Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Short thought on human rights

I've been writing an essay on human rights, and just been intrigued by this:

Different societies and states value different kinds of rights. There are essentially two divisions:

a) Civil and political rights
b) Economic and social rights

They are ALL basic rights, and interlinked, inalienable and indivisible. Yet, no one single state had came to provide all for their citizens.

The United States of America value civil and political rights. Very much. Free speech and the right to vote for them first. Neo-liberalism ideas, the very epitome of freedom. Their people also do not have access nor rights to universal healthcare, nor education. The poor are blamed for being poor. The premise is: You have to work to receive. Welfare states are pooh-poohed. The downtrodden depend very much on charities and foundations for their needs. Tax money goes towards 'free' causes. Like, you know, wars? Also, to institutions like IMF and World Bank so that they have the biggest say. And...yet. One in ten...that's one in TEN, y'all! is living in poverty in United States. Poverty isn't just a problem in the developing and undeveloped world.

Zoom onwards to socialist and developing countries, and to a certain degree, United Kingdom. Economic and social rights reign. Universal healthcare and education for all. Limited free speech. Job security, pensions. In other words, all your basic needs are met. But I reiterate, your speech is limited, you have no right to carry guns (is that really a big issue?) but, it doesn't mean a complete blackout in political rights or free speech. You just need to pick the right apples. Filling the stomach is more important. Now, there have been outrage about the seemingly lack of political and civil rights in other countries. And there are studies saying people from say, China and Singapore do not have too much problem with that. Hmm. There should be censorship of sorts - in one source, a Singaporean was quoted as saying:

"I think that total freedom of speech might bother me more. I know that's the wrong kind of thing to say to you isn't it? But you read about total freedom of speech and how people can't stop - people in America for instance can't stop people getting up big rallies with the neo-fascists and holocaust deniers and anti abortionists and anti-gay movements. And you can't stop these people from saying things and sending out hate mail because they have freedom of speech. They are protected. And that I find more scary".

Two things really:

1. Civil and political rights are free to provide. In other words, the United States need not allocate any budget at all towards the provision of those rights for its citizens. Other countries spend gazilion bazillion on providing economic and social rights for their people.

To me, every unfortunate working person is taxed, no matter where they call home. What their tax money is used for...that is the difference. Starting to see something here?

2. Matt Bishop said this in class, and I don't remember the exact thing he said, so I paraphrase:

"What do you get with free speech and no food?"


Food for thought.

I can't believe I'm still thinking about this after submitting my essays. I may have oversimplified this though, so don't shoot me down for it (especially if you're American!).

Also, if you have the time, go here:

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Another day, another time

I'm starting to lose count of the days I've been here, and that's good because I'm still loving it here. Trying to get into the rhythm of things still, its kind of tough when people spoke in different accents about things I never knew about. Imagine a two-hour seminar on WTO and the IMF. And then compare the IMF with the World Bank. And then talk about trade unions, multilateral agreements and export tariffs. There you have a very lost Puiyee. Add on that post-structuralism critics on development, plus realist and cosmopolitan views on state relations. Then ponder on why some rights are inherent and inalienable, and how natural rights came to be and how they evolve, according to John Locke, into human rights belonging to all of us which are not to be traded, sold, exchanged or given up. How political and civil rights are more important than social and economic rights, and what kinds of rights and duty one should have for all of humanity. Those are the things I learn about these days. I don't think my days in UTAR prepared me for this. This is really challenging, really something else. Really a good way to appear stupid, and l feel *stupid* most of the time.

Apart from that, life is good, I think. I've traded cheap movies, mamak sessions, close friends and haircuts, and oh, TV, for nights out in pubs, shiatsu lessons and staying in the library. Meeting people I'd never dream of meeting. Some of the feeling of that lack of adventure and opportunity's faded already just by merit of that. Others...

I'm still here seeking some answers to questions I've never solidly formulated in my mind. Strange as it seems, on a couple of long phone calls with a stranger, I get to ask again, and answer again on things that matter in the end. Religion, pursuit of happiness and the notion of success. It is true we're all here to seek our happiness. And not in the traditional sense...I suppose one could use the word fulfilment too. Their life's mission, their calling, doing what that will fill their soul and purpose on Earth. Perhaps this is all a fallacy, that in the end we're all just seeking for love, simple as that. Or perhaps for some people, money is more important, and yet others, its power. Me? I am just looking for somewhere I belong. Doing something I know I will want to spend the rest of my life doing. I'm still looking, evidently.

As for religion, Mr Anonymous asked, if indeed there is God, then why do people pray to different 'Gods' by mere geographical differences. Personally, I think organised religion is just a way for people to feel like they belong to a group. Performing rituals that seemed ridiculous to us but are unquestionable to them gives them that 'specialness' that the rest of the world do not have. Also its a great way to fundraise and abuse powers in the name of God, but that's another story. But I think people want to believe in a greater power, in mother nature, forces of earth, destiny, providence, fate....because they need to have faith. They need an excuse and a reason, something to put their fingers on when something extremely good or bad befall them. And the faith to move on from it. Something to anchor them down, to buoy them and to lift them up. Hence...God. Not everyone believes in a great being booming down on humanity telling them how to believe. Perhaps its a whisper in the wind, shapeless, formless...we all form deeply personal, private thoughts, images and memories of all things, including God. I absolutely loathe people who asked me about my God. That's my personal relationship with powers greater than me. Sometimes, I want to stop when the Mormons here chase after me and tell them that I've gone through shit without needing their God and when life is good now, all the less reason to believe in their beliefs. Not receiving and donating blood? You know what? I believe in karma. Just by donating what I can, I hope someday when I need it, I'll receive too. Faith, again.

I would never dismiss religion as bullshit, just as I'd never dismiss politics as dirty donkey shit. But it is worth a look on why people believe in what they do, unquestionably, on why people leave their beliefs and form new ones, and on why people do not believe in religion to begin with. Did development, modernisation and urbanisation contribute to urban decay? (Do elephants have trunks?) Are people colder, more superficial and realistic? (Is China part of Asia?)

Does it mean we lose faith, join the rat race, be part of that neverending drumbeat to dull concrete fog of life?

Are there still those among us asking and questioning, seeking some answers?

You tell me.