MAKING HUMAN RIGHTS RADICAL AGAIN: THE ROLE OF SCIENCE, PASSION AND COMMITMENT (A. Atkisson, J.J. Johnson) (Part 3 of 3)
Food for a make or break thought (3)
Human Rights Reader 343
[These three Readers are a distillation and adaptation of Vol.56, No.1, 2013 of this important issue of the journal Development entitled ‘The Future of Development’ edited by Tariq Banuri. The issue has contributions from 14 authors listed at the bottom. Some text is taken verbatim].
To make human rights radical once again, today we need to refocus it on the long-term vision of the post 2015 agenda
Even qualified scientists are warning ‘game over’ so it is no time for feeble responses.
29. It has always required a certain amount of courage to defend and fight for human rights (HR) publicly. The key questions are: Are the efforts made by our movement too timid? Is the articulating of our views perceived as ‘radically unrealistic’? Yes, HR are radical as they, among many other, call for disparity reduction, for gender equality and women’s empowerment. …Anything wrong then with being radical? These goals are radical, but they are not marginal or baseless: they are enshrined in numerous global agreements, texts and covenants endorsed by most countries. At least, this is what courageous should be –and what it recently has not really yet been.
30. The fight for HR-for-all includes work on education, freedom of expression, equality, justice, access and opportunities for people everywhere. It means meeting the real non–negotiable needs of both people and planet. Without apology, this is the kind of fresh start needed radicals are demanding.
31. This is not an idle debate over broad philosophical constructs. Rather, without such a radical strategic conception, it is impossible to reach social consensus –or even engage in a meaningful political debate and struggle.
32. Some of us, sometimes feel a powerful temptation to sound apocalyptic alarms to awaken the somnolent. Arousing fear, though, without offering a compelling vision of a better path, awakens only dispiriting anguish and despair. This pessimism is not so much wrong as it is disempowering. Pessimists can make a strong case, but this does not settle the matter [not that optimists (if any remain) can offer compelling refutation]. Do not let pessimism rob us of the motive to make change. A culture of despair, which fosters fatalism and complacency truncates possibilities, becoming a self-fulfilling cause of the decline it foresees.
33. In our historical moment, the world has become a single community of fate; catastrophic premonitions must be defied and negated. Scrutinizing world conditions and trends will indeed find considerable support for defeating such bleak outlooks. Good things are happening.
34. Proponents of neoliberal solutions bent over backward to add social dimensions to their promotional language and flagship initiatives, but these simply do not satisfy the desire that the world seems to be expressing for a broader, more inclusive vision of the future. Reduced to old-fashioned neoliberal economics we will be left waiting for market forces, including ‘visible’, as well as ‘invisible hands’, to produce all the necessary transformations. This approach may work to spread information technologies, but it is unlikely to be adequate for disparity reduction and for ensuring the human rights of all people, everywhere, in an appropriately short time horizon.
35. But beware: the very forces driving global affairs are, at the same time, preparing the basis for transcending them. We have become a single community of fate; we have to be prepared and act.
36. Developing countries (lately rebranded as ‘emerging markets’) –and occasional but disruptive social protest movements– have gotten louder and more forceful in their demands. They are reaching towards the peak of their influence and are discovering that this pinnacle is still far from adequate to the task at hand. Therefore, as said, activists must prepare society for change by systematically and repeatedly articulating a vision based on justice and HR to then work planning and implementing a strategy and action plan that derive directly from that vision.
37. Perhaps most unsettling is the apparent helplessness of the political order to act in the face of these gathering threats. Judging by the decades of inaction, the challenge of our time lies beyond the grasp of our current political order. The fragmented and myopic governance institutions we have inherited from the twentieth century are ill-suited for addressing the systemic and long-term predicament of the twenty-first. The debate among them has never been settled, only sidelined, sometimes for decades at a time.
Bottom line, we still can pivot and turn towards a civilization of human rights
38. Rather than a quixotic vision divorced from the real world,
- HR ideals have become pragmatic necessities for the survival and the flourishing of the human project.
- HR have become the keystone to a positive resolution of our perilous moment.
39. The question is: Can a global movement for change emerge and consolidate with sufficient speed and scale? Normally, societies develop gradually within resilient boundaries of law, governance, and values. However, when historical continuity is interrupted, old social structures weaken and cultural strictures loosen. In hinge moments, the scope for human choice and freedom to choose expands. Then the efforts of an active minority can amplify and redirect (the) social (r)evolution. This is the meaning of Margaret Mead’s dictum: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’. Ergo, it is collective action that has punctuated human history for long. We must create greater collective awareness and foster broader-based actions powerful enough to bend the curve of history.
40. The road ahead brings opportunities unexpected. But the history of the future will be written by choices yet to be made and actions yet to be taken. It is all about helping establish the sufficient ‘political punch’ for HR.
- HR cannot appear as ‘neutralized from their real political intent’.
- HR do not lend themselves to using too simplistic slogans, simply because HR approaches are consciously political in character. (This justifies our call for a holistic and politicized vision of HR as an explanatory and emancipatory framework).
41. For those already embedded in HR, I hope to re-emphasize, re-kindle, re-inspire or even re-imagine HR. For others, I hope to encourage the recognition of the centrality of HR as an organizing principle in society. But this needs removing the naïf guise of neutrality associated with the HR approach.
- HR offer a normative, justice-oriented project that assumes hierarchies are socially constructed, ethically indefensible and require dismantling to facilitate people’s empowerment.
42. It is the emancipatory element of this project that makes it HR-based. We cannot shy away from engaging with HR directly.
- HR are ubiquitous. They are multifaceted and not-always-obvious principles in the prevailing social system.
- HR shape roles, responsibilities and new social expectations. They operate well beyond the local scale, reaching across household, neighborhood, municipal, regional, national and international levels delimiting opportunities and constraints.
43. Giving centrality to HR thus forces us to examine the issues from their ideological tenets or framing which tells us things about what is valid in a given society and how that becomes embedded in existing power relations.
- HR focus on deeply rooted, socially constructed differences.
- HR strive to expose unjust subordination and explain why it happens.
- HR lie at the heart of social relations, driving human interactions with nature and shaping local, national and global politics and what maintains social hierarchies;
- HR reflect the relative degrees of power associated with rules and the existing political dynamics.
- HR explore all power laden realms that produce and reproduce discrimination, difference and inequality.
44. Historically, NGOs can be and have been either witnesses, architects or detractors of HR. Because of that, we see a process of civil society fragmentation. We thus need a vast movement of building global citizenship that expresses a supranational identity to reflect shared concerns and a reprioritization of global values.
45. We will need to foster a great deal of HR learning, to encourage the needed enormous change in mindset, to inspire much greater adherence to ethics. Transformative social and economic change in the direction of idealistic outcomes does not come easily; it emerges from hard work and life-long learning, from courage and commitment over decades.
46. A new set of HR values must ultimately displace individualism, consumerism, and the domination of nature. The redesigning of our economies must serve human rights and spare nature, not bloat profit for the few. Only thus will global citizenship become a strong aspect of human dignity, the foundation for strengthening democratic global governance. Are we ready for the needed Great Transition? It is the degree and quality of the social mobilization we will achieve, and its expression as political will that are the primary constraints to this Great Transition –and not technical or policy know-how as so many want us to believe.
47. What is needed politically is a precious blend of awareness, capacity and courage. This is where we are. We who work for a sustainable HR-respecting world have always known this. We must know it again.
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
List of contributors: T. Banuri, H. Clark, W. Bello, S. Alkire, A. Atkisson, S. Fukuda-Parr, A. Yamin, D. Hastings, S. Marglin, P. Raskin, E. Braunstein, B. Armah, A. Hovorka and J.J. Johnson.