414 THE GREATEST PUNISHMENT FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT INTERESTED IN POLITICS IS THAT THEY ARE GOVERNED BY PEOPLE WHO ARE. (Arnold Toynbee)

Human rights: Food for a punishing thought

Human Rights Reader 414

Politics without value-grounded ideas stimulates corruption (Revista Primera Piedra)

1. In its true sense, politics is to be taken as an emancipatory process; in our case of human rights (HR), it calls on fellow colleagues and on claim holders to go beyond their routines to join the political struggle over equality and dignity issues.* Philanthropy (or philanthrocapitalism), on the other hand, is not emancipatory. It acts as a ‘voluntarist invasion’ of what should clearly be the space of political processes.
*: I acknowledge though that not everyone is sensitive to political facts. Beliefs, values and ideologies can be and are a big filter for the perception of facts. (V. Masson-Delmotte)

Critique/Trends

2. In this day and age:
• The world that has accompanied globalization has transformed political parties into machines of public opinion, directed to solve administrative problems. Citizens are deserting and politicians seem more interested in their perpetuation, and polling while marketing tools have substituted a direct dialogue with citizens. Values have regrettably disappeared from the political debate. (Roberto Savio)
• Angry voters have one thing in common: They have been left in the dust by globalization. (Der Spiegel)
• It is thus extremely difficult or even almost impossible for citizens to make an intelligent use of their political rights. Our educational system as a whole suffers from quite the same influence: It inculcates a competitive attitude on students that are ultimately trained to adopt greed as a preparation for their future career. (Albert Einstein)
• The shift to the left we are seeing in younger citizens is more and more based on perceiving the growing and overwhelming evidence base.

Oh, politicians!

– The political language of tyrant politicians vies to make lies believable and to make crimes respectable. (George Orwell)
– Since light travels faster than sound, some politicians appear bright until you hear them speak.

3. Four of my ‘iron laws’ apply very well here to the current situation we are living in:
• Politicians running for office better be careful about announcing a political moment, given how many such proclamations turn out to be ludicrous. (Paul Krugman)
• One of the dangerous concepts that you can find in a democracy is charisma. Charismatic politicians can inspire followers with soaring rhetoric –which also too often proves divisive and damaging to a nation’s fortunes. (David Barnett)
• Worse for a politician than talking with a full mouth is talking with an empty head. (Albino Gomez)
• If you cannot get rid of the politicians who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system. (Tony Benn)

It is about power, stupid!

Would more opportunities and more diversified sources of wealth mean more sources of power and less scope for authoritarian attitudes? (Hans Dembowski)

4. Anonymity is both a symptom and a cause of the undue political power concentration we have right now. Excess power has played a major role in a remarkable variety of recent crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‐8; the offshoring of wealth and of power (of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse)*; the slow collapse of public health and education; resurgent child poverty; the epidemic of loneliness; the collapse of ecosystems, …the rise of Donald Trump. (The Guardian)
*: Some defenders of the present system are already maintaining that scandals are proof that democracy is alive and works. But if the citizen’s growing lack of trust in the political and economic elites’ power continues, it is difficult to see how scandals will help nurture democracy. (Roberto Savio)

5. The rapprochement or fusion of corporate power with government generates an elite brand of politics based on a political-financial revolving logic in which money buys power and power rewards money. Calls for a post-democracy era are nothing but a rehashed imitation of what we have had. These calls have a populist ring, a consultative appearance while the real politics of power and money consists of a continuing round of inter-personal (golf club?) transactions among elite members. This cozy paradigm creates a sort of ‘designer activism’ deeply compatible with the circuitry of power in the current order. It emphasizes the role of private foundations/philanthropies as the world’s problem solvers, so that social programming is decided by the untaxed wealthy in their boardrooms in a discretionary manner –rather than by democratic processes based on universal HR and entitlements. (Alex de Waal)

6. How long can it be denied? Power relations are at the heart of how our world is run. As a consequence, more and more social movements are uniting to influence power relations. It is becoming clear to them that the ideology convincing people that poverty is due to individual failure is what is making economic power structures of exploitation invisible. Therefore, opposing this approach has to start with analyzing underlying power relations. The analysis shows that all actors have power, sometimes overwhelming power; sometimes just a little, but power nonetheless. Awareness-raising simply has to start with raising the idea that change can happen and power relations can be better balanced. Bringing people together in determining their own destiny is a central feature of HR and of empowerment understood as influencing power relations. (PHM)

Capital will allow no one to govern, but its own

– The separation of powers must be preserved for the true democratic political process to resume its course.
– Members of the legislature are selected by political parties that are financed (or otherwise influenced) by private (capitalist) sector actors. For all practical purposes, this separates the electorate from the law-making process. As a consequence, the ‘representatives of the people’, in fact, end up not really protecting the interests of the non-privileged groups in the population. (Albert Einstein)
– Political domination has, so far, successfully depended on instilling a perception of legitimacy. (David Legge)

7. Have you noticed? Courts deal exclusively with individual rather than collective disputes and are designed not to interfere with the ruling classes and elites that are protected by immunity and other privileges. But citizens do now increasingly have growing awareness of their rights. So, to counter, when faced with political deadlocks in controversial issues, the political elites selectively use the courts as a way of lifting the political weight off certain decisions. An example is the control of constitutionality as the tool used by the ruling political classes to defend themselves against potential threats to their interests resulting from the growing groundswell of democratic politics by the upside-down ‘tyranny of the majority’.

8. Be it as it may, these developments all lead to a new kind of judicial activism known as the judicialization of politics and this inevitably leads to the politization of justice. The judicial system –supposedly the ultimate defender and guarantor of the legal order and of HR– can and has become a dangerous source of legal disorder. Blatantly illegal and unconstitutional judicial measures, plus a selective persecutory zeal, an aberrant promiscuity in which media outlets are at the service of the conservative political elites, and a seemingly anarchic judicial activism can result in injunctions relating to a single political act: bringing democracy and HR to the edge of chaos. With the legal order thus turned into legal disorder and democracy being hijacked by the non-elected sovereign elite, political and social life, as well as HR, have become a potential field at the mercy of political vultures.

9. This is why: Rules are these days regularly ignored by a judicial system that has not only been conformist, but also complicit with the privileges of the ruling political elites. We must beware that the latter elite assumes a politically neutral position precisely to defend the judicial system from the attacks it is being subjected-to by those targeted by their investigations and prosecutions of activists and HR defenders. Moreover, external pushes clearly lie behind such defenses of the judiciary. Those pushes are what dictate the glaring selectivity of any investigative and accusatory zeal –HR issues quite consistently excluded. Courts can show a shocking display of double standards, punishing with severity actions committed by the far left and showing great leniency towards the violence of the far right.

10. Backed by a conservative legal culture that is widely predominant in too many judicial systems and law schools, wielding a full arsenal of high-powered, high-precision media weapons, the conservative bloc does everything it can to distort facts –the political taking precedence over the judicial. Courts must be barred from putting their own independence at the service of any corporate or sectoral political interests, no matter how powerful. Although easy to say, the principle is very difficult to enforce. Disciplinary proceedings by reason of reiterated procedural abuse must be initiated. When progressive governments are defeated, the right comes to power possessed with an unprecedented virulence and bent on destroying all that was built in favor of the popular classes during the previous period. (rings a bell?) Then, along comes the vindictiveness seeking the complicity of the judiciary (even the supreme court…). (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)

Needed: Think and act bottom-up

11. What I miss in the prevailing political discourse is looking at the political constraints we face globally and nationally to implement the meaningful changes we HR activists so passionately pursue in a world clearly dominated by those with excess power. Yes, many have and do document the powerlessness of the majorities, but consistently fail to conclude with advice for those powerless to mobilize so as to exert pressure (or rather counterpower) to change this indeed oppressive situation. The best self-proclaimed experts can come up-with is to say something like: “Vigilant monitoring of these inequalities, combined with forceful engagement with the economic and social determinants, will be needed to ensure that the favorable trends in the contours of human rights become each person’s priority”. I also read calls “to compile evidence across disciplines to rethink our ideas of a just society”. The question is who is ‘our’…are they talking to their already-convinced-fellow-social-scientists?

12. If you allow me the generalization, these social scientists aim to deliver reports addressed to all social actors, movements, organizations, politicians and decision-makers, in order to provide them with the best ‘evidence’ on questions that bear on social change. The flaw in this thinking though is that the politicians who are to take the decisions that these experts (mostly tangentially) call-for are not convinced by evidence produced by academics; they have their own political agendas! This is why even thinking that elected members of governments and parliaments are supposed to generate public hearings and decide according to grassroots networks and not according to the policy sets and narrow ideologies for which they were chosen by the people is so senseless. Ideology plays the major, key role.* Advice-to-policy-makers is what we have been doing for decades; to what avail? Top down does not work! We cannot depoliticize the issues.
*: All of us are deeply attached-to and even defined by our beliefs and ideology, for they define our reality and are thus elemental to our very selves, so any challenge to our core beliefs tends to feel like a personal attack. This is equally true of ourselves as it is of those who hold opposing beliefs. (Maria Popova)

13. We see governments, politicians, the justice system, external funders… hushing and denying the needed key change-fostering knowledge to the people. We thus have to organize the necessary debates and actions to bring that knowledge to the fore since it is intentionally eclipsed and withheld. (Hernan Cardinale)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
schuftan@gmail.com

All 400+ Readers are available in http://www.claudioschuftan.com

Postscript/Marginalia
– Bertrand Russell famously said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts.”
– The truth is that the UN now comprises a bunch of politically and financially exposed, as well as financially vulnerable intergovernmental agencies.
– According to the British Diplomat Lord Carnavon, the professional quality of a diplomat is best demonstrated by how efficiently he follows orders he does not agree with.
-In life, we have to avoid three geometric figures: Vicious circles, love triangles and square minds. (Mario Benedetti)
– A great advantage of your enemies over your friends is that the former are always authentic and very consequent in their behavior; additionally they give the person they consider their enemy, you, a great importance. In short, they are very stimulating. (A. Gomez)

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