” (..) but we have only to proceed in improving our civil polity, conferring the benefits of education upon all, (..) and we may be quite sure that the effect to which I look forward, and which can alone render these advantages permanent, will follow.” Malthus, An essay on the Principle of Population, Cambridge University Press 1992, p. 358.
“As long as the nations of Europe continue barbarous enough to purchase slaves in Africa, we may be quite sure that Africa will continue barbarous enough to supply them.” ibid., p. 364.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 29-12-2008. Now ‘politically correct’ finally has come back to its natural home, the political right, it is time to reclaim the politically incorrect to its natural family: the emancipatory movement known as: the left.]
Before wandering off again on more analytical slumberings, there is something that I felt I needed to say on practical politics. There is, luckily, the irreversible evolution towards universal adoption (in public discourse at least) of universal human rights. But, unluckily enough, there’s a double problem of uncritical extension of these rights to include all benefits deemed acquired in the Western wellfare state, combined with a prohibitively impractical attitude towards their universal adoption in actual practice (‘Everything! Now!’). [This double problem allows those benefiting from a reactionary stance to call the progressive stance naive (and outright dangerous) and is hence a key obstacle to actual progress.]
Any situation in which the amount and extent of universals is unduely blown out of a reasonable proportion only leads, as a matter of fact, to irrational emotions (that are, in turn, the gravest threats to the actual universal rights). On the other hand, it is unfortunately so that a companion problem of demanding anything sub-standard to be rectified ipso facto aggravates these emotions further. In the end we wind up with a highly emotional group of people who interpret ‘doing the right thing’ in a binary way. They wind up claiming to be yet another version of the Pure. However noble their causes, & even their motivation, might have been they hereby reduce universal rights to an instrument to the benefit of irrational emotions. More often than not they can do so only because they have the luxury of time to spend on getting emotional on things in the abstract.
Not that these do-gooders are the heart of the problem. They are only a problem insofar as they not only divert attention from the true target (sane policy) but as well make such sane policy suspect enough to be credibly opposed by the other side’s opportunists.
So let’s channel the energy to the core of sane policy. The problem of getting us to a better coverage of human rights is a problem of education. Or, rather: two problems of education.
1. There is a lack of education in the happy few secularized – and economically developed – states on the actual principles underlying the universal rights. Our politicians are left too unchallenged bandying about these universal rights as a matter of faith, more often than not making these universal rights subservient to some or other particular faith as per the tradition of their parents. The rational grounding of these rights is rarely mentioned such that citizens in these mostly well-off countries don’t appreciate the freestanding & noble independence of these rights. At bottom these rational grounds aren’t taught precisely because the critical discussion of these grounds is left to intellectual elites (‘so called’ is by now unfortunately almost implicit in the concept of such intellectual elites). Instead, scorn is poured on people not merely accepting these secular rights out of some sort of secular faith quite like the faith in the revealed truths of the various religions.
2. Obviously there is even more of a lack of education in the developing world. Not in all but some extreme cases there is not only a lack of education because of a lack of means or a lack of education on the part of the parents but there is a government ban on education (mostly of specific groups, these groups mostly consisting of the female part of the population).
These lacks are the real problems facing us. If we could remedy the education gaps, the consequently educated would no doubt remedy the rest of the gap by itself i.e. without need for applying external forces or violence or lobbying.
Thát is the thing I wanted to discuss.
There is a hierarchy of universal human rights. Stability and food and lodging (and all of those other Biblical things) are not the top of it. Not even the familiar political rights of a secular society or at the top of it. Only education can be on the top of that list.
So there: the practical solution lies in reapplying Malthus’ slavery quote to the present case. We can only expect to see improvement anywhere if we educate and criticize human rights in the developed world (instead of accepting them as in some non-Godly way God-given, adding to them as is convenient to us & so forth). We can only support developing countries’ evolution if we discriminate foreign governments primarily (if not only) on the basis of real push to improve education to the citizens in such foreign countries. [I mean this in non-trivial ways: there is no point in any emergency help if there is not a certainty that after (and in fact before) the emergency there is a show investment and impact of the public education system. Nobody is helped by surviving a crisis if the survival is only leading to being struck by a next crisis.]
Only by learning to learn things independently can human beings be expected to create an independent mind. Only with an independent mind can human beings be truely called human.
[Whilst writing this I was listening to Massive Attack, Safe from Harm.]