I was listening a lecture by Professor A.C. Anthony Grayling on human rights, at the end of which he was asked, by a member of the audience, an interesting question: in short, what about those vast areas of the planet where his idea of human rights is considered Euro-centric — alien notions which we are attempting to import into, or impose upon, their own unique and cherished traditions? The professor really had no answer to this, beyond citing the idea, in Confucian China, that the community was more important than the individual, whose attempt to rebel from this would be viewed as anti-social. He did mention that the various Islamic judicial traditions held vastly different ideas about the rights of women compared with our own (recent) views, yet merely urged the need for more dialogue between dissenting groups. As I said, he had no answer.
Most of his talk revolved around the struggle to answer Socrates’ question about the nature of a good life, placing inordinate value on the evolution, during the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ (who or what was ‘enlightened?), of various bills and declarations of rights, from that of the French Revolution (freedom is the quintessential right), through those of the American Revolution (some people have rights, others – slaves, aboriginals – do not), with all amendments (if we don’t like your rights we can kill you), to the U.N.’s post-WWII Universal Declaration of Human Rights (meaningless, for the above-cited reasons – it is in no way ‘universal’). The rights we now seek to export, or impose upon, the rest of the world are not even ones we ourselves subscribed to a hundred years ago – or, in the shameful case of America, fifty years ago. When I tell my children that, during my own childhood, Afro-Americans could not vote, nor could they travel in the same buses, or eat in the same restaurants as white people, they don’t believe me. The great Platonic and Ciceronian ideals of democracy – upon which our own are based — are barely recognizable as ‘democratic’. Rights were limited to land-owning males. The poor, women, and slaves were essentially regarded as sub-human. Plato, presumably quoting his guru, Socrates, states that, upon death, a bad man is reborn as a woman; and a bad woman is reborn as a dog. Professor Grayling made much of advances made in European citizens’ rights over the past 400 years, announcing that, now, “we all live like lords” in comparison with the erstwhile lack of freedoms. We can now make individual choices regarding the sort of lives we wish to lead, the kind of things in which we wish to believe, etc. Yet is this really true?
The French revolutionary ‘Committee for Public Safety’ effectively stifled all freedoms in the Revolution’s Bill of Rights with Robespierre’s guillotine, and his banning of religion. America’s Declaration and subsequent Constitution were sheer hypocrisy cloaked in lofty rhetoric. All men were not born free, and did not have ‘certain inalienable rights’—take slavery, or the theft of Indian lands and massacre of their inhabitants. Thomas Jefferson, chief author of these documents, himself owned some 200 slaves while writing the words “all men are born free”. He even ‘fathered children upon’ at least one of them – as the hagiographer delicately puts this rape of a human chattel.
Grayling rightly warned that it is under the guise of ‘protecting’ citizens that freedoms are eroded, and the loss of them is seemingly greeted willingly. I say ‘seemingly’ because public opinion is manipulated by a fear-mongering corporate media, owned by the same organizations that essentially are the government. Although it is certainly possible to ferret out the truth behind our daily news on the Internet or in libraries, how many voters have the time or inclination to do so? Many are functionally illiterate – my own son among them – in spite of the best education possible, and parental encouragement. They can read, but they don’t. Most people’s lives are dominated by mind-numbing jobs five days a week, leaving them drained and capable only of watching television. Anyone with ambitions in the corporate world understands, without being told, that he or she will have to work a twelve-hour day, six or even seven days a week. The carrot-and-stick of severance, ‘down-sizing’, or promotion is in constant use. After 40 years of this stressful existence, most are only fit for a brief and troubled retirement (what to do now there is nothing to do, and no ringmaster goading you on?). If, in Socrates’ phrase, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, then such lives are surely wasted ones. With taxes, bills, mortgage payments, fees for every imaginable service that used to be free, and educations not worth their extortionate cost to finance, what time is left for thought?
And this is just the way rulers want it to be. Free thought is a bigger threat than nuclear holocaust. The outrageous invasions of privacy, through cell phone intercepts, or the collection of computer data, are always masked by the terms of terror: pedophiles; identity theft; credit-card fraud; terrorism itself. The removal of freedoms is always consensual now, because it is always for our own protection. Little wonder that Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four is currently being read so avidly. The most frightened populations always have the strongest governments. Keep the fear going. Show the images of horror and devastation afflicting people without adequate protection. If the evil within does not work, then there’s nothing like a good war to unite the nation, making citizens positively keen to throw away their rights, often along with their lives. If you’re doing nothing wrong, why should you worry about cameras watching you on every street, in every store, even in washrooms? Why not have cameras in your house? You would be safer.
Life is risk – fact. Security without freedom is not worth having, since it denies life by pretending to protect it. If you think your rulers really care about your security, you are an idiot. Why would they send you to wars, or force you to work harder than Roman slaves just to survive, if they cared about you? Why are they so keen to keep you in debt from university on?
One percent of the population has the leisure to think, and what they think about is their own power and wealth, not your health and security. Funded thinkers, in labs and universities, increasingly work on either government-approved projects, or else stunningly obscure or pedestrian irrelevancies. Under the guise of human rights and democracy, this one percent seeks to extend their power, and thus increase their wealth, by imposing their very cunning system of theoretical democracy over the entire planet. The author of The End of History – once a neo-conservative scripture extolling democracy as history’s final phase – has even now refuted his own text, detailing its errors. The problem is that much of this planet is not in the 21st Century. There are places where the calendar reads ten minutes after the Neolithic period. Was Europe ready for so-called democracy a millennium ago? Consensual agreement to neo-slavery has never been easier to obtain than it is now in the West. With bread, the media circuses, and a constant diet of fear, we’ve become cowering imbeciles. Napoleon had to shut down some 100 newspapers to obtain support for his tyranny. Hitler did a bit of that, too; but he also had the state-controlled radio and cinema to aid Nazi propaganda. Thanks to Leo Strauss, the godfather of neo-conservatism – whose escape from Germany was aided by Carl Schmidt, founder of Hitler’s judiciary – fascist ideas, like lying to the public, and ruthlessly persecuting enemies, found favour with many adherents to the ‘Chicago School’, including Iraq war-monger Paul Wolfowitz, and Canada’s current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (let’s hear the interviewer who dares question him about his devotion to Straussian neo-conservatism!). Today’s tyrants, using Straussian principles, are in every nook and cranny of our lives; they can even exert some control over our minds – and they will strive for even greater control. The Internet may well be the last battlefield, the final barricades from which to fire on those who would strip us of all genuine rights. Already, attempts to block certain websites, or make them unendurably slow to load, are in progress. Such efforts ought to be resisted by every possible means, while we still have the ability and freedom to do it.
As someone recently said, “The Internet is a television that watches you.” Find the open-source software to close its eyes. As someone else remarked, “Republicans care about you before you’re born, yet once you’re alive they don’t give a damn.” Don’t vote against your own interests. Think! Examine your life. Respect the lives and beliefs of others, so long as they do not try to force them upon you. Don’t let very tiny minorities of sick, deranged, or ignorant people – pedophiles and terrorists are a tiny fraction of one percent of the population – scare you into sacrificing the freedoms of the 99.9%. My freedom is also your freedom; your imagined security, however, is my prison.
Paul William Roberts