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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

INDIVIDUAL vs COLLECTIVE

I'm not a number
Dammit I'm a man!
-Bob Seger, Feel Like a Number

Tyranny of the Collective
One of the major ideological divides between right and left is the concept of individual vs collective. The left tends to view things in groups and collections, the right tends to view individuals and each person separately. Thus, for the left the 2nd amendment of the US Constitution is a "collective right," giving the right to bear arms to the American people, but not individual Americans. The right sees this as an individual right, with each person having the right to keep and bear arms.

In practice this plays out in different ways. In the case of the 2nd amendment, the left argues that individual people do not have the right to own guns of any kind, that this is only for special groups such as the military and police. The right argues that self defense and ownership of weapons is an intrinsic right of humanity and each individual person.

In the international world this divide between right and left can also be seen. The United Nations has been trying to put out an updated statement on human rights, including a new statement on free speech. The statement that has been proposed includes this line:
"abuse . . . [that] constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination."
The argument used to support this amendment is that religions have rights as a collective, and thus they must be protected from speech which is considered offensive or bigoted against that faith. This is, of course, an attempt to protect Islam. The US left the Human Rights Committee (and its successor the Human Rights Council: different name, same thing) leaving Canada to fight against this inclusion.

If you split the world up into interest groups, religions being a bloc makes sense. If you believe in collective rights then granting rights to a body such as a religion makes sense. If you believe rights are individual, it is absurd. The divide is strictly along those lines: Cuba, for instance, supports the collective rights idea and (probably because they know the chaos it will cause in a free society to ban criticism of Islam) they are behind this amendment as well as several Islamic nations.

When President Obama took office, he immediately moved to get the US back into the human rights council so that it could work with Cuba, Sri Lanka, Iran, and other human rights abusers to decide how the world should act in ways they will not. One of the first things he did was to work with Egypt to push this clause through and finalize the Human Rights statement of the United Nations which officially considers speech which criticizes religions to not be free. Anne Bayevsky at the Weekly Standard reports:
The new resolution, championed by the Obama administration, has a number of disturbing elements. It emphasizes that "the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities . . ." which include taking action against anything meeting the description of "negative racial and religious stereotyping." It also purports to "recognize . . . the moral and social responsibilities of the media" and supports "the media's elaboration of voluntary codes of professional ethical conduct" in relation to "combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance."

Pakistan's Ambassador Zamir Akram, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, made it clear that they understand the resolution and its protection against religious stereotyping as allowing free speech to be trumped by anything that defames or negatively stereotypes religion.
The Islamic nations know exactly why they demanded this inclusion to limit free speech worldwide. Granted, the UN has no power nor will to enforce such a ban, but the intent is there, and the US Government with its collective concept of rights and ideology wanted to back it (and get some sort of victory, of sorts, to crow about). Muslims previously rejected any UN statement which condemned barbaric practices such as female circumcision with loud, angry interference in discussion and demands for obedience.
Privately, other Western governments were taken aback and watched the weeks of negotiations with dismay as it became clear that American negotiators wanted consensus at all costs. In introducing the resolution on Thursday, October 1--adopted by consensus the following day--the ranking U.S. diplomat, Chargé d'Affaires Douglas Griffiths, crowed:

"The United States is very pleased to present this joint project with Egypt. This initiative is a manifestation of the Obama administration's commitment to multilateral engagement throughout the United Nations and of our genuine desire to seek and build cooperation based upon mutual interest and mutual respect in pursuit of our shared common principles of tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."

His Egyptian counterpart, Ambassador Hisham Badr, was equally pleased--for all the wrong reasons. He praised the development by telling the Council that "freedom of expression... has been sometimes misused," insisting on limits consistent with the "true nature of this right" and demanding that the "the media must... conduct... itself in a professional and ethical manner."
Previously when a human rights statement was released by the UN, in 1992, the US made sure that it would not interfere with US constitutionally guaranteed individual rights. This time, not so much. Even the EU rejected the idea of collective rights and the media's responsibility to not upset Muslims:
Speaking on behalf of the EU following the resolution's adoption, French Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattéi declared that "human rights law does not, and should not, protect religions or belief systems, hence the language on stereotyping only applies to stereotyping of individuals . . . and not of ideologies, religions or abstract values. The EU rejects the concept of defamation of religions." The EU also distanced itself from the American compromise on the media, declaring that "the notion of a moral and social responsibility of the media" goes "well beyond" existing international law and "the EU cannot subscribe to this concept in such general terms."
The founding fathers, and the philosophers before them which were learned from and relied on understood rights very clearly and simply. They were individual, always. Groups and collections do not have natural rights - they do not have rights which are inalienable, god-given, and intrinsic to their nature. Only the individuals within those groups do. Rights are, strictly speaking, not possible for governments to grant nor individuals to lose, as I've written about extensively. They are a part of being human and are not shared with anything or anyone else.

The idea of collective rights is alien and does damage to the principles of liberty and the philosophies upon which modern civilization and democracy is built. They are a manner of controlling and commanding people, not a manner of gaining greater liberty. When you say a group has rights then the government must protect that group from and against the individual. Saying a religion has rights means that individuals must not violate those rights, and thus each person must surrender their liberty so that the group can enjoy protection. That's completely in contradiction to everything the founding fathers of the US stood for and believed in, fought for, bled for, and died for. It is in violation of the US Constitution, and of your individual liberty.

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