Questions of basic moral decency matter. The survival of the many, many human lives -- rich and poor -- depends upon whether or not their rights are respected. Now we say “rights.” What we call "rights" should also be something “self-evident,” which is the way the famous U. S. Declaration puts it. If the rights are self-evident it doesn’t matter whether you call them “rights” or not. The fact is that they must be: they have got to be associated with a self-evident, intuitive immediacy. If they are not, the language itself confuses. My position is that the term "rights" is problematic (if it is a "right" then it does not seem to me that anyone could possibly lose it ---- ever), but for that matter our definition of "human being" is, perhaps, an unclear concept as well. So, we are talking in obviousnesses. For this reason, when talking about these matters everything has to be right there in its immediacy and self-evident.
Now wise, educated individuals know about this. You know. Not everyone can "see" human rights, but for those who can it is intuitive and obvious. You do not need to possess a concept, necessarily. There is an intuitive quality here. We can make a non-conceptual discernment of what these rights are, and, if I am to defend my human rights I do have to know what they are. I would even say that an oppressor has to know as well.
We need to have an order of things where we respect others; it’s very important. The world political order itself is a very fragile structure. Within this order of things, only a few wealthier capitalist nations have an actual history that has, many would agree, managed to integrate basic human decency into a modern type of political order. Primitive tribes we shall count as another story. Most of the world seems to have been colonized at some point, by a really small number of these modern states: Italy, France, Belgium, England, what not. We do not know why some states – the same ones that brutalized the inhabitants of their (own) colonies – have this history and others do not but at any rate they do; it is there. There exists the tradition of this kind of respect for basic rights, and it seems to me quite clear that this has been part of an extremely powerful thrust of Western civilization in history, which means in the world. Where Western nations like Russia or Germany tried to renounce the method, they fell.
And with no continued presence of these kinds of values, both of these societies, which is to say those that maintain political human rights and those that, as yet, do not - are threatened. The Western system really has to be defended and I would do it – but in a real sense, not the phony way Bush did.
Values, then, are intuitively understood. You are wise, and educated, and you have this capacity, as a person. It is no great feat. It is common - ordinary. We who are within the boundaries of the Western powers ought to have the education to respect human rights. We can - and do - understand a set of principles that say that other human beings should be able to congregate in public; they should possess their ethnicity - their own practices, habits and culture. They should be able to have their own political parties and all other social groupings - groupings of all sorts. What we say sometimes points to a concept of the freedom of speech. We should understand that human beings should be treated kindly, and respected, and given a place to live. They need to work, and if they have no work or nothing to do they should be able to find something. And I don't see you arguing. Are you? If you are not arguing it is because my having twisted your arm is not necessary - for you to know that these are the good, true, real, decent values for you to have.
Without these basic rights you are not going to get much of a world to live in.
Now we see human rights violated in Iran - and possibly in Honduras, depending on what the nature of what may be going on there is – I don't know - and, recently, a fundamental violation occurred. There was this anti-democratic action that Bush took that we just saw -- the man’s terrible lack of sense in invading a middle-Eastern country (Iraq), based on the pretext of American democratic superiority. With these two latest countries in the news, I mean Iran and Honduras now -- it might be that a whole new round of horrors is getting started. Where is Bush now? Does he still feel like he knows anything? He got his eight years but what was his gift? What did the Bushes bequeath? (I’m also adding Poppy in here a little.)
Of those few Western countries that do have a history of respecting human rights, the U. S. in particular seems to be confused and without an idea what to do. This idiotic intervention that occurred recently – of G. W. Bush – the idiotic intervention in the affairs of Iraq – has only made things worse. All we have is the record of what actually happened -- an idiotic, mismanaged, illegal intervention. The authors are the half dozen fools that leave the nation -- as opposed to the few, the individuals -- with no clue as to where to go, what to do or what we really stand for as a nation. Of course democracy is always a good excuse for things, but, if democracy is just an idea, it is no better than any other idea.
Human rights is an idea too. But human life is not an idea. Human life is no abstraction, and it takes a lot more than abstraction to protect it.
Should we have countries and individuals trampling all over the rights of others it does not look like life is going to get much protection. That does not occur by merely a show of words. And it also does not occur merely by a show of force.