Aye Right

Posted: 15 April 2013, in Blog

Aye Right

Human rights are in the news again. These “debates” often consist of a dialogue of the deaf with opponents transmitting but not receiving. I don’t profess to have a conclusive answer either but I do wonder about how local social enterprises relate to human rights and what social entrepreneurs could do to address this issue.

On the one hand, HRs can be accepted as inalienable and universal just because all of us human beings possess those rights – no one needs to give us them. They are ours by dint of our existence. In short, we are all (in theory) born free – I’m going to steer clear of original sin here.

However, the seconds after birth may also demonstrate that freedom was a fleeting experience and that for many human beings, their inalienable rights are about to be trashed.

The relatively recent development of “human rightsism” and the anti-rights (Daily Mail and Telegraph) reaction to this movement has ended up with philosophers, politicians, lawyers, policy wonks, quangocrats, media commentators and citizens/subjects arguing the toss about this stuff and the arguments are getting worse.

It seems that there are 5 major human rights themes and battle grounds. These are civil, political, economic, social and cultural in their expression. If you a UN fan you will no doubt be pleased that they have declared that these rights can only exist in some form of combined relationship if folk can truly be said to have their rights protected/supported etc.

The difficulty seems to be that natural rights as opposed to legal rights are in a state of semi-permanent conflict especially as the legal ones seem to carry a heavy cost to the public purse and they have a habit of growing. I wonder for example what your grandparents would have thought about “foreigners” having the right to use the NHS or Welfare State without paying anything into the pot.

Mine would have probably been ok with the principle (a bit) but would have baulked at the notion that we could not put a lid on the numbers because of decisions taken outside this country. It is difficult stuff trying to do the right thing –road to hell and good intentions and all that. Reciprocity often looks good in principle but can be a bugger in practice can’t it?

The German tabloid Bild (a German equivalent of The Sun) recently expressed the opinion that the EU’s leadership had decided to create the European Project above the heads of Europe’s people – because the people would not have supported it if asked.

I think this analysis is useful in getting to the heart of this rights conflict. We all have to respect each other’s rights if we are going to enjoy/endure the messy compromises that living with other folk create. However, if we are told what is right and then denied expression or debate or if that debate is done over our heads or is hijacked by the media, politicians and lawyers then we are all the losers.

In addition, if politicians adopt a patrician intellectual disregard for the hoi polloi there is always an inevitable reaction and if we happen to live in austere times then the rights agenda loses some of its value because folk can spell a rat and spot hypocrisy a mile away. It also sticks in most folk’s craw when fundamentalists of any religious/political/racial persuasion who would deny other folk their natural and legal rights, use the law to defend their point of view and right to express it. Defending human rights can leave a right sour taste in the mouth it seems.

What can also annoy (certainly me) is that the issue of human rights can occasionally attract folk who are just grating! A group of Guardianista and BBC luvvie bien pensant types fail to understand that part of the reason they struggle to get more ordinary folk on their side, is that they are just so bloody annoying, self-righteous and convinced of their own forward “progressiveness”.

They often don’t look and sound like normal folk and are easily spotted because they don’t seem to live with the consequences of their decisions or power. It is always the poor that have to deal with that because they don’t have any power. As an example, ask yourself how folk in sink estates were involved in the decisions to settle proportionally large numbers of immigrants and destitute asylum seeking people on their patch without any meaningful discussion or resources to deal with community integration or conflict etc.

Didn’t really happen in Islington or Notting Hill did it, and “they” wonder why UKIP (in England) are garnering support. Bild got it right. If human rights are “done” over people’s heads then you have no chance of building support for the concept from those with fewest resources and therefore most to “lose”. There is usually less chance of solidarity being developed when the elites decide what is going to happen to others – for their own good.

So from a social enterprise point of view, how should we address human rights in order to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, elitism and just being annoying and out of touch. Here is a wee idea. Maybe we should ask every social enterprise in Scotland to get its beneficiaries, clients, staff, and directors to do something positive once a year to promote their own take on human rights in their patch. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it is genuinely inclusive by involving the folk at the bottom of their community to decide what needs done first. Bottom up has to be the way to go because it builds concrete support rather than having solutions imposed from on high.



NOTE: This opinion piece blog does not necessarily reflect the views or beliefs of Social Enterprise Scotland.