As I said yesterday, the topic of human rights is very extensive and it is beyond me to cover it in full. There will always be something missing. It also means that it would not be correct to simplify this subject to corresponding obligations and call it a day. The idea of obligations preceding rights I talked about yesterday comes from a modern political activist, after all, it was not born in isolation, it builds on previous knowledge and it has been expanded upon, too, often without even awareness of Simone Weil’s existence, I’m afraid.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, is a widely adopted obligation – by states, and it tries to find some common ground between inalienable and legal rights. Legal rights are contracts between states in their citizens while inalienable rights are “natural”, they supposed to exist even when states don’t, or when the UN itself collapses and ceases to exist. This means that people are aware of the concept of obligations and of the entities who are supposed to meet these obligations but they are not talking about it from the perspective I outlined yesterday.
There’s an ongoing discussion of what constitutes the inalienable rights, too. Some argue that they could only be given by God while others argue about the exact list of these natural rights. It seems that for the UN to be asserting these rights would be in any case outside its authority, at best they could recognize their independent existence but then they question would arise about relationships between nature and governments.
Can governments override natural laws? From Kṛṣṇa conscious perspective it’s easier to answer because we have a clear delineation of Lord’s energies and their hierarchy. For the secularists, however, it would imply existence of supernatural power – people themselves, but then people are product of natural selection so how could they become supernatural?
An easy example would be the power to kill. All people are born to live, that is the most natural law there is, so taking someone’s life would be overriding it, which shouldn’t be possible. I have no idea how atheists deal with these issues, maybe I should ask them.
To clear the confusion a little – there’s no such thing as death for the living entity, it can’t be killed, and there aren’t any visible actors in the world but the material nature itself. Being killed by another man is no different to being swept away by a tsunami because both animate and inanimate objects are driven by the same forces – modes of nature.
Step into an atheist world and figuring out who does what and what is nature and what is human responsibility quickly becomes very complicated. Some people argue that high sugar content in their food makes them do certain things so they should be blameless. Regardless of how courts react to this kind of defense it DOES have some ground behind it – we are not in control of our actions, we are conditioned beings, we act according to how we have been taught and, in this case, fed.
A drunk person behind a wheel WILL have a delayed reaction and might easily kill somebody and there’s nothing he can do about it. The law would still hold him responsible because drink and drive is already an offense but one could offer many excuses why he decided to do so – customs, culture, examples of other people and so on. It will not be enough to absolve him of responsibility in court but it would make his decision to appear “natural”. From our perspective he was acting according to karma and material elements comprising his body could not have possibly acted in any other way.
In fact, with enough foresight, this case was pre-ordained the moment he was born, and with even more foresight it was pre-ordained the moment the Lord cast a glance on pradhāna and it got agitated. The universe was born, the cycle of yugas has started, the propensity to intoxication got stronger in Kali yuga, the necessary plants were grown and converted to alcohol, the society taught people to drink and it also taught them to drive and so on.
As far as responsibility is concerned – every action leads to results. Sometimes these results are administered by “nature” and sometimes by other people, which looks different only from a conditioned platform where people claim some material elements as their own and others as belonging to “nature”. From Kṛṣṇa’s perspective it’s all His, and there are also His trusted representatives who control the actual administration.
With this in mind the distinction between inalienable and legal rights should not exist. It’s an invention of our minds where we take some laws into our hands and leave others to God, while atheists would say that God doesn’t exist and there’s only nature. As I said a few paragraphs earlier, there is no reason neither for them nor for the UN (which consulted with all major religions when drafting universal rights declaration) to claim status separate and independent from nature.
The UN here is caught between the rock and the hard place because when they consult with religionists they have to accept the idea that people came from God and are here to enact God given laws, they have to accept existence of supernatural power. The UN is also a secular organization that supports an atheistic view of the world that people are just highly evolved animals. The UN can’t admit existence of God for political reasons but it had to take God’s suggestions for consideration when drafting those rights.
It probably means that the existent bill of rights will get renegotiated when atheists “advance” their views a bit further. The concept of marriage is up for renegotiation already, for example. Right to marriage is in the Declaration under Article 16 but it does not enshrine right to marriage between people of the same sex explicitly, nor does it define “family” even if it demands its protection. LGBT activists might campaign for clarification there so they could use this declaration to demand recognition of their relationships in every country that accepted it. Saudia Arabia abstained in 1948 but Iran and Iraq voted for it, potentially opening the door for legal argument in favor of same-sex marriages in these Islamic countries. Regime change, anyone?
In real life the renegotiation is not on the cards as long as the existing world order holds, and if it does come up for discussion it’s more likely that interests of conservative states will prevail over liberal agenda rather than the other way around.
It’s not of much importance, I was just trying to understand the concept of universal rights from a secular point of view.