Universal human rights... but not for you
As children, we see things in black and white. For the first years of our lives, we only understand good vs. bad, until maturity catches us and shows us that everything, especially people, are both at the same time.
The very nature of the human condition is that we are all things at once; we are kind, ignorant, caring, cruel, thoughtful, inconsiderate, funny, serious, loving and hateful. There are no good people, no bad people, just people. In one moment we do wonderful things, the next we make huge mistakes, and that is true irrespective of the passport you hold, the colour of your skin or the God you pray to (if any).
Over the last few years, the world has experienced an unrelenting deluge of crises: war, mass refugee migration, employment, housing, terror, homelessness. There has been an incredible surge in the “us” and “them” mentality, which represents a dangerous phenomenon called dualism in which we only see things as good or bad. We grow up in a society that both consciously and subconsciously teaches us that West is better than East. That light skin is safe, but dark skin must be treated with suspicion. European? Go right through. Middle Eastern? Security checks. Christians are peaceful, Muslims are violent and fanatical. The rich and privileged should be trusted, the poor are welfare sponges, lazy and useless. “Our” citizens are deserving, “yours” are not.
Nationality, race or class should never determine what a person is entitled to. If shelter and security are fundamental rights, they are not exclusive to a particular category of people. How can we deny anybody their basic survival needs and their dignity? Since when did the human race segregate itself into us and them? Since when did our geographic location or social status give us the power to dictate who is deserving of basic needs and opportunities? Since when did the fundamental right to dignity, freedom and conscience become a Western right, an upper-class right, and not a Human Right?
The world is experiencing a difficult time in which it is only natural for people to look for a group identity which gives them a sense of belonging, a sense of safety. We are all entitled to be proud of where we come from, but if we start to build more barriers between nationality, class and skin colour, we start to believe that “our” group is more important and more deserving than anyone else’s. The great writer and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi once described the way in which a Nazi officer surveyed him:
When we stop seeing people as people, we lose what makes us human.
The world has become so obsessed with us and them that it has forgotten the most valuable label of them all: we. Black, white, rich, poor, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jew – we have one brain, one heart, one life. We feel loss and love. We have families and we have orgasms. We make donations and we make life.
The very countries we live in today are themselves social constructs, names and borders given to pieces of land for administrative simplicity. If we stopped defining ourselves in terms of national boundaries, maybe we would live in a more tolerant, respect filled world.
Fundamental rights are human rights; well aren’t we all human?