Monday, December 06, 2010

Root Canals and the Roots of Human Rights

What is the basis for human rights? I've been wondering. The question is especially timely now that, on December 10, we are celebrating the 62nd anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I had the chance to think about its roots one day this month during an hour-and-a-half session in a dentist's chair. I was there for two root canal procedures.

Between waiting for the Novocain to take hold, X-rays to be developed, and drillings to be refined, I jotted down some ideas in the Notes & Memo pages of my July Day-Timer booklet. Here's a transcription of my scribblings:

* God creates human beings in his own image and likeness, thus bestowing on humankind a unique kind of dignity.
* From early on in human history, humans violate that dignity.
* Laws, regulations, and rules of various types (ranging from the Ten Commandments to corporate codes of conduct) are written to counter the wrong-doings committed by humans.
* People gradually expand their recognition of the wrongs committed against human dignity (e.g., eventual recognition of the moral evil of slavery and compulsory racial segregation).
* Human ingenuity, however, is ever at work in devising new forms of evil (sweatshops, e.g., and causing people to be "disappeared," which is not listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
* Globalization adds a vast new dimension to human existence, one which expands opportunities both for violating human dignity and for respecting it.
In a real sense, everyone favors human rights, at least within a limited scope: for yourself and those close to you. Controversies flare up when you go beyond that: to your responsibilities for respecting the human rights of others, especially the weakest members of the human family.

Any fuzziness here I blame on the Novocain.

(Adapted from an article I published in the July 1998 issue of my website, Human Rights for Workers.)

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