Political forces cannot be fought with morals and technical fixes. Acting politically is the way to reach zero ground in human rights work.

Written by schuftan@gmai.com   
Saturday, 13 June 2020 16:08

Human rights: Food for a ground zero thought   ‘HR and political commitment’


Human Rights Reader 531


One cannot carry out work in the name of ethical principles without a critique of politics (J. B. Foster, Monthly Review)


1. Ethics is unavoidable, because it defines what it is to be human. Ethics is concerned with the implementation, the achievement and the evaluation of alternative goals. Ethical notions are a human conventional attempt to regulate social practices in accord with the requirements of a specific system of production. But, ultimately, there is no hope of success without the articulation of a moral discourse with a concrete course of action, i.e., a political strategy.


2. The ethical discourse is thus inseparable from an ideology (or an ideological undercurrent)* that, for example, explains why so many children’s life chances are crushed. It shows the way for possibilities and alternatives; ethical action is about freedom and necessity (freedom from need). The moral discourse cannot function on its own. It needs politics as its practical ground of reference without which it would condemn itself to futility. Moreover, Some moral positions are better than others; the criterion of judgment is historical rather than philosophical. Competing moralities are rooted in competing political struggles. (J. B. Foster)

*: A common understanding is a key feature of ideology.


3. Given this inseparable link, what is meant by the often touted ‘lack-of-political-will’?** How can we deconstruct this?

**: In our case, it is not a lack of political will, but rather the accumulation-of-a-political-will-by-the-powerful to oppose or stall the implementation of progressive policies that tackle HR abuses. We cannot forget that a political will must be pulled from (and not pushed by) those in power.


4. Five possible types of commitments (reflecting a political will) that we can make in human rights work (Phil Baker et al) [Think for racism, for example]


5. But is just decision-makers’ committing themselves enough? (I am being a rhetorical inquirer myself here, sorry) Political will and commitment do not come from the sky. (Abhay Shukla) Both have to permeate from society. So, ponder: Provided a given political will leads to carrying out political obligations by the state, there still is a problem: Too often, this political will is exerted top-down when what is needed is bottom-up planning, implementation and accountability with claim holders’ inputs!


(How) Do ‘liberals’ make this ethico-political commitment?


-Be mainstream or be quiet! ...?


6. Centrism can be equated with not doing anything that can provoke the violent reaction of the dominant power and/or being ‘reasonable’ and moderate, asking for what the powers-that-be can give when it does not question their power… This is not to be confused with pragmatism. Centrism denies an essential thing: Conflict. It negates the ultimate interests of those who benefit from and defend the given social, economic, political, legal and judicial order. (Louis Casado)


7. Centrism goes for consensus --but consensus around what? Once again: Elemental Watson!, consensus around the interests of the more powerful. How can we take seriously political projects/platforms that negate conflict? Thrown out by the door, conflicts come back through the window. One needs a high dose of cynicism to pretend that a politics-of-compromise resolves the mass of contradictions in capitalist societies. With its continuing denial of conflict, centrism infiltrates the political discourse of both the Center-Left and the Right. (L. Casado)


8. Existing ‘progressive’ (liberal?) political parties have stopped leading the people’s struggle against power, against human rights (HR) violations, against the dominant class and against the centers of world capitalism.  They are integrated into the institutionalized system of domination. They are unwilling to take charge of the desperately needed HR agenda, because they want to function within the space that the dominant class allows them to occupy. The result of current elections does thus not really represent the people’s aspirations. (Think Joe Biden; Democrats abandoned the US working class decades ago…) It is highly likely that these parties will continue collaborating with neoliberalism. People do not only think about their pockets, they also need to believe, to have realistic hopes; they thus need to say Enough! and get going independently of these parties. Perhaps then, although not terribly likely, the return to the old aims of working people can come to the fore from below. Moreover, as long as there is capitalism, there will be patriarchy and violence against women. The waiting is over for claim holders; the struggle awaits. (Jorge Zabalza)


