Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bloggers Unite: What Do You Mean By “Rights”?

While I don’t wish to veer off-topic, I do want to acknowledge BlogCatalog’s fantastic Bloggers Unite program (as mentioned on CNN today). They arrange a date and topic of import for bloggers around the world to discuss on their blogs. This time, they have encouraged folks to post about human rights.

I’m posting about the words themselves, more specifically about the word rights. This word muddies the waters during discussions about such basic rights as freedom from religious or ethnic persecution. People abuse the word itself and rob it of its meaning.

When Lena Horne sings, “I’ve got a right to sing the blues,” she uses the word in a perfectly acceptable way. She means that she has earned the right, the morally just privilege, through her suffering. Incarcerated Americans who talk about their “rights” to free education and cable television, on the other hand, imply that their claim to these things lies in the fact that they are human. They do not make a case that they have gained such boons but that the benefits should be afforded to felons simply because they are members of the same species.

These diverse applications of the term “rights” obscure discussions about what basic human rights every person deserves. While I may believe that the privileges outlined in America’s Bill of Rights really apply to all people, others’ ideals extend far beyond that brief list. Can you claim a “right” to clean drinking water? What happens to the “right” of a family to farm the land that they own, upstream from the community that drinks from the same stream their livestock uses and into which their run-off flows?

I have posted this to urge people to think about claims of rights violations, rather than to react with their hearts. Dictators and tribe leaders and prejudiced mental laggards treat people the world over in horrific and undeniably inhumane ways. But remember that people stretch the word to suit their own purposes and evaluate the trumpeted claims of human rights abuse by discovering as much about the situation as you can before you jump on the bandwagon. If you agree that someone is suffering, however, act in any way that you can to limit or eliminate the cause.

You can peruse the list of hundreds of human rights posts at BlogCatalog. Put your thinking caps on and consider how you can help.