Human Rights & Pluralism
What will 2015 be remembered for? The image that comes to mind is “rising fences.” If we took a satellite photo of the planet, that would be the story; fences going up everywhere.
The wars and political chaos of the past year created a massive wave of truly desperate people. The wave is global in scale. Europe has borne the brunt. But the United States, Canada, Australia and many other nations are not immune.
What is the response? What should be the response?
Myths give meaning to our lives. They are stories created to explain the human condition—creation, death, heroism, dignity, pain, pride, and suffering. There is an elevating character to myths. Gods and humans share the stage. One cannot come to Greece without feeling inspired by the ancient classical myths that shape so much of our culture and society.
And yet there is also an instrumental aspect of myths. As the French sociologist Roland Barthes put it, myths are often created by the powerful to serve their own interests, almost always at the expense of the weak.
The concept of “common good” is especially appealing because it is consistent with realism. By realism I mean that actors act according to their interests as a matter of both survival and well-being. Human flourishing implies natural tendencies toward self-help as well as care towards those whose lives are bound up with ours.
This idea—the idea that our self-interests are always bound in some way to the interests of others—takes on a new dimension in the age of globalization.
The day after the Moore, Oklahoma tornado of 2013, a single image dominated media coverage: a photo of the two-foot thick concrete and steel bank vault of the Tinker Federal Credit Union. The vault was the only thing left standing on a flattened city block. Twenty-two people had miraculously walked out of the vault alive and unharmed after taking refuge amidst the deposit boxes. Just down the road, 24 others had perished, including seven children in the Plaza Towers Elementary School.
In the current debate over gun regulation a simple point is being missed. Every citizen has the right to a gun. But shouldn’t every man, woman, and child also have the right not to have a gun and expect to live in a safe and secure environment?
The road to new legislation on guns is uncertain because political leadership on this issue takes place in alternate ethical universes.
A hundred years ago Andrew Carnegie thought that world politics was about to change forever. War would be abolished. Just as private war in the form of dueling had passed from the scene, so too would the slaughters of public war become a relic of a bygone age. Carnegie even had a specific plan for how he could help make this happen. He would provide funds to build a home for an International Court of Arbitration at The Hague. He would support a League to Enforce the Peace—later to become the League of Nations. Through these new mechanisms, just as individual disputes became settled according to domestic law, international disputes would be settled by the principles and institutions of international law. Barbarism would be eclipsed by more civilized practices.