Human Rights & Family (cont.)

Bjorn Conrad Fry (bear@USNET.US.NET)
Wed, 28 Dec 1994 00:24:53 -0500

on the list. I know it's an area several of you have expressed some
interest in resuscitating again, so I'll take the opportunity to take
another stab at it.

Before I start, I would just like to state, from the outset, that my
comments in no way should be seen as an unilateral desire to impose or
inject my, Western, or anyone else's notion of human rights into any
culture, society or nation. I believe that any culture (or people), no
matter how small or apparently insignificant, has a natural right to
cultural, ethnic or even racial self preservation and or self
determination, as long as, in so doing, it does not infringe upon my, or
anyone else's rights to do the same. This basically means that any such
group has a right to preserve itself against any defacto or intentional
strategy of any other such group to undermine that preservation for
whatever reason. This is essentially a recognition that all degrees of
interaction between peoples must be based on mutual consent and that
anything short of that must be regarded as a coercive policy directed by
one group against another. I see this concept of group rights as being
nothing more or less than the logical extension of the natural rights that,
for example, Americans might enjoy as individuals. It would then be correct
to state that group rights, in my view, are nothing more than a collection
of like minded individuals who each have unalienable natural rights. Modern
Western representative democracy, as I see it, is based on this or similar
principles. Indeed, development itself can be substantially measured by the
degree to which _individual_ rights are respected and effectively upheld
within a society. Possibly more on this later.

As I see it, the Developed World has an ongoing tradition now of
viewing the respect for human rights as an ideal worth striving for. It has
been more or less successful at achieving relatively well functioning
societies with that in mind. Few Developing Countries would admit that they
don't also generally share this ideal today. The conflict that exists
regarding human rights is centered primarily between those who favor group
rights _over_ individual rights, in both worlds. The problem is that when
group rights are held above individual rights, virtually any group can
justify virtually any transgression against virtually any individual for
virtually any reason as long as any such group perceives some justification
or benefit in so doing. That is the problem with group rights if they don't
emerge from a sacrosanct individual rights foundation. Governments end up
wielding inordinate sociopolitical power over their heterogeneous, or even
artificially fragmented populations. Even legitimate groups then run the
risk of being suppressed or deprived of group status or end up either
suffering the consequences of key individual persecutions, non-recognition,
or massive group persecution. Even groups that might have marginal, or
vastly exaggerated legitimacy, often opportunistically profess group status
for the civil rights and or group rights protections it affords them above
and beyond what they would normally hold as a group of individuals.

As I've pointed out in previous postings, the nuclear family is the
smallest naturally legitimate group. ... husband, wife and any offspring,
yet, the we don't hold one spouse automatically responsible for the actions
of another. Only individuals can fairly be held responsible for their own
actions. How then can any group be ethically held responsible for the
actions of its members? Even if a group acts as a unit it is impossible to
ethically punish all its members. Even the Nazis or the SS were not
convicted collectively. Nurenburg convicted individuals not groups. So,
where there is no direct accountability how can there be unchecked rights?
If rights do not go hand in hand with responsibility or accountability, are
we not courting disaster? Rights are first and foremost translated into
power. If power is separated from responsibility, the potential results
become obvious. We all know the sociopolitical patterns that emerge when
power is not bestowed indirectly by a responsible citizenry.

An example of the abuses of individual rights in the the name of
collective rights was recently presented on the "Justice Files," I believe
it was, on cable television. They described the ancient and disturbing
cultural tradition of non-conformist daughter killing. It was described as
a not so terribly rare ancient punishment exacted by the most traditional
minded "Mediterranean," Arabic and Indian cultures among others. It was
characterized as a last ditch solution to teenaged daughters who stop
minding their parents and elders along with their traditional ways. This
kind of family ritual killing is occasionally still practiced to prevent
the potential disgrace that could be brought down on the greater family and
community by a culturally deviant daughter. More often than not, in this
day and age, the daughter is corrupted by other cultures and or ways. If
anyone recalls a similar thing happening in the provocative film "YUL" that
was shown a decade or more ago. This is not to say that these customs are
generally condoned by the greater societies involved. I am talking about
the cultural propensity to hold familial or cultural rights over the most
fundamental of individual rights, the right to life itself. Such societies
are obviously highly resistant to change. The penalties for advocating or
living change are potentially extremely high. The sad fact is that most of
those societies only rarely allow their talented individuals (of either
gender) achieve their highest potential. The cultural traditions of
self-sacrifice and sublimation make more problematic the obvious
relationships between action, responsibility and justice. Respect is
concentrated in cultural the family. Anything, especially
slightly differing groups, represent potential dangerous corrupting forces.
Just imagine if you were capable of killing your own sister or daughter for
cultural deviance. What kind of transgressions might you be capable of
against others who don't share your cultural beliefs and or priorities? Why
would justice be a priority to you if you come from an absolutist cultural
position where just treatment was a punishable offense? Why would you
respect individual rights if that which is of supreme importance to you
involves the primacy of familial or group rights?

This is what I was originally referring to when I wrote of the Latin
American family culture verses the individual based family that
concentrates more on the fulfillment of the individuals potential.

Motivated purely out of a desire to promote better understanding, I
appreciate all your contributions on this or related topics so far. That
said, I would like to welcome any and all additional constructive comments.

Let it be said, once again, that most of what is wrong, and of what
is most perfectable in this world, is located between our own ears.
If we don't first start living our own lives to the fullest, as
responsible individuals, in just fashion, and as empowered examples,
instead of languishing in the addictive maelstrom of blame, depen-
dency, and its powerlessness, there is little hope for us. - bcfry

Bjorn Conrad Fry - American
Bethesda, Maryland