Friday, June 16, 2017

Advice for the Left from an Experienced Human Rights Lawyer

Conor Friedersdorf spoke to an experienced human rights lawyer about the American left today, and the lawyer had lots of advice:
The foundations of human rights struggles - and triumphs - lie in perilous battles. Slavery, Nazism, apartheid and more. Each ethos was entirely incompatible with the basic communal principle of “do no harm.” A struggle against them was necessarily existential. They either had to be eliminated entirely, or suffered completely. A contrary view could neither be accepted nor tolerated. Its proponents had to be ruthlessly destroyed. In the battles listed above, that was the correct approach.
But maybe things have changed:
Today, in developed democracies, that is no longer the case. There is considerable futility in adopting an ardent, classic human rights struggle for much of what is being sought by the Left. The nature of the struggle has changed. The goal is improving the peace that we have, not winning the war we are waging. The goal is to be able to live in the same street, not claim that street as ours. . . .

Seeking the advancement of human rights in a democracy is like seeking a better marriage with your spouse. You should always seek a better marriage.

Sometimes, that results in a fight. The purpose of the fight should never be to destroy your spouse. The purpose of the fight is to keep living with your spouse. To do that, choose your disputes carefully and over only the most vital of matters. Accept that your spouse is seeking certainty and security, just as you are. If you believe in individual dignity, accept that their thoughts and actions may not reconcile with yours and that trying to shame them will make the relationship intolerable. Most importantly, once the fight is over, seek reconciliation. After all, you have to live with one another.
This is how I feel. In America, Europe, and elsewhere, the key legal battles over women's rights, minority rights and gay rights have been won. What is needed now – and I mean especially what is needed now to protect those victories and insure equal rights in the future – is reconciliation.

Push people too hard, and they would rather vote for Donald Trump than agree with you.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

First flaw - framing the ruthless destruction of slavery, Nazism, apartheid, and more in the past tense.

These are living concerns. Even if they're no longer roaring conflagrations spilling over into wildfire, they're still steady flames with an ample supply of fuel to sustain them for a long time to come. They can still grow larger and out of control quite rapidly if conditions shift in their favor. We've beaten the flames back for the time being, but they are far from extinguished.

All of these issues are constantly threatening to undