RIGHTS VS NEEDS

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          Forget Maslow’s pyramids and other psychological proposals and think about what we really need on order to survive – what the very basic needs of human beings are. Clean air, clean water and proper food to which we should probably add effective healthcare and relevant education if we intend to survive longer than twenty – thirty years. Everything else from international courts of justice, freedom of thought and religion and personal dignity to founding families and right to nationality becomes insignificant and extravagant if the basic needs are not fulfilled.

          I have been exploring the United Nations website today and at one point I came across the fine and righteous Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I will allow Catherine Tate posing as  Nan to depict my reaction to it as I could not possibly express it better myself. I had to go through twenty-five articles (the twenty-fifth being very close to the bottom of the list as there are thirty in total) before I found a couple worth pursuing and even they were not quite as satisfactory as you would expect.  This is how they go:

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

from the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

          The question follows: “Why did I have to scroll three quarters of the Declaration in order to find an article relevant to my immediate survival and well-being?” I do not consider possible the situation in which it was assumed that people are already being provided with the basics, because anywhere you look you see disease and hunger. Or.., is it genuinely relevant? There is a very important phrase in article 25. – “in the event of”. Consequently if you rephrased the article you would get something like this: “NOT everyone has the right to a standard of living, food, clothing etc. UNLESS they become sick, unemployed, old etc.” Do they seriously think we would fall for that? On the other hand, praise the General Assembly for she second part of the article in which they at least secure care and assistance, whatever they might mean by that, for mothers and children.

          Given the fact that there are still many people who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old and that evolution never took place, I conclude that “elementary and fundamental education” is simply not good enough , while the right to choose the direction of education on behalf of someone else, especially children, is abuse of power. What used to be considered ‘basic knowledge’ fifty, twenty, and even ten years ago, is not even close to giving people enough information to understand the world we live in or the technology we use therefore the way we educate children must either keep up with the exponentially accelerating progress in science or be radically redesigned.

          Descending from the idealistic concepts of international organizations to a more local environment, for instance a country, state or city,  we see how close to reality Kurt Vonnegut was when he made the prediction:

Things are going to get unimaginably worse, and they are never, ever going to get better again.

          Unless we do something about it, of course. Correct me if I am wrong, but personally do not know of a single country that provides its citizens with the aforementioned basic resources, perhaps apart from air of doubtful cleanliness just because there is (still!) enough oxygen around, so it needs not be rationed by the authorities. Water, food, shelter need to be paid for and so is relevant (higher, or whatever else you call it) education in most cases, health care is very far from being efficient or effective – even if appropriate remedies have been developed and are available, we are often left waiting in queues and being treated like meat. Governments do not provide us with anything but questionable access to petty stuff in exchange for our money and abidance to its laws and policies. This is, by no means, allowing people to live in “dignity” and with “a spirit of brotherhood”! (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 1.) This is business! If we wish to live in a better and more peaceful world, we need to logically analyze our needs, and provide ourselves with resources, starting with the most basic and aiming at the desirable.

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10 thoughts on “RIGHTS VS NEEDS

  1. Loved this part. ” Given the fact that there are still many people who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old and that evolution never took place, I conclude that “elementary and fundamental education” is simply not good enough , while the right to choose the direction of education on behalf of someone else, especially children, is abuse of power. What used to be considered ‘basic knowledge’ fifty, twenty, and even ten years ago, is not even close to giving people enough information to understand the world we live in or the technology we use therefore the way we educate children must either keep up with the exponentially accelerating progress in science or be radically redesigned.”

    Extremely good observation. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  2. For as long as resources are limited and the population grows, so shall the difficulty in achieving a better and a more peaceful world. The solution is increased awareness amongst the general populace together with an increase in the availability of resources for all or a reduction in population until that availability comes about.

      • I would say they are limited both by their scarcity and the way we use them. For example, it is said that oil extraction has peaked, yet we can make fuel and plastics from other raw materials and even from recycled materials. The rare earth materials which we rely upon for guidance chips for missiles and for components in our mobile smart-phones are just that, rare, yet with the advent of nano-tech this may no longer be such a problem.

  3. But Demosthenes, are you advocating that all basic needs be provided free of charge? That is well-intended, but inefficient because the price system allocates resources efficiently. Or, it ensures that producers produce what people want / demand. While I agree that social welfare i.e. people having enough money to buy their basic needs is necessary, free basic goods is perhaps not the best way to go about it.

    • Even if the price system did allocate resources efficiently it would not mean that anything different from it would be inefficient by definition. But does it? How come then, at the very basic level, some people starve to death and others have so much food that they throw most of it away? If you have ever been around a supermarket at night you would see the tonnes of products being wasted because nobody bought it during shelf life. I do not believe there is one branch of production, distribution or sales that could be called efficient. Does the price system ensure producers produce what people want? No, they produce what people are TOLD to want. From where I am sitting right now, which is inside my own house, I can see at least ten advertisements. And I really do avoid brands. I would make a guess that I do not NEED well over 50% of all the items I possess. I simply buy them because everyone else does. Yes, I am advocating that basic needs should be free of charge. And so should all others. In fact, I am advocating that we should flush all the money there is on Earth deep down to the sewers of the past.

      • Advertisers do manage to persuade people to want certain goods; but that still counts as what people want. We are social creatures, and our tastes and preferences are informed by interaction.

        Flushing money down would bring us back to barter, and it was an extraordinarily inefficient system. If you had a whole pig and you needed to buy an apple, it would be a hard choice to prematurely slaughter the pig and cut it up. Perhaps this is not the best example, but you get the idea. Much production and trading was hindered by the difficulty of barter.

        Finally, the price system is not perfect, but it is more efficient than other viable alternatives. Until technology develops enough to get rid of scarcity completely, we are forced to allocate through price. It prevents waste – I have lived in countries with subsidized water and electricity and people were incredibly wasteful.

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