Human rights: Food for a socially pathological thought

Human Rights Reader 465

1. Mental health constructs under capitalism entail accepting a ‘pathological normalcy’, i.e., social pathologies that have become to be seen as normal conditions of life: the polluted environment, a corrupt political system, social inequalities, human rights (HR) violations, an unfair criminal justice system, dangerous working conditions, exploitation, speculation, corruption, tax evasion, outsourcing … all (pathologically) regarded as normal. Herein lies the challenge for our political struggle to change the underpinning of this pathological normalcy. (Carl Ratner)

2. The organs of the national and the transnational capitalist class have been very effective in projecting ‘the others’ –who denounce this pathological normalcy– as the cause of the current growing global grievances. Using patriarchy and racism figures strongly in this denunciation. The assumptions and practices of patriarchy and racism antedate capitalism by thousands of years though, but they continue to oppress and divide. However, under capitalism, they have been entrenched to deepen divisions, to divert attention and to provide scapegoats. (David Legge)

3. There are substantive grounds for calling on the existing social movements’ strategies to address and change this state of affairs since they are still highly fragmented and not always explicit enough, as well as too often being class-blind thus providing only an indirect understanding of the role of capitalism in the social oppressions that need to be fought. The call, therefore, is for activists to work through political, as well as social movements* that are sometimes perhaps distanced from the ‘old left’ political practices. (Eric Holt-Giménez)
*: Through its ‘WHO Watch’, the People’s Health Movement (PHM) and collaborating health activist organizations have been documenting and countering the policies, politics and power of global health governance and providing a platform for policy dialogue and advocacy that unequivocally links the local and the global. (www.phmovement.org)

4. As regards class-blindness, mind you, where there is a sense of class, it is unfortunately largely and wrongly understood in only national rather than also global terms. It is evident that class analysis needs to be applied at the global, as well as the national level. Traditional class analysis is conceived at the national level but, alas, must also project to the class confrontation in the global arena that importantly frames the politics of 21st century capitalism.** The transnational capitalist class (TCC) is self-aware, culturally coherent, and densely networked (epitomized by the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos). The TCC comprises both the owners and executives of the corporations and also the political and bureaucratic leaderships of the capitalist countries. Honorary membership is bestowed on those political leaders from the Global South who throw their lot in with the TCC and disregard the interests of their own masses. (W.I. Robinson)
**: The idea of global governance provides a useful and convenient framework to impose a whole set of institutional mechanisms at the global level. The modalities of global governance include war, trade agreements, structural adjustment and austerity measures. The deployment of such modalities of exerting power is planned and executed in the conference rooms, discussion papers and think tanks of the TCC. The concept of the multi-stakeholder partnerships (or global public private partnership) as a vehicle for consolidating the role of the TCC in global governance is spelled out in detail in the World Economic Forum Global Redesign Initiative (WEF, 2010).

5. Do not be fooled, as wielded, power (or the thirst for power with its intoxicating effects) does not only mean influence over policies, it also means having license over people and their rights. (Jung Chang) If we have the will to expose and condemn it, we will find the fabricated evidence the transnational capitalist class uses to achieve its influence.

The wielders of power

6. Somehow, conservative politicians resist the premise that society can be constructed based on reason. Prototype conservative politicians do not consider citizens as having natural rights that go beyond their being ‘obediently governed’. They rather consider citizens as part of a pre-exiting social order governed by ruling principles like authority, strong government, administrative control, material progress and public order –all these key to defend religion, defend family, defend property and defend personal liberties.
• They support retrograde groups –even if they purport being progressive…
• They speak words they learn by heart, that they understand only half-way, but words to which they devote themselves with fanaticism. (Milan Kundera)
• They practice their acting to such a degree that they confuse it with their true feelings. (Showing they feel sorry may just be another programmed act in their programmed lives). (J. Chang)
• To stay in power, these politicians cleverly buy support from the various groups in the wider public that get advantages from the reforms they enact. (Dag Detter and Stefan Folster)

7. Among them, dictators further seek to neutralize the people whom they never consult about anything, but whose hostility, they know, could weaken their absolute power. Keeping the masses happy they achieve the hoped-for political stability and calm submission that our admirable modernity has rechristened ‘governability’, but rather is ‘opium to the people’. Elites have the advantage that they can remove the dictator and change the ruler without changing the above premises. (Louis Casado) But to each dictator eventually comes the moment of truth when he lands nose-first on his own level of incompetence… (Isabel Allende)

8. And yes, if pertinent, why not? more Galeano

• In many a country, a country at peace is to mean ‘the cemetery is in order’.
• Do some politicians think that those rendered poor love to be poor?***
• If the state is reduced to ongoing repressive police functions that are the consequences of its own acts, would then the head of state not be a mere chief of police?
• Local bourgeoisies are so good at copying, but are more and more unable to create; they limit themselves to operate as conveyor belts for what originates in the international centers of power.
• The liberty to vote allows you to choose the sauce with which you will be eaten.
• No dictatorship falls if it is not pushed. In a thousand different ways we can help pushing. Denouncing what is happening is only a start.
• Not being facetious, I confess I cannot understand why politicians are bad if they have affairs with beautiful women and are good if they have affairs with big corporations that sell arms or toxics. (Eduardo Galeano, Apuntes para Fin de Siglo)
***: Jacques Chirac used to say: “Promises affect only those that hear them.”

Bottom line

9. With populist leaders fueling nationalism and violating the HR of vulnerable groups, such as religious, racial and gender minorities both in the North and the South, the limited effectiveness of ‘naming and shaming’ strategies focused on the traditional centers of power has been eroded. Moreover, the proliferation of illiberal democracies puts considerable pressure on the fault lines and blind spots of the contemporary architecture of the HR field. Populist leaders have learned to exploit such weaknesses of the HR architecture.

10. It is high time that the HR movement undergoes a reflexive reconstruction. The HR community needs to learn-from and respond-to the crackdown on public interest civil society organizations, activists and HR defenders to reinvigorate new ways of thinking about and practicing HR. The new playbook will need to put less emphasis on traditional politicians’ naming and shaming strategies and, instead, connect with many new constituencies including by appealing to emotions, values and the public imagination, combining online and offline mobilization, as well as developing horizontal forms of collaboration between global North and global South organizations. Times of turmoil can, in fact, be moments of immense creativity, innovation, and overall, hope. (César Rodríguez-Garavito, Krizna Gomez)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
Your comments are welcome at schuftan@gmail.com
All Readers are available at www.claudioschuftan.com

-He who imposes severe punishments becomes hated by the people; he who imposes soft punishments becomes despised. But he who imposes fair/deserved punishments makes himself respected. The science of governing is but the science of punishment. (Kautilya, 2400 years ago in India)
-A specter is haunting Europe –the specter of renewed fascism. (Eduardo Febbro) Populism is no longer just an idea, it is the epoch we live-in. (Liuis Bassets)
-So many universities hardly teach their students to live with each other, much less to think critically in political terms. (Albino Gomez)
-According to Voltaire, friendship is a tacit contract between two sensible and virtuous persons, because bad persons only have accomplices; politicians have partisans. Moreover, the voluptuous have partying companions; interested persons have partners; the lazy have acquaintances; and the princes have courtesans. Only virtuous persons have friends. (A. Gomez) The true friend is the one that criticizes us face-on and praises us on our backs. (C. Fonseca Amador) But, sometimes, it is not bad to praise someone face-on when it is neither as a duty of courtesy, as a hypocritical adulation nor for fearing of the truth. (E. Galeano)

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