in morality, only public benefit and harm motivated by selflessness or selfishness, allow me to borrow the more common venacular of the day. I find it a failure of morality.

We do not have human rights in this world, nor do I believe we have productive discussions about it. We have settle for the cheap seats. I am no longer willing to wwatch this particular game through the lenses of dirty binoculars. We have got to get a lot closer to the action. To get there, we have to slog through the muck of human wrongs before understanding why we are so far away from human rights.

David Johnson


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