Rights vs responsibilities

Are we focusing on rights at the expense of the responsibilities that come with them?

What if, along with the Declaration of Human Rights, there was a Declaration of Human Responsibilities to go along with those rights? A key issue with current rights talk is a lack of understanding of the responsibilities that go with them.

These responsibilities are those of the individuals though, not just the sometimes assumed responsibility of the state(s) to respect those human rights. I am talking about the responsibility required of each individual human and group towards their rights too. For example, one of the human rights is for shelter and food, a basic human need. But, as an individual, I have a right to have access to those things, even maybe be provided with those things but, I also have a responsibility to take care of my shelter and not waste my food or squander my resources in such a way as to make it impossible to access the food. If I, as an individual, am not taking my own action and at least attempting to be responsible for myself in that way, can I still claim the “right” to food and shelter? I would say no, that due to my irresponsibility I have forfeited that right until I change my habits.

This idea can expand outward and upward too. Human Rights are meant to protect human dignity. Dignity, I think, is the human potential to be virtuous. But, one does not simply become virtuous without putting in effort, that is the responsibility attached to human dignity and its protection. If one is going to have rights they must also responsibly use or enact those rights. As an easy example, in the U.S. we have a “right to vote,” the problem is many do not vote which is their responsibility as U.S. citizens.

Luckily, this right is enshrined in the law so it is not lost due to lack of use but, in order to truly protect this right, one must also actually take responsibility for their actions and vote.

The question is, have we focused so much on rights that we have somewhat forgotten the responsibilities which also come with those rights? How would that change how we all look at our rights and lives as citizens?


New Citizenship

What if citizenship was not based on geographic birth but on who pays AND participates?

Meaning, instead of gaining citizenship simply from where you are born, how about defining a citizen as any person, on the planet, who pays taxes to a country and then proceeds to actually participate in the government in whatever means possible (a minimum of actually voting).

I suspect that this would drastically change how different countries are “populated” insofar as, this would lead to potentially more people from outside of physical borders becoming citizens of other countries.  Which, at the beginning, would certainly feel chaotic.

But, I think that having these minimums required for full citizenship would actually promote a more engaged citizenry insofar as, without citizenship those people would not be able to access other benefits of citizenship.  There would of course have to be a way to make sure those people who are not citizens are not trampled upon and, most likely, this would never work.   It is a nice idea to think about though, a fully engaged and active citizenry taking it’s responsibilities as seriously as it does it’s rights.

Beginning A System

I do not know where I was going to go with this post when I first wrote it but, here is what I have at the moment.

What if, instead of focusing on individuals, we focused on the space between them?

I mean that ethics, so far, generally focuses on individuals and their actions and virtues derive from those actions.  What if, instead, virtues arise only out of relationships? I propose that one cannot  be virtuous in vacuum (I’m far from the only one on that but still), only in relationships.  This includes in relationship with self.  Using ideas from psychology and sociology I come to an understanding of at least two forms of self within an individual and then the external relations we generally have throughout our lives.

One of the main issues in ethics is motivation.  Why should we think about our actions? What about those situations that are not the extreme cases created in thought experiments?  Then, when trying to define lines of where ethics stops, we come into the problem of what is sentience and who/what has it.  Focusing on relationships instead of individuals and their actions avoids or answers all of these problems.

We must start with the “internal’ relationships first though and build out from there.  This internal relationship is built up from the internal dialogue most individuals are thought to possess; between self-esteem the “I” and the “me” as some sociologists call it and then the society that the individual is immersed in. The “I” is the initiator (see what I did there? XD), this “I” is the animal per se, there are impulses that people have which arise from the “I” and the sense of being an individual.  The “me is the consciousness mechanism which makes it so that the individual can look at its own “I,” recognize the impulses and decide whether to act upon them.  The “me” is a mirror which is used to temper impulses.  The relationship between these two is at the heart of the internal relationship and the possibility, chance, opportunity to have a healthy, flourishing relationship is why all human beings have rights and where ethical action begins.

