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writing for godot

Let us be realists: The political challenge that populist authoritarianism presents to democracy is here to stay.

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Saturday, 19 June 2021 15:04

Human rights: Food for a human rights activists’ thought


Human Rights Reader 582



[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader covers arguments against and in favor of the current global human rights movement’s actions/inactions and the challenges this brings-on. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


Human rights in the era of Surveillance Capitalism

1. Technologies (and the institutions that push the same) are part of the new era of surveillance capitalism that undermines the conditions needed for the fulfillment of human rights (HR), all the way from sovereignty to political participation. A global architecture of behavior modification threatens human nature in the twenty first century, just as industrial capitalism disfigured the natural world in the twentieth. Predictions about our consumer behavior are bought and sold, and the production of goods and services is subordinated to results gathered about our changed behavior. An unprecedented form of power marked by extreme concentrations of knowledge that is free from democratic oversight is thus looming. A controlled ‘hive of connections’ seduces ‘us’ with promises and, with total certainty, with maximum profit for ‘them’ --all at the expense of democracy, of freedom, of HR and of our overall future as humans. With little resistance from law or society, surveillance capitalism is on the verge of dominating the social order and shaping our future --if we let it. (Shoshana Zuboff) …and, so far, we are letting it…


2. As Yuval Harari reminded us: “While HR movements have developed a very impressive arsenal of arguments and defenses against religious biases and human tyrants (and now increasingly against surveillance capitalism), this arsenal hardly protects us against consumerist excesses and technological utopias.” I would add that --unless updated and revamped-- the arsenal hardly protects us against democratically elected autocrats, digital dystopias, or planetary risks such as global warming and pandemics.* (César Rodríguez-Garavito)

*: There is no question that the international HR movement has done a great deal of good, freeing individuals from great harm, providing an emancipatory vocabulary and institutional machinery for people across the globe. The literature praising these accomplishments is vast so that the HR movement has become a central object of devotion. But there are other ways of thinking about HR; they are in the air as assertions; they circulate in the background of conversations about the HR movement. (David Kennedy)

So, where lie the problems?


-Society has lost the concrete and the abstract sense of justice. It is high time to show the world the consequences of it. (Just to remind you: If the laws are bad for HR, even good judges cannot do much!).


3. One of our problems is that we do not really have a master narrative to carry our HR work forward; we have many sub-narratives that do not converge (…important as they may be) and that are weak in the era of Surveillance Capitalism. Therein lies one of our weaknesses as a movement. (Abhay Shukla)


4. The other problem to ponder is that the HR discourse does not provide the only or even the principal avenue to attempt a political emancipation today. It has lost salience for many on the Left as new political discourses have emerged that do not necessarily rely on HR or even seek to incorporate them. (An important reminder here that the world of activism does not revolve around, or even necessarily exists in relation to HR). Many among us temper their critiques or draw a line between advocacy and critique out of a concern that the latter can be damaging at worst, and unhelpful at best, to the HR cause.


5. This recognition should not push us to believe that HR are often “part of the problem”, though; it ought to make us attentive to what we miss when we only listen for the HR discourse in the articulation of substantive demands coming from other approaches with which we agree. If emancipatory struggles are operating on new planes, we need to be willing to recognize and perhaps even move closer to those planes. As HR advocates and activists, we need to let go of our preservationist instincts towards HR in order to recognize and take these complementary alternatives seriously. (Karen Engle)


6. A third problem to point out is that what the international HR scene lacks is an account of its own power and the determination that must guide activists on when and how them and their HR organizations ought to gainfully apply that power so painfully amassed. There is much tribulation about this, but maintaining our current course will result in further erosion of our legitimacy. We need to overcome the limits of what we have imagined HR to be so that we continue to be relevant to the global HR movement.** (Laurel Fletcher)

**: Beware: Experience alone is of no ethical value. It is merely the name men have given to their mistakes. (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)


To end


7. Ponder Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”  If those are the four stages of social change, the movement for HR seems to have reached stage three. Welcome!, the time has come for stage four.


8. Finally, I have news for you: If we all get together to act, the power imbalance still does not necessarily disappear. It is organization and mobilization along political lines --carefully setting up counterpower structures and processes-- that remains the key factor: Where right becomes wrong, resistance becomes duty (falsely attributed to Bertolt Brecht) so much so that tolerance becomes a crime when facing evil. (Thomas Mann) …All this, easier said than done… The real question is: Do we find ourselves in a situation in which we are no longer the actors, but the spectators the of the play?*** (O. Wilde, op cit)

***: Coming to the table to discuss ‘solutions’ along the lines of HR is not as simple as it sounds. What if the table is already set, the seating plan non-negotiable, the menu highly limited? And what if the real conversation is actually happening at a different table? (Michael Fakhri)


9. Have I, at this point, arrived at the end of this Reader and said anything new? No, not at all. I have basically warned against dead ends and discouraging defeats…


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-Note that a scientifically educated, trusted professional can lead and can become part of a rebellion; it has then become part of his/her concrete, and not only abstract, sense of justice.

-I have the greatest contempt for blind optimism. (O. Wilde, op cit)

-Any person that feels more attracted to security than to liberty and HR has ceased to be young, no matter how old. (Adapted from Albino Gomez) your social media marketing partner
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