9. At this point, I am left with nothing but a bunch of questions (not exhaustive)



10. Historically, when the ideas coming from those rendered marginal were taken up by the philosophers of liberalism, they were frequently distorted to conform with the ruling paradigm. Marxism did it differently: It engaged and was made into a theory of property (mal)distribution that would fit the canons of justice and of the economic, social and cultural rights considered non-negotiable. (Fast forward and the New International Economic Order called-for in the late 70s called for the overhaul of relations between the Global North and the Global South --an overhaul that never happened and is still badly needed today).*** (Katrina Forrester)

***: So, you see? Political realists have tried to put the politics more prominently back in the political philosophy. How? By making democracy (and HR) more sensitive to the nature of actual political conflicts in society.


11. Do you, therefore, think that a majority of liberal leaders make the needed ethico-political commitments? I yield to you on this one...


(How) Do politicians make this ethico-political commitment?

[I confess: For politicians I am an amateur; for amateurs I am a politician. (Karl Kraus)].


-Ignorance of the masses about their HR is bliss for politicians and for bureaucrats.


12. Are any of your politicians aggressive****, bright, but hopelessly inexperienced, assisted by free market functionaries often helping politicians achieve their pharaonic/white elephant projects? Not being facetious: When a Mercedes Benz is the ultimate goal in life of the tribe of the Wabenzies (those who got their Mercedes by fair means or foul) you know you have one of those politicians.

****: The aggressor always claims to be peace-loving… (Carl von Clausewitz)


13. Important: At present, peasants are not a political force. The cities do not want them to become one. Peasants thus badly need to empower themselves to become a true pressure group of claim holders. [Choices politicians face: Starve the city dwellers and they riot; starve the peasants and they die. If you were a politician, which would you choose? (Lloyd Timberlake)]. Further ponder: Cities will continue to deteriorate if the countryside does not prosper. Moreover, to the detriment of countries rendered poor, policies of countries rendered rich have tended to subsidize their farmers while policies of countries rendered poor have tended to subsidize urban consumers by securing cheap food supplies. The latter are politically more important to politicians who want to be reelected. Is this ethico-politically correct?


14. The rest of what I want to say here actually fits into my iron laws (in no particular order)


15. Do you, therefore, think that a majority of politicians make ethico-political and HR commitments? As said, I yield to you.


A (pre)last word: Charismatic politics has displaced democracy-as-usual (Walden Bello)


-Do people cherish hypocrisy? (Arundhati Roy)


16. Charismatic politics has become the new source of authority and legitimacy. Mind you that charisma is effective only in a receptive social climate --even when people know charismatic legitimacy is hardly benign. Indeed, it almost invariably ends up with a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the charismatic individual who sets loose the mob on the ‘enemies of the people’.


17. Let us analyze: Democracy and authoritarianism are usually regarded as polar extremes. Paradoxically, we find ‘authoritarianism-in-democracy’ (not only) in the global South: Take the Philippines and India. What is happening in both countries today is a political earthquake, a massive transformative change, a fundamental reconfiguration of politics. At the epicenter of this earthquake is a discontented citizenry ‘democratically’ electing unorthodox personalities. It is the explosive synergy between a deeply disaffected citizenry and a political personality that has captured their imagination. The very qualities that liberals (and radicals) despise in Duterte and in Modi is what enables them to ‘connect’ with the masses, especially with the volatile middle classes that feel most sharply the yawning gap between aspirations and the possibilities of fulfilling them. (Does not Trump fit in here as well?) One can only hope that a critical mass emerges in both countries that derails Duterte’s and Modi’s ambitions before the descent into a de-facto dictatorship reaches a point of no return. (W. Bello)


Bottom line

18. As we activists work on a common set of HR values, we may still be short in political leadership, but do not lack in intellectual leadership! Let us put it more aggressively to use.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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