The I arises from being one individuality.  The “me” is more complicated in that it arises from a combination of recognizing one’s individuality as compared to society overall.  The “me” internalizes this societal other and begins to apply rules and strategies to temper the impulse coming from the “I.”  These rules, strategies and the general need to control the impulses comes from being in relation with others and society overall.  The more people you come in contact with the more impulses the “me”learns to try to control and the more that the “I” changes and grows too.  The relationship between the “I” and the “me” therefore,  is a constant dialogue, one that can have various affects on the individual and how they see themselves/their self-esteem.  If the “me” is weak for some reason meaning, unable to curb the impulses well, one can have a low self-esteem since what they think/want in some ways is overpowered by a more sub-conscious self leading the individual to feel like they are unable to control themselves.

An extreme to the other direction can lead to a similar problem.  If the “I” is so tightly controlled that none of the impulses are ever considered the “I” can, in a way, be choked down like a fire without oxygen.  In order for a human to flourish they need to find the correct balance; in order to have an impulse to act and direct those impulses towards things that they want.  The potential for this flourishing is the kernel from which human rights and the impetus to treat others ethically arises.  One cannot enact this potential without being in relationships.  Only by finding a balance between the “I,” “me” and external relationships can a person flourish be truly happy and be trying to act ethically.

As can be noticed by my word choice: a basis for ethics for me begins with the ancient Greeks.  Aristotle, specifically.  It all generally starts off with, “what is good?” You cannot point at goodness, you can only say that things are in possession of qualities which make it “good.”  If you consider the qualities that an object has which make it good, they are generally qualities that influence the objective of the object.  A knife is good because it has a sharp edge which it holds for a long time, both qualities affecting the knife’s ability to do it’s one job – cut things.

Living things become more complicated of course but, overall, a good plant or creature is one that can successfully fulfill its niche and reproduce.  Humans become a bit different though, this is because we have an ability to influence our environment in very profound ways compared to animals.  We also have this “I”-“me” relationship so we have to decide what makes a good human being.

When we say that someone is a good person, what do we mean?  Generally, it seems to mean that this person has qualities we value as a society: honesty, trustworthiness, helpful, etc. etc. Also, the person seems to be like that always and without need for ulterior motives.  Someone can be “good” in order to gain something but once the truth is discovered, we find that we cannot call that person good anymore.  The other side of a good person would be one who is content with their life.  If we knew someone who had all of these desired qualities but begrudgingly, would they be “good”? I think not.  As such, a good human being (person?), it appears, would be an individual that has these good qualities and works at gaining/enjoys having such qualities.

Next, these generally desired qualities–what are they?  I think that virtue and care ethics are the two best places to find out what these qualities may be.  In short, they are the qualities that generally show that the “me” can temper the “I” in the individual to the correct amount and supports the growth of others in creating a healthy relationship between the “I” and “me” in others an oneself.  An exhaustive list is most likely impossible and even a good start is likely not recommended (and well outside of my current abilities).  But the qualities I am speaking of are the same qualities that come up in religious ethical systems, virtue and care ethics systems.  The one thing that has not been noted in these characteristics, especially from the side of virtue ethics, is how these characteristics help others flourish and gain a good relationship between the “I” and “me.”

The combination of these two is where an external ethics arises.  In order to be a good person one must also interact with other humans and interact in such a way as to enact a healthy “I”-“me” relationship and enable others to do the same.  In other words, to flourish one has to help enable others to flourish, or, in terms that are more legalistic: every human has dignity which ascribes certain rights to every individual and group.

Dignity, in the UNDHR, I think is the word used to point at the potential for every human to have this “I”-“me” relationship.  The potential only.  Some may not be capable of having it easily, if at all, but we do not know for sure.  As such, every human being has the potential, has dignity, which requires all of us to recognize the ability for them to flourish if given the correct environment, education and relationships.  Relationships are not just with other humans either, we are also in relation to other animals and, I woudl argue, our environment as well.

Although these other things may not have the same sort of dignity as other humans, humans have the ability to self-police and act in a good way with these other entities plus these entities do still help to form, reifnorce and support both the “I” and the “me” aspects of individuals;  you simply cannot live in a physical vaccuum either.  Finally, one’s interactions with these non-human entities also helps to show their internal “I”-“me” relationship.

