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Food for a poor political thought


Human Rights Reader 344

What’s truly lacking
is performance in politics.
Why do good men go and hide? (J. Koenig)


Many politicians oversimplify. Sometimes I think this allows us to talk of ‘political poverty’


Too many contemporary politicians do not know –the problem is they do not know that they do not know.


1. There is a serious danger in transforming politics into a way of acting out a leader’s private ambition.* Many of them just wear ‘a tie of democratic appearance’. Why? Because, in their politics, certain pragmatisms are nothing but different forms of cynicism. Their promises of a better future are too often manipulated at the expense of people being made to accept a worse present. (Albino Gomez)

*: There was a day when the heaven was full of big and small stars and all of them lived in perfect harmony. These days, so many do not want to be a small light and bend in front of a bigger light so that everyone wants to have a heaven for himself. (Rabbi Mendel of Rymanov as cited by Martin Buber)


2. Too many populist politicians use public funds at their discretion. They have no patience with the subtleties of democracy, the economy or the finances. The national Treasury is their private patrimony which they utilize either to enrich themselves or to embark in projects they considers important or glorious, or both –regardless of costs. The ignorance or lack of understanding of populist leaders as regards the economy has resulted in massive disasters of which their countries take decades to recover from. (E. Krauze) So, who lives at the expense of poor people and violates human rights (HR)? Centuries ago it was monarchies; today, it is a good number of populist regimes.


3. When cornered, politicians generally react quickly and give knee-jerk responses. This, many do by expressing doubts about or twisting the meaning of the question they are posed, i.e., in the sense that they give to the question; they thus ‘know’ what they have to respond.** (Is this why many politicians, have you noticed, lose their apparent brilliance when they speak in public unprepared?) Instead, intellectuals, when interviewed, first reflect as if they had not captured the sense of the question or as if they had doubts about their own interpretation of the same. (J. Kirkpatrick).

**: According to Albert Camus, no artist tolerates reality …and this is true for many politicians as well.


4. As regards political decision-making, my firm belief is that scientific evidence is probably necessary, but certainly not sufficient, to move politicians to act. My conviction further is that they move to action when they are scared. (F. Kummerow) So often (too often) decisions taken fall in the category of ‘politics light’ –meaning that they never explicitly address or attack the shortfalls of the neoliberal ideology. I note that these decisions may mention HR, but they too fall in the category of ‘human rights light’ –meaning that the most they can say is: “We mentioned it! What more do you want?!”   (T. Greiner)


5. In relation to the abused excuse of remedial-and-restitution-actions-for-HR-violations-not-being-taken due to a ‘lack of political will’: J.P. Sartre reminded us that decision makers must… make decisions. They can, of course, refuse to make decisions acting as-if-they-were-made-for-them by others. But even in those cases, they are making a decision, i.e., ‘choosing not to choose’. Sartre thought that decision makers thus are what they ultimately make themselves to be; nothing foreign decides what they, in last instance, decide; each of them carries the entire responsibility for her/his decisions; there are no ‘accidents’. Choices not made can be due to inertia, to cowardice in facing the public, or because they give preference to certain other ideological values! Any way we look at it, it is a matter of choice. “If I do not choose, consider me a simple accomplice with no excuse”. The consequences of decision makers’ decisions arise in a situation that they and only they create. They end up with the situation they deserve; they stamp it with their own seal, without remorse or regrets, without excuse. They may remain passive in a hostile situation tearing themselves away from a given responsibility. But they are responsible nonetheless for the very choice of fleeing responsibilities making themselves passive. Refusing to act on issues is still a conscious choice. It is an opportunity neglected. Decision makers are thus not able not to choose on HR related issues. So much for J.P. Sartre. Bottom line: Political will does not fall from the sky –it needs to be proactively built (S. Gillespie), or as I prefer: demanded.


Have you noticed, as I have, that ‘political’ is often a code-word used by some colleagues for ‘ideology with which they disagree’?


Yes, ideological warfare is a kind of guerilla warfare –not involving generals.


6. Most of our colleagues claim to be non-political. But, knowingly or not, they espouse an ideology. The same is true for ‘the public opinion’. I am most probably right if I say that HR are not part of their ideology. Therefore, neither colleagues nor the public opinion are the vehicle for an ideological renovation towards HR. It is not at all clear where the public opinion wants to go, what dreams it has and what it is willing to tolerate. Measuring its ‘heartbeat’ is not indicative of its aspirations, its internal conflicts or its internal dynamics. Surveys and statistics tell us little about these parameters. With its tendency to reduce everything to a minimum common denominator, our societies through its public opinion push towards weak thoughts, soothing ideas and status-quo. By practicing this special type of collective narcissism with which the public opinion resonates (some have called it the ideology of the extreme center), contemporary societies do not allow deviations, originality, creativity and out-of-the-box-thinking. The public opinion swallows all social trauma, blatant HR violations and tensions of all types with incredible ease. It does not forcefully reject anything, being permissive. Bottom line, the public opinion rarely embarks in a true political opposition mode or ‘sticks its neck out’ for HR. (A. Minc)


In the work a good number of us do, it is not (only) about discussing the substantial technical issues, but also the substantive political issues.


