Daily Archives: February 15, 2011

Dystopian futures

‘The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering — a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons — a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting — three hundred million people all with the same face.’ George Orwell, 1984.

Whenever I read a dystopian novel I wonder how such a future could ever come to pass when democracy – even the limited, elitist and monied political class currently labelled as ‘democracy’ in the UK – seems to have such a firm grasp on our national conscience. Then you start to realise how successful certain media narratives are. Recently the Mail’s campaign for the rejection of universal human rights currently enforced by the Council of Europe (not the ‘EU’ as is commonly thought by journalists) has highlighted just how willing people are to vociferously wish away their own rights.

I overheard one mother – copy of Mail in hand – agree that human rights should be scrapped because thanks to human rights schools no longer checked for nits and instead parents were simply sent letters and had to check and arrange their own treatment. Seems a petty reason to give up your universal human rights. But she isn’t alone; any visit to any website comment section reveals the contempt a substantial proportion of people have for ‘Yuman rites’ (another gem we have Richard Littlejohn to thank for) largely because they are perceived to be only used in fatuous cases or by hardened criminals ‘playing the system’.

The media specialises in only covering universal human rights in cases that they think are either absurd (someone claims something deemed innocuous by the press is infringing on their human rights) or outrageous (any criminal who decides to use human rights law for any reason – they ‘take advantage of’ human rights law). The stories are rarely – if ever – balanced and more often or not human rights are wrongly blamed for the lack of a clear conviction or a criminal not being deported (the truth is often complex and journalists simply prefer to blame ‘yuman rites’ irrespective of whether human rights law was a significant factor in any decision made).

The Daily Mail’s James Slack recent article on human rights just about sums up the way the tabloid press views the universal rights of a human being: something worthless that doesn’t really apply to us. The headline makes this clear: ‘How ten human rights cases clog up our courts EVERY DAY’. Human Rights cases ‘clog up our courts’ presumably because we can all access such universal rights if we feel the need, and clearly a significant number of people do feel the need to access this right. The headline clearly tries to create anyone involved in a human rights case belongs to an outgroup, they are ‘others’ who ‘clog up our courts’, they are not like us and their actions are making us worse off.

The article furthers this argument in the very first paragraph as it identifies the kind of people it deems unworthy of having human rights (i.e. the people that James Slack views as not human):

More than 5,000 individuals – including illegal immigrants, hedge fund managers, foreign criminals and ‘neighbours from hell’ – have used the Human Rights Act to defend themselves, it emerged last night.

According to James Slack you relinquish your human rights if you move countries, have a career as a hedge fund manager, commit a crime (and have the added temerity to be foreign) or are deemed as being a bad neighbour. According to this Mail article there have been ‘an astonishing 5,107 human rights cases in the first ten years of the Act’, a number that doesn’t sound particularly astonishing to me – given the amount of human beings living in the UK and the 10 years in which they could have used the act. Naturally we are not given any balance as to what kind of cases have involved human rights law, instead we are given a pretty standard tabloid case study:

Among those to take advantage of the Human Rights Act is Iraqi asylum seeker Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, who knocked down Amy Houston and left her to ‘die like a dog’ under the wheels of his car.

Complete with an emotive picture of the young girl for good measure. An horrific case, but not one that is in any way representative of the average human rights case or applicant. However, its worth is clear in the comments under the article:

Human Rights

I want to try and clarify a few points to James Slack and others who want to remove our universal human rights – governed by an independent, non-judicial institution not tainted by an individual country’s politics or governance – simply because they don’t like certain people having rights.

Firstly, human beings are judged for their actions in a court of law which punishes them in accordance with the law of the land. Any act committed by an individual – no matter how horrific – does not alter the fact that they are a human being and will be treated in the eyes of the law as such. It is not the job of a court to dehumanise the accused, but to ensure that their universal human rights are met and that they are tried fairly in accordance with the law. This process is what distinguishes us from those that commit horrific crimes, and what gives us the moral authority to punish them. Justice has to be seen to be fair, consistent and absolutely above emotive responses. This is the only thing that distinguishes the law-abiding majority from the law-breaking minority. Without it, anarchy.

Secondly, the constant argument that criminals somehow have more human rights than the victim of crime is a fallacious one. Yes, the criminal didn’t respect the human rights of the victim when they committed a crime, but human rights are not guaranteed on a person-to-person basis, they are guaranteed by the government. Sadly, the government cannot guarantee the safety of every individual, that is simply impossible. All they can guarantee is that every individual has fundamental, universal human rights irrespective of their race, religion, gender or indeed actions. If a criminal resorts to using human rights law is does not mean that they somehow have more rights than the law-abiding citizen, it just means that as a result of their actions they have felt the need to ensure their rights are being met. Those who have never needed to use human rights law this is probably a good thing, they shouldn’t feel left out, you should be grateful that you live in a society in which such rights are normally met without enforcement. Human rights are designed to protect us from governments and the dark sides of capitalism, not to protect you from other individuals – because that is impossible.

Finally, the above two arguments are based on the assumption that it is only ever criminals that use human rights law. Just because the media only ordinarily covers criminal use of human rights law does not mean that ‘law-abiding-individuals’ have never protected their own rights using the same system. It is a pretty shameful state of affairs when people argue that their own universal human rights should be scrapped because the media have convinced them that only criminals use the act and that this has somehow elevated the rights of the criminal above the rights of the ordinary system.

It is a depressing thing to realise that people are prepared to argue for the scrapping of their own human rights based on nothing more than an dishonest media narrative – essentially if your only knowledge of human rights has been gleamed from the tabloid press, then you have no knowledge. Dystopian futures are possible because human beings are often their own worst enemy. We don’t just give up freedoms, we actively scream out for them to be removed. Media agendas have consequences.