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Human rights: Food for changing a thought (part 2)


Human Rights Reader 389


Our time is marked by the predominance of fear over hope


  1. A pact between the different constituencies of claim holders must be the result of a political reading that says that what is at stake is the very survival of democracies (and of human rights) worthy of the name, as well as the survival of the planet. The actions that this calls for are as pressing as to literally salvage that which neoliberalism has not yet been able to destroy.


  1. According to the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, people (and I should add, societies as well) are governed by two basic emotions: fear and hope. There is a complex balance between the two, but we need them both if we wish to survive. Fear is the dominant emotion when one’s expectations about the future are negative (“this is bad, but the future could be worse”); in turn, hope has the upper hand when future expectations are positive or, in any event, when refusal of the alleged inevitability of negative expectations is widely shared.


  1. Thirty or more years after the global assault on workers’ rights; after all the proclamations of social inequality and egotism as the ultimate social virtues; after the unprecedented plunder of natural resources and the expulsion of whole populations from their land, as well as the environmental destruction caused by it; after the fostering of war and terrorism to create failed states and make societies defenseless in the face of plundering; after the poorly negotiated imposition of free trade agreements that are entirely controlled by the interests of multinational corporations; after the absolute supremacy of financial capital over productive capital and the lives of peoples and communities —after all this, in combination with the hypocritical defense of ‘liberal democracy’, it is plausible to conclude that neoliberalism is a huge machine for producing negative expectations aimed at keeping the popular classes from finding out about the true reasons for their suffering and thus make them, not only conform with what little they still have, but also remain paralyzed by the fear of losing even that.


  1. Never forget that the-right-to-have-rights is an irreversible civilizational achievement. Can it then be that just when there is a new glimmer of hope, disagreement will resurface and the necessary pacts among claim holders will be thrown overboard? Were that to happen, it would be fatal to claim holders in the popular classes, who will promptly return to their muted hopelessness in the face of fatalism, a fatalism, moreover, that is as violent for the vast majorities as it is generous to the tiny minorities.


  1. A renewed constitutional pedagogy in all areas of government is needed. Why? Because the prevailing patriarchal political system has not allowed citizens to regain the capacity and competence to actively intervene and participate in political life. Biased electoral systems, ‘partidocracia’ (in Spanish), corruption, manipulated financial crises –these are some of the reasons for the double crisis of representation (“they do not represent us”) and participation (“it is not worth voting, they are all the same and no one ever delivers on their promises”).


  1. The hegemony of the neoliberal set of ideas about society, as well as the interpretations of the world and of life is predominant by reason of being widely shared –including by those very social groups who are harmed by them. This makes it possible for political elites, through their use of such ideas and interpretations, to rule by consensus rather than by coercion, even when their rule goes against the objective interests of majority social groups. The idea that poor people happen to be poor through their own fault is one of these hegemonic ideas. Worse, mistakes not only are not seen as mistakes, but actually go unnoticed and are even turned into political virtues, or at least accepted as the inevitable outcome of the existing development governance.


  1. But there is a growing struggle against neoliberalism being waged both in formal education and in the promotion of popular education, in the media and in the support to the alternative media, in scientific research and in the changes to university curricula, in the social networks and in cultural activities.


  1. The condemnation of capitalism by self-proclaimed left-wing governments tends to primarily focus on corruption and, therefore, on the immorality and illegality of capitalism, rather than on the systematic injustice of the system of domination that functions in strict adherence to capitalism’s legality and morality. The need to keep participatory democracy alive within the left-wing parties themselves is a precondition for the adoption of resistance-to-capitalism measures by the national political system.


  1. A greater emphasis on constitutional reform is imperative so as to protect and promote social rights and to bring more transparency to the political system, as well as to bring the system closer to citizens and make it more dependent on their decisions without having to wait for new elections every four years.


  1. Bottom line here, neoliberalism’s deadly machine keeps on producing fear on a massive scale –and whenever it runs short of raw materials, it hacks off whatever hope it can find in the innermost recesses of the popular classes’ political and social life, grinding it, processing it and turning it into fear of fear. It is therefore imperative that ‘the lefts’ around the world know how to feel fear, but not fear of fear. It is further imperative that they know how to poach the few seeds of hope from the neoliberal grind and plant them in fertile soil where more and more citizens feel that they can live well, protected both from the hell of impending chaos and the siren’s call of the consumption compulsion. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)


Isolated islands of social activism on human rights can hardly exist in a sea of capitalism


  1. Given the above, South-South solidarity must thus be forged in order to advance the struggle. Many peoples and societies in the South are today in a much better position to face the challenges, and build alternatives, than they were a few decades ago. The mask of benevolence has by now been forcefully removed from the face of the oligopolies that drive the current stage of capitalism. A historic alliance of democratic forces in the North and progressive forces in South has become critical. For that, it must overcome the long held distrust among the two, as well as that among progressive groups in the North.


  1. The left parties with their priorities set on their political goals are not equipped and are not necessarily the best vehicles to take up the human rights struggle in a sustained manner. A renewal in the current primary national political expression, i.e., the political parties and their interface with social movements is, therefore, a must. The various emancipatory forces must be brought together into a unified will, into one platform able to formulate realistic firm proposals so as to work in a non-hegemonist way to craft solidarities in the struggle for human rights (HR). This kind of broad platform must allow the building of new alliances and the formation of a large opposition social bloc committed to building authentic democracy on the long road to the fulfillment of HR.


  1. Parliamentary electoral politics can provide a critical, but alas a small base in fuelling the needed new energy in peoples struggles to carry them forward to further social progress and democratization. Parliamentary politics has been carried out at the cost of strengthening its relationship with the masses.*

*: A society respectful of HR cannot arise de novo and must arise from the rundown existing capitalist forms. This means that the struggle will still be located within the framework of the neoliberal paradigm. Let us not forget this.


  1. A democratic practice, built from below and rooted in solidarity is the way to attract new social actors in the struggle for an alternative society. Therefore, the right to information is another not-to-be-forgotten element of democratic progress, because it offers further prospects of expanding the social base for authentic democratization and socialization of the HR struggle. (S. Chachra)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City




-As you finish reading this, make no mistake, these seemingly abstract issues about which we write papers are matters determining the lives of millions of people. We all know that, as Benjamin’s Law says, when all is said and done, a lot more is said than done. It is, therefore, not enough to bring these issues under the spotlight; as someone else said, we need to make more light!

-At the tunnel’s end, hope is a constant flicker; the light is in us. (Jerome Koenig)

-It is well known that money has no morals …the same as many of our current leaders. (H.M. Guyot)

-Those who convince you of absurd things can make you get involved in atrocities. (Voltaire)

-If alone you cannot, together with strategic political allies you can!

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