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Food for thought about a state of mind


Human Rights Reader 338
[Variations on a theme by Franz Kafka. Inspired, extracted (plagiarized) and paraphrased from his short stories “Un Medico Rural” and “El Pueblo de los Ratones”, Biblioteca Pagina 12, Alianza Editorial, Buenos Aires, 1970].


A cautionary tale:


1. Before the law, there is a sentinel. A peasant approaches this guard and requests the permission to enter the law. But the guard responds that, for now, he cannot let him in. The man takes a moment to think and asks if later the guard would let him in. “It is possible”, says the watchman, “but not now”. The peasant had not foreseen this difficulty; the law should always be accessible to all, he thinks. The guard gives him a little stool to sit on. There, the peasant waits days, months and years. He tries to bribe the guard who accepts the bribes and says: “I accept your gifts so you do not think you have omitted any attempt and effort for me to let you in”. Time passes until he has only little more time to live. Before dying he asks the guard to come closer. “What do you want now?”, he asks. “Everybody seeks the law but, in all these years I have seen nobody else coming to this gate, how come?”, the peasant asks, to which the guard replies: “Nobody could, because this gate has only been for you, and now I am going to close it”.


2. One cannot say that the guardians of the prevailing paradigm utilize violence as such (with exceptions); they simply take control of things and most people step aside and let them do so. There is some kind of an awful misunderstanding here, and that misunderstanding will become most people’s greatest mistake in life.*

*: Albert Camus was of the opinion that in a world of conflict, of henchmen and of victims, the thinking man must never be on the side of the henchmen.


So, if the peasant is allowed in, then what?


3. For the guardians of the law (of the paradigm) finding any ‘way-out’ to the problems of our-troubled-world-of-conflict is indeed diametrically different from applying the human rights (HR) framework… Their ways-out often deceive claim holders, i.e., few duty bearers honestly promise ways-out in which the gates will be truly opened. (Promises are typically made when social pressure rises, especially in the areas where claim holders had, in vain, sought action for long). Duty bearers are inclined to just slightly modify previous approaches when they promise/propose solutions, applying their limited understanding of what ‘humanly reasoning’ is. They simply stay very far away from seeking a way-out using the HR framework.


4. So, are our efforts to seek a way-out using the HR framework falling into deaf ears? It is not the attitude of reluctant duty bearers that should guide us. Period! We have said that HR learning is the greatest challenge we should tackle vigorously. HR learning is the action to contribute to the awakening of people, making them understand and even muster in them a creative anger that prompts them to act. In Kafka’s words: exorcise in them the merry scream of ignorance.**

**: The motive is not clear, but the fact is undeniable that ordinary people are not prone to unconditional adherences; they prefer innocent small talk. This is indeed a problem (although we should not exaggerate the consequences of this generalization) given the so many miseries people are exposed to. With some needed incitement, they will eventually understand they must join-in.


In times of agitation


5. Every day, life brings us new surprises, fears, hopes and scares that we can hardly take as isolated individuals if we could not, day and night, count on the support of all our comrades. Sometimes, in times of agitation, we face great inconveniences, worries and dangers that force us to follow divergent pathways.  (There are also days when bad news abound including those that are false or only half-true).


6. Despite the best of our wishes, we cannot band together fast enough; this forces us to wait a certain time. The challenge is to wait without abandoning our ultimate aims and objectives. We simply have to network until we reach the needed threshold for action to happen. Why? Because no one individual can achieve what, in this sense, can be achieved by all claim holders acting together. The difference between the power of one individual and that of a united and organized group is nothing less than immense.***

***: Beware: Resistance may or may not imply rebellion.


Claim holders too often think that the State truly protects them


7. Claim holders think that the State saves them from political and/or economic crises or, at least, gives them force and hope (via promises) to withstand these crises. But, more often than not, the State does not really do this; it prefers to remain silent or, at best, ambivalent; it looks upon its people like its flock. In reality, it does not save claim holders nor does it give them any strength. It is easy to adopt the role of a savior of those too used to suffer but who, time and again, have proven that they are not timid and can save themselves –no matter at what cost and sacrifices that have even surprised historians.


8. There are too many things the State does not see or want to see; it is part of its self-appointed sense of superiority –as always surrounded by a hive of yay sayers who are worried about other issues than the miserable existence of so many people.


9. So, threats constantly hover above claim holders; enemies are too many; the aggressions come from all sides (and this brings consequences). These threats may silence and humble them temporarily making them more docile to domination. Nevertheless, the threats are too serious to loose time in just talking and engaging in empty rhetoric. Assemble and raise the political consciousness of claim holders we must!


10. At the time of making grave decisions, claim holders face a hostile environment. Beyond their control, projects are approved and an attempt is made to implement them, but soon all comes back to where it was before.


11. As time passes, and before becoming de-facto claim holders, I see too many people becoming prematurely old in their attitudes. There is a certain tiredness and some desperation that mark them in a visible way. I see too many just futile attempts at resisting. Actions within the ruling paradigm, as Kafka says, are eroding people’s unending capacity of hope.


Looking ahead


12. Coalescing groups of claim holders are beginning to pick up their long held hopes though and, in the brief intervals the everyday struggle allows, are beginning to dream –achievable dreams. The hardships of everyday life fade to the background and they gather new forces (although this can take a while to catch the attention of a surprised group of guilty duty bearers often hidden in secure places and ready to silently escape protected by their bodyguards).


13. With forceful claim holder demands in place, duty bearers can no longer do what they please –as they often did surpassing their jurisdiction– and can no longer act beyond the law to the detriment of the people. Does this envisage a surrender? Not necessarily, but slowly, they begin to reach other conclusions and cannot any longer refute the implication of their actions. They may retreat. But beware: often only to return to the offensive since their power seems to them inextinguishable.


14. The latter is regrettably true. Claim holders have to resign themselves to win long term or die. Important is the fact that they must be capable to oppose injustice implacably –the more so as duty bearers fall back on paternalistically ‘protecting’ them.


15. For claim holders, it all has to come from an ardent desire to bring to an end the submission they have lived under for generations. (Is there a limit to the sacrifices they will have to go through to accelerate the process in which they deliver the final blow to the prevailing unfair social system?).


16. Claim holders are tired of always giving and never receiving, but nevertheless push forward. Their struggles have been growing in the last years; it started by being mainly verbal struggles, but now they already start to use other more efficient means. This only makes duty bearers use even the most despicable methods since they feel that their ‘rights’ are unquestionable. (Therefore, what does it matter to die-hard-duty-bearers how they impose their way? After all, in this world, licit methods are doomed to fail, they reason; any means are thus valid).


17. In the coming chapter of history, claim holders will overcome their losses. History will no longer abandon the forgotten multitudes and will sing the songs of the unsung heroes seeking redemption.


18. But for the latter to happen, nobody can stay indolent and apathetic delving into reading books about development and about HR under the soothing light of a lamp, far from the noise of the every day struggles. You understand more is needed: from you.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



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