Alright, a lot got said there, let me unpack what I mean.  The potential that all human beings have to be in possession of this “I”-“me” dialogue, the potential only, I am calling dignity.  To treat someone with dignity is to treat them in such a way as to be supportive of that other’s dignity.  To act with dignity is to act in such a way as to be expressing your personal “I”-“me” relationship in a positive way or in a way to define your potential possession thereof.  Treating others with dignity confers honor, the next word I intend to use often.  Treating others with dignity could be called respect too but, respect as I understand it, does not go far enough.  I can respect one’s dignity by not trying to negatively affect it but, I honor their dignity by respecting it and being willing to help them have/promote their own dignity.  In honoring another’s dignity I see that my personal dignity is reflected in my relationship with that person and their dignity.

An interesting discussion on respecting versus honoring rights comes up at this point but, that will have to wait.

Next, of course, is respect.  This is the negative action of supporting one’s dignity as compared to honor which is the positive and negative.  By negative I mean the same as for liberties: to respect one’s dignity is to just not actively try to infringe upon it but not positively promoting it either, whereas honor (or grace) has that promotion aspect.

Grace and rights are the next two concepts.  Grace is by far the largest term because grace is to act in such a way as to honor your own dignity and others in a coherent whole.  A dancer has grace when their skill is combined with timing and an audience for it all to come together in a way that is pleasing to mind and body.  Doing the same with dignity is grace.  So, a graceful person in this sense, swims through their life and relationships with their own dignity and promoting everyone else’s dignity in such a way as to show a cohesion of self and make it all look easy.  Socially graceful but, in a way that shows that they are truly a person and not just scheming.

For a much more compact, useful word, let’s talk about rights.  Rights are those things which a group deems required for an individual to have dignity and for the society/community/group to honor individuals and other groups’ dignity.  So, one can respect rights as in simply not infringing on them or honor rights as in working to promote and defend them.

So, how does one show/enact/honor dignity?  This is where care ethics and the virtues arise.  To care, for me, is to begin to cultivate thoughts and the ability to honor another’s dignity in specific ways to that specific other.  I care is to listen to what the other considers important for their own dignity.  To care is to honor in many ways.  The next are virtues, these are the characteristics that one cultivates to create a healthy relationship between the”I”-“me” and that the society/group/individual has decided help to respect and/or honor their own dignity and others’.  Only through caring about your personal “I”-“me” and others can you get the virtues and only with the virtues can you now your own dignity and others leading to right action and eudaimonia.

This “I” and “me” are fundamental to this ethical set up so where do they come from?

The “I” is easy, essentially it is the basic state of an individual being a living creature, there are desires/needs.  The I arises through these needs and desires and, as one is exposed to more things, the “I” attempts to expand.  This expansion leads to running into obstacles, some of which are environmental such as a river blocking access to food, and others are through having to interact with other individuals which also have their own “I.”  These obstacles, especially those arising from other “I’s” help to create the “me.” This is because the “I” learns that in order to fulfill its desires sometimes one must work with the other “I’s” leading to a learning of how to take another’s perspective to try to work with them more effectively.  But, this “me” due to its ability to take other perspectives, begins to put severe limits on the “I’ and its impulses through its continued dialogue with the I and others outside.

These limitations, though beneficial to society, end up hurting the “I’ unless the dialogue can be made healthy.  The “me” and interactions can lead to all impulses by the “I” being stopped or controlled, leading to frustrations, disappointments, poor self-esteem, possibly other undesirable effects.  So, the ‘me” has to be able to let the “I” work at the same time as tempering it because, someone simply satisfying their impulses leads to generally undesirable traits and could be considered to sign of immaturity.  Cultures generally, have built into themselves what they would consider the best ways to keep this “I”-“me” relationship healthy in having explanations and expectations for how relationships should work: ethics.

These societal ethics, as such, are premised on what an individual ought to do in reference to different situations in that culture.


Social Media and Rights to Association and Assembly

Is social media online actually one of the best ways to work towards weakening the right to association and/or assembly? Okay, okay, stop laughing, seriously.  It seems like maybe it can be.

I will call this right the right to association for short terms, but association and assembly are both involved in my concept.

Social media can certainly have its good aspects, not saying it is inherently evil, but something to consider.

So how would this work? First off, social media makes it so people can “associate” without ever actually getting together, it fundamentally seems to break up the usual concept of “coming together” or “associating.”  Which some people would say is wonderful: a person on one side of the world can virtually support another person they have never met on the opposite side, that certainly has some positive things to it, or so it seems.  But, there is still a fundamental importance to show up, to physically exist and represent yourself in situations.  There are limitations on how far online social media can go.  Limitations on how effective it is for getting people up and moving, reference that Kony 2012 video.  I cannot speak for everywhere but I do know that in my university this video hit like a storm and everyone watched it and the days immediately following everyone was planning on going out whatever night it was and painting the entire city in Kony 2012 stuff.  That day came around, nothing.  Absolutely nothing that I could find anyway. There are limitations to what some electric signals can and will do, supposedly the pen is mightier than the sword, but the sword cuts much deeper and faster.

So that is a short description on how “associating” becomes easier with social media but it thus weakens it.  This weakening can then continue in other ways.

A short reason for weakening the right to association is that social media relies a a very weak link: the internet mostly.  All it takes is a lack of electricity/signal and suddenly social media is gone. The instantaneous, constant connection is lost right then and there.  Those more secret or organic coming together to associate suddenly becomes much slower if not also harder.  Also, this means that those people across the globe will not as easily get information and thus will not be able to “like” or “share” your post to support you and associate with you.

The next few reasons: 1) social media and the internet can be controlled and what you see or read can be limited in various ways, even if the internet is currently un-legislated.  This lack of legislation can also lead to issues in that, 2) situations can arise where some forms of association are found out in some way and then stopped before they begin. There are even more problems that come to mind!

One last sprint of reasons: 3) people not physically showing up for something makes it infinitely easier to ignore the problems that are being discussed, 4) social media allows for incredibly stupid issues to come up as talking points and 5) if physical people are not going to go out to support a protest of some sort to protect rights to association more and more laws can be made to make it harder and harder to properly, physically associate.

1) Control of what is seen or read and limitations I think is fairly easy to understand so I will not go into it.

2) Hacking.

3) Again, the pen may be mightier than the sword, but a sharp tack on a seat makes a person stand up much faster.  Just saying, actual physical things are much more likely to get a reaction it seems.

4) that petition to deport Justin Bieber in the news.  I assume anyone who reads this knows why I consider this stupid.  It is also a waste of time and resources thus weakening responses and information on actual, important things.  Yes it is a right, but if a right is watered-down too much I think legal arguments could be made to weaken them and people will not necessarily fight against them since they are too busy worrying about the aforementioned petition.

5) This one is probably most important.  Along with rights to association, in my mind, comes civil disobedience.  These are two things that can work together to promote positive changes in a country that claims to be democratic.  Rights to association, in some ways require space.  Some forms of association require space in certain places, such as certain buildings.  Other forms though require the ability to associate outside of a certain place, specifically in a “public” space.  These are the more politically inclined groups that need or want to protest and publicly show support or disagreement for something politically or in a social context.

Say some group is organizing to show their disagreement with some random law in an unnamed government.  This group will need people to show up to get their demonstration to mean anything.  If everyone is just on social media though and supports the page in some virtual way yet no one actually is moved to show up the protest itself will just fall flat.  Again, people like to claim the pen is mightier, but a huge crowd of people is much more effective at creating action than any piece of paper.  Then, if less people are showing up to events such as this and just supporting programs through the internet, more laws can be made which make it harder for groups to come together and be heard.  These groups have to apply to be able to get together in a public place and then the law designates where they can get together, for how long and where to go, which has its own problems as has already happened.

Social media, as a force that makes it so that individuals can support things without actually physically showing up to show their support or performing actual actions in support of a cause or group can thus let laws strengthen and define association in more and more specific ways.  Which then can lead to a certain form of weakening this right to association.

Next I take issue with online shopping for similar reasons.