cj#433> Seabrook: HUMAN RIGHTS ACCORDING TO THE WEST

1996-01-22

Richard Moore

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Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996
To: •••@••.••• (Richard K. Moore)
From: David <•••@••.•••>

/* Written  7:04 PM  Nov 15, 1995 by igc:twn in peg:twn.features */
/* ---------- "Human Rights According To The West" ---------- */
HUMAN RIGHTS ACCORDING TO THE WEST

The Western agenda for the 21st century is going to be human
rights - but that only means political and civic rights, as these
have evolved within Western society. Excluded are economic rights
(which would infringe the fundamental tenets of laissez-faire
political economy), social rights, cultural rights and collective
rights. (Second of a two-part article)


By Jeremy Seabrook
Third World Network Features


`Democracy', even in the West, has become the management of
organised impotence, the art of reconciling people to an unchosen
destiny.  Underlying a commitment to plurality, diversity and
tolerance there is to be no other economic system than that which
already exists - a distant reflection of the Old Testament
injunction that thou shalt have no other God but me.

The capacity for manipulation even of the most sophisticated
electorates in the world was seen in Italy in 1994, when
Berlusconi's Forza Italia, conjured forth, a phantom of the
media, could come from nowhere to form a government of renewal.
In the United States less than half the people vote because a
majority perceives democracy and politics as mere disputes
between members of the possessing classes.  When this model, the
acme of human self-governance, is exported to the rest of the
world, some even stranger mutations are bound to occur.

When democracy becomes devoted to the maintenance of the existing
structures of power, the first casualty is, naturally, freedom:
for without freedom to imagine, to dare to conceive alternatives
- including also alternative ways of answering human need - then
what exactly is the nature of the freedom of which democracy is
supposed to be defender and guarantor?

It is clear that something called `freedom of choice' has been
offered to the people of the West as a consolation prize for
their lost liberties: they can choose anything they like as long
as it exists within the global supermarket to which their
privilege grants them access.  To have traded a version of
affluence against freedom is a bargain on which the people of the
West have themselves yet to declare their verdict.

The global market has become the cosmos: and outside of its
stifling embrace, nothing exists, or may be allowed to exist.
This is the essence of the violence of development.  Even the
global drug barons, with their secretive private armies, who
paradoxically exemplify the workings of the market most
transparently, are less of a threat to this model of development
than indigenous peoples, tribal and forest-dwellers, fishing
communities and women who know that not everything can be bought
and sold, and who know how to live in peace within the
constraints of the resource-base they have.

To set `freedom to choose' at the heart of our culture, and to
deny the possibility of choosing any other way of being in the
world is a denial of the `pluralism' and `diversity' to which the
West asserts its devotion: these are evidently mere ornaments,
decorations on the surface of an increasingly showy,
image-conscious, appearance-manipulating culture.

It is the same with all the new words that have been assimilated
effortlessly into the rhetoric.  `Empowerment', for instance,
means the conceding of autonomy without the resources to make it
effective; `decentralisation' likewise is the setting up of lower
tiers of administrative control whose capacity for action is
cancelled by the vast centralising tendencies of multinational
companies, and growing concentrations of wealth and power in the
world.

Indeed, the words often mean precisely the opposite of what they
say: `Resource' comes to indicate, not the exhaustible treasures
of the earth, but money; `independence' describes the growing
dependence of human beings on money and the market; `efficiency'
means an accelerating melt-down of nature into commodities;
`maintaining our way of life' stands for the conservation of
privilege; `sustainability' was swiftly absorbed, and in the
process, came to mean, not the secure husbanding of the fruits of
the earth in perpetuity, but keeping intact the present
inequitable system.  `Community' is a neighbourhood of strangers;
`participation' is the art of gaining popular acquiescence to the
inevitable.

Before we can even begin to discuss the realities of the West
within the global system of domination, we have to arm ourselves
with a dictionary of Bullshit that will help us unpick the hidden
meanings, to interpret a language whose meaning has all the
clarity of the Kabbala.

It is clear that the Western agenda for the 21st century is going
to be Human Rights.  Here is another partial and one- sided
story.  For it means political and civic rights, as these have
evolved within Western society, and which gives the West a moral
right to castigate all departures from their own high standards,
which are, of course, universal.

This version of human rights cannot concede economic rights
because this would infringe the fundamental tenets of lais-
sez-faire political economy (i.e. the objections are ideolog-
ical).  Social rights cannot be acknowledged, nor the right to be
a fully participating member of society, not even the right to
life; so that the children of those millions of women each year
who give birth bestride a grave, perish
before their political and civic rights can ever be called into
question.
Cultural rights do not exist for indigenous people to whose land
the market economy now lays prior claim; collective rights are of
little worth in a system that prizes `the individual' so highly,
an individual who must act out her or his lonely destiny for ever
in the guise of customer, consumer, client or punter in the
jungle of commodities in which we must now make our home.

The first task, then, is to strip away the hypocrisy and
confusion that makes political argument so opaque and impene-
trable, and drives the will to change into a tangle of con-
tradiction and impotence.

Once this has been done, it is possible to see more clearly how
the institutions of dominance, set up and controlled by the G-7,
the most powerful industrial nations, actually function. - Third
World Network Features


- ends -


About the writer: Jeremy Seabrook is a freelance journalist and
author based in London.


When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network
Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency
involved in the article, and give the byline. Please send us
cuttings.

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