Jonathan Goldman: Calls for basic human rights

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Some people argue that human rights are not innate, but they are given by governments, cultures, societies, or by oneself. However, this begs the question; what reason is there to fight for the rights of LGBTQIA+ in Russia, women in Saudi Arabia, or refugees from Syria if not for the fact that they have innate human rights? Don’t people at least have the right to life? Or, are all of our fights only political, economic, and social with no regard for the humanity of others? What about the UN Declaration of Human Rights?

When we view morality as relative and we see rights as not something innate, why fight? Looking back at the rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony, or, more recently, Malala Yousafzai and Congressman John Lewis, there is a recurring theme that humans have innate rights, dignity, and value. When these rights are restricted, we view this as a violation that must be corrected to ensure the value of people is not diminished by restrictions set by the government and by society.

I’m not arguing that rights can’t be relative. We ought to respect cultures and not force one moral framework onto all people. It was the argument for ‘bringing democracy to inferior cultures’ that was used to justify 20th century colonialism. Rather than guess which rights are basic human rights, we must view this as a question we are striving to answer. The answers can help us determine when to intervene and when not to intervene.

We can hold governments accountable for when they overstep the bounds of basic human rights. When we stick to moral relativism, we excuse ourselves from having blood on our hands. When we say, “Oh, that’s just their culture,” we also say that it is acceptable for crimes against humanity to continue. If we told ourselves that since the US government did not recognize slaves as having rights, therefore they did not deserve rights, we would never have changed.

People do have basic human rights and a common dignity. That’s why we fight.

Jonathan Goldman