human rights / culture

Bjorn Conrad Fry (bear@USNET.US.NET)
Thu, 29 Dec 1994 22:27:02 -0500

In message <> "Lief M. Hendrickson" writes:
> To: Bjorn Fry
> Ref: 28 Dec posting by Bjorn Fry promulgating human rights.
> Your posting welcomes any "additional" (?) constructive comments
> which probably means you want concurrence only- as you apparently
> expect from other cultures relative to your philosophy.

Please don't read more into my words than what I wrote. Constructive means
constructive. If you or anyone else can make a reasonable case for an
alternative position, I would consider that to be constructive too. I can't
believe that I have to spell this out. My motivation for adding those
comments was based on my experience on this or other lists where
"constructive" discourse
occasionally deteriorates into a irrational name calling diatribe. This is
especially true when someone with another opinion can't support theirs
rationally. Would you suggest that my previous contribution was not
constructive? Are you aware that this is really a continuation of a thread
that is a month or so old?

> You
> address more than human rights. On the one hand is a defense for
> self-determinism of a culture. On the other is an imposition of
> a philosophy of human rights. You say the comments should not be
> seen as a "desire to impose or inject" your values, but there
> doesn't seem to be much room for anything else.

Of course I address more than human rights. How can one discuss such things
without touching upon other aspects of human society and behavior. How did
I impose anything. If making a rhetorical point in even a marginally
effective way, results in a belief that it is imposition, I would call into
question the rational foundations upon which such a conclusion is based. I
would argue that imposition is, in and of itself, a violation of the type
of human rights I am talking about. If the philosophical conversion of
individuals through rhetorical debate is coercive, then your definition of
coercion is diametrically apposed to mine. The last time I checked,
self-imposition is more like conscious self-discipline. Human societies are
functioning through their cultures that, to a greater or lesser extent,
exist to perpetuate a better way of life through relative levels of
knowledge and understanding. My point was that external imposition of even
the most lucid facts or ways "not real and applicable knowledge and
understanding promote." Ultimately, human beings whose cultures are
primarily rationally based, without exception, in some way shape or form,
rebel against virtually every expression of coercive imposition. People
invariably understand that coercion needs not to be employed to implement
deportment that is in the general interest of a population. Cultural values
that are maintained through cooperative agreement made between informed,
responsible and pragmatic individuals have the greatest chance of being
sustained and even improved upon, even in the face of significant change.

> I'm not against
> decent treatment of all individuals, but who makes the rules- you
> or the hierarchy within the various cultures?

It is ultimately the prerogative of those various cultures, as I've already
stated. One or more responsible individuals make those decisions, either
democratically or not. Luckily they don't have to reinvent the wheel, in so
doing. The world is full of functioning examples that can be emulated.
There is little question that the more informed and knowledgeable a people
are, the less potentially coercive they could become. The same can be said
for the number of informed and responsible individuals who are involved in
the process. Education and information is the key as it always has been and
probably always will be.

> Regarding whether "any group can be ethically held responsible
> for the actions of its members", it depends on what you mean by
> ethics.

What I mean by that is probably something similar to what you mean by
"decent treatment" in your previous question. ... you know, for the most
part, one should only reap what one sows, etc.

> In the case of your example of the Nuremburg trials, it
> wouldn't do much good to put the group on trial since " the
> group" was dead at that point (i.e. had been defeated by the war-
> a different type of "trial"!).

This doesn't make sense to me. If there are three hoods who go on a killing
spree and only one survives, subsequent to a shootout with police, are you
saying that the surviving murderer shouldn't go to trial because the group
had already suffered enough?

> What do you mean by group ethics
> anyway? If we're discussing accountability of a group, there's
> plenty of basis for action directed at a group. Consider legal
> action against a corporation (a group) vs. against its
> stockholders (individuals). A church (a group) can even be sued.

Now, from what I understand, a corporation is considered to be a single
entity (like an individual). As for suing, you can sue just about anyone or
anything for just about any reason. The issue is quite different in a civil
suit, I believe. Maybe some of our legal eagles out there could set us
straight on this. Are all the individuals who make up a group accountable,
responsible or punishable for the actions of that group as a whole? ... or
can individual members plausibly deny culpability? Can Mom and Pop be put
in jail for what Junior perpetrates if their only connection to the crime
was that they were the parents?

> An example of "ritual killing" is given in your posting. Is
> there some other point here other than killing is bad- and that
> it reflects on the quality of these cultures?

I would never say that one culture is qualitatively "better" or "worse"
than another. Cultures and the priorities of mankind are much too complex
for that. I will say that some cultures will will tend ultimately to
prosper more than others due also to their propensity to change, bring out
and tap the potential human capital that they have at their disposal. My
point is that differing cultures have differing strategies for success.
Sometimes these cultural strategies hogtie or even murder the individual
for some "superior's" concept of the group good. The rather obscure "apply
it as you will" notion of group rights held above individual rights carries
with it a price that is hard to quantify yet it is very real an manifests
itself in numerous important ways. So many still profess that economic and
developmental differences among peoples are based on racism, imperialism,
exploitation and on and on. This is an underlying sentiment a majority in
academe still share. The point is that cultural determinism alone is
sufficient in and of itself to affect a significant proportion of the
disparities that exist. The ritual killing is an exaggerated example of
group pride and cultural, continuity and hegemony having greater value than
an individual's freedom and life. To a greater or lesser extent, this kind
of group hegemony still exists among the societies of the Mediterranean
area and undoubtedly contributes to their somewhat lower level of
development. The implications that this has for Hispanic societies around
the world, and even within the U.S. itself, for example, cannot easily be
dismissed. Many things make us culturally different. With each realization
we expand our knowledge of ourselves and our very empowerment to
potentially better ourselves. The less a society relies on motivation
squelching coercion and unequal application of the law, the greater the
empowerment factor.

> On this measuring
> stick, our culture isn't doin so great- seems to be a lot of
> killin goin on lately. Beatings and robbery too! Of course,
> "this is not to say that these customs are generally condoned by
> the greater societies involved" (to borrow your words). If you
> insist on issuing value judgments on other cultures, I suggest
> more attention to how to define values. And consider that
> there's more to looking at other cultures than whether they
> measure up to certain values.

The examples you give are of the deviants who infringe on the rights of
other individuals. If you agree that freedom is better than subservience or
even death, or that healing is better than killing you too are making value
judgements. At the beginning of this thread, considerable efforts were made
to address the problems associated with taking a relativist position. The
same can be said for blind absolutism. The course to follow lies somewhere
in between. In order to understand ourselves we must better understand
others. I for one refuse to believe that we have not learned at least a few
things since the beginning of time that we should not forget to cherish.

Allow other cultures be as they will. But don't fail them or yourself when
they come to you asking to learn how to fish. Some things are within us to
teach. Our legacy is what we have achieved and how we continue the process.

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