“Human rights” framing
Oct 5, 2011 – Today’s Times notes that “David Cameron will call today for the Human Rights Act to be replaced”. This follows recent political/media BS linking “human rights” with freedom for “terrorists” and benefits for “illegal immigrants”, etc.
“Rights” and “human rights” are abstractions, so how do we conceptualise them? Mostly, our thoughts about rights are tied up with our thinking about property. Rights are seen as metaphorical possessions which people can take away, and which must be guarded. Rights are also domain-specific – a moral right may not give you a legal right. Rights are conceptualised as metaphorical tickets granting a certain kind of freedom in one domain, but not in another. (Tickets are a form of property).
Property, in law, is understood in terms of rights – rights of access, use, transfer, etc. It’s these rights which are bought and sold. Money (“survival tickets” or “fun tickets”, depending on your income/anxiety level) is a symbolic representation of such rights.
Note: This is a view of how we think about “rights”, not of metaphysical absolutes (which we’ll leave to the Daily Mail and the Pope).
Human rights are a special case – “inalienable” rights that we possess on account of being human. This brings up the difficult subject of “human nature” (and what it means), since human rights are viewed as conferring the freedom to do what is “natural” (or “normal”) for a human being. That much is largely uncontested.
Given the property metaphor, there is of course a “price” to be paid for guaranteeing human rights – seen as “responsibility”. (Remember Tony Blair’s slogan: “for every right there’s a responsibility”?). Who is responsible for guarding your human rights, and what form does that responsibility take? This is where the contested concepts come in – and the framing wars, the think-tanks, etc. For example, the human right of the Iraqi citizen not to have her leg blown off by a missile built in a British factory and funded by taxpayers who thought they were protecting the human “right to work”.
Daily Hate generic headlines:
• ‘BARMY EURO PC “RIGHTS”’
• ‘HUMAN RIGHTS: LICENCE FOR TERRORISTS?’
• ‘RIOTER SCUM: “PROTECT MY HUMAN RIGHTS”’