What do we really mean by human rights? where do these rights come from? what is their source of power?
Russell’s (Son) position:
Though we have produced powerful rhetoric and documents through human history human rights are simply a concept. They values we create and we choose to live by. There is no such thing has some absolute, outside of us thing called a human right. The universe doesn’t have a conscience. Humankinds evolution from earlier species didn’t somehow magically produce some special rights for us that the rest of the universe can’t enjoy.
Agreeing to some basic rights seems to be a beneficial idea for humankind. Freedom in all its forms seems to be a pretty darn useful value to live by. That doesn’t make it some universal truth.
All men aren’t created equal – not in body, not in cognitive ability, not in environment. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat everyone on equal ground. Not Equal doesn’t mean better or worse. I think that’s the confusion that makes people fall back to claiming some fundamental human rights.
Does the fact that human rights spring forth only from man and not the universe, not a god, or some other outside source devalue them? make them less powerful? No. In fact, in some sense I think it makes it more powerful. The fact that billions of people can agree on some basic principles is quite powerful and very empowering. It actually increases the burden of enforcing it because there’s no faceless being we can blame when these agreed upon rights are violated.
Donna’s (Mother) Position:
Hmmm. Human rights. We’ve assigned a lot of value to the words and far less to those issues we find critical enough to include under the label.
I’ve never operated under the illusion that God defined human rights. Some big thinkers have done that, and others have shunned the notion that there are any universal needs that might rise to the level of being rights we grant and protect.
It seems more important to me to try to answer if our basic needs have advanced as our knowledge as human beings has advanced. Do we add to the list of things we value and protect as rights or are we locked into what we could reasonably provide in the past? Food, clean water, education, shelter, healthcare, equal protection under the law … are these all just things we need and desire or are they rights we identify and extend to one another?
And that pesky little topic of equality becomes so muddy all on its own as we deny various individuals their abilities to become waht they could otherwise be by limiting their access to some basic human needs. We create inequality and then shrug our shoulders and call it inevitable. And we most definitely make decisions about less than equal meaning less than good — and less worthy.
So, if we do not define some of our basic human needs and desires as rights, we will doom millions of our fellow men and women to poverty, to pain, to illness, to cold and so on. If we have the ability to lift one another by sharing human values as human rights, I say we do so.