Einstein was right when he said that the day technology surpasses our humanity, the world will only have a generation of idiots.


7. All the above said, political issues are indeed substantive. Some of us have taken this to heart and have entered the politics of HR with fiery ideals and often end up as firemen in the-big-forest-fire-of-HR –25% (?) contained. (A. Gomez) Our challenge remains to go from a crusading stage-one by a few concerned citizens to a true popular stage-two movement. (A. Fazal)


8. I talked about intellectuals. As regards them, many of us feel disappointed they have disappeared from the frontline public political debate on HR. This, not because their lack of desire to expiate their past errors or their newly acquired lack of interest about things political in HR, but maybe because workable societal political remedies have ceased to be ‘thinkable’ and achievable for them. (A. Minc) We certainly have to move them out of this apathy.***

***: As regards radicals, in all honesty, we have had splinter groups, among them not only religious fundamentalists, ‘the fascists of the revolution’, and those who embark in ‘the intellectualized praxis of stagnant socialism’ (Julio Cortazar), but also well organized grassroots social movements that are diligently and bravely advancing the HR cause.


9. Now for liberals. Liberals assume that there is no fundamental mistake in our societies; there is only an imbalance; so there is a need to rebalance. (Conversely, radicals see the problems as a symptom of grave social disorders in society; injustice and exploitation are seen as key issues that call for social and political action). Liberalism with its gurus, its oracles and its priests does not function as a global philosophy of how societies ought to function; its philosophy could have a future but, as the market ideology, it will clash with realities that definitely resist its basic tenets.

Liberals tend to be fond of PEST medicines, i.e., for political problems –a bit of political medicine; for economic problems –economic medicine; for social problems –social medicine; for technological problems –technical medicine.****

****: As much as liberals, the so-called popular classes can be reactionary, conservative, progressive, or innovative; it all depends on who ‘feeds’ them. (A. Gomez)


10. We falsely assume liberal governments ought to respond to a just cause like HR. But in reality, many pressures bare on them, powerful traditional pressures and pressures by the business community among them. (making a ‘cash register ethics’ prevail over universal HR and social considerations). This may seem harsh to the uninitiated, but harsh realities like this call for harsh actions, not gentle admonitions. As activists, we will thus have to deal with unholy alliances between greedy businessmen and corrupt and inefficient bureaucrats, with a docile press and with the disenchantment of previous participatory forms of government that have not worked. (A. Fazal)


11. Bottom line, HR must still be politicized in direct response to the respective actual local issues. It is understanding the political incentives of our strategic allies and the motives of our strategic opponents that will result in better strategies for achieving improvements in the HR situation. Linking HR to development also gains greater traction with national partners and is likely to lessen the sensitivity around certain topics. (M. Brathwaite)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City



-Harry Truman once said: My two vocations in life were to either become a pianist in a whorehouse or a politician. To tell you the truth, there is not a great difference between both.

-Although not always true, George Orwell was of the opinion that political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

-The politics of peace is seeded in Human Rights. Where are the sowers? (J. Koenig)

Not so Marginal:

Most world news today either disgust us, anger us and/or bring about a sense of anguish and despair in us. But only rarely do they elicit our personal commitment. We act as passive receptors of the revelations of a reality others are responsible for with us having no say whatsoever. We then face our daily life with the serenity of knowing ‘we are well informed’. We exchange opinions about the day’s happenings either sharing our happiness or our indignation (mostly, these days). But, after a certain time, we abandon the issue –basically out of frustration and/or boredom. (Journalistic accounts are a deplorable literary waste, because they are mostly written to be forgotten, Jorge Luis Borges used to say). We soak up new information quickly, we forget fast and we make room to absorb a new scandal or atrocity that injects in us some more adrenalin and informs us about a new transitory current event. For long now, news seem to be but variations of a same theme: the same actors, the same infamies, the same predictable words and declamations –just never ending new casualties. Things happen in this world that have long stopped to catch our longer term attention, because they do not affect us. Is it just because they have to do ‘with the human condition’? or is it with the political and HR villainies that are still ubiquitous? (S. Zimmermann) Silence’s not golden. It’s an endorsement of sorts. All voices must be heard. (J. Koenig) Plenty food for thought here with Gaza, Ukraine and Irak in the media.



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