Sunday, January 31, 2010

Haiti, Culturism, and the Basis of Rights

In a prior post, I used the moving of Sheik Khalid Mohammed’s trial from downtown NYC to illustrate some culturist principles. That rights come from cultures that can afford them and believe in them was my main point. Mohammed’s right to have a trial will disrupt the lives of whomever it comes near and will cost lots of money. Like rights, as many know and only some suspect, money is not metaphysical. We cannot just print more and have it hold value. The 200 million a year we spend assuring Mohammed gets his rights must come at the expense of services many American’s also assume they have a right to.

In comments, some serious objections to this foundational culturist philosophical tenet were raised. One set of comments claimed, “Rights that are the result of cost/risk-benefit are not rights at all. They are mere luxuries.

We have our rights, which do exist a priori even to many Atheists, because we fought for them.” Another commentator found our rights existed in our “potential to rise up and throw off our oppressors.” While insisting that we had a choice as to how many rights to give Mohammed, both correspondents worried that a lack of grounding in “potential” or “God” laid us dangerously close to moral relativism and a Nietzschean will to power model.

Haiti’s recent disastrous earthquake shows that rights do not exist independently of man’s belief and ability to afford them. As of the morning of January 31st, 2010 America has suspended evacuating critically injured Haitians to the US for care. Our issue? Cost. Florida’s health care system was reported to be, “quickly reaching saturation” and was “already under strain because of the winter influx of elderly people.” Even if those Haitians doomed to die think that God has given them the right to live, they will find out that that right has very little importance here on the earth.(1)

Secondly, the title of the article that announces our suspending the airlifts reads, “Haiti patients ‘will die’ because of US airlift halt.” Proximity is a factor, but I do not believe it is the reason the whole of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the US. China and Saudi Arabia simply do not care about people outside of their realm. They believe in their people’s rights, not human rights. Yet, ironically, we get the blame for not helping!! Again, rights, - and in this case the most basic right there is, the right to have your life saved - only come from nations that believe in them. Rights do not come universal precepts.

To protect rights we must make sure the West is solvent. If we can afford to save Haitians and give terrorist rights, that is groovy. But, ultimately, our duty is to keep our nation alive so that our vision of rights can survive. Outside of the West, there is no sustained, solvent tradition of rights. If the West falls, the right to be rescued, let alone vote, will die. Ask yourself which nation will bring them to us? In a meaningless and abstract way the “right” to a full trial and be airlifted to a hospital may continue. But, I do not see Saudi Arabia granting you either. Rights only come from nations, like ours, that believe in them. If we do not appreciate right’s geo-political basis we will likely fail to adequately appreciate the need to protect our interests.

Does that throw us open to cultural relativism? NO! Just as China and Saudi Arabia believe in and protect their way of life and beliefs for their people, we must do the same for our people. Our values meant that we cannot just start to silence or kill people here or abroad without qualms. We have a very firm domestic tradition of rights, democracy, and freedom of speech that would make such abuses appear starkly wrong to us. Socrates and Jefferson would call us traitors to our ancestors if we were needlessly violent or dismissive of rights. Christ would haunt us if we did not respect the individual. But, we must be clear that other nations celebrate conquest, submission, and enslavement. Rather than cultural relativists, recognizing that rights are only western and dependent on our solvency makes us more appreciative of their fragility and the need to realistically protect them.

(1) BBC News, Haiti patients ‘will die’ because of US airlift halt, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8489392.stm, January 31, 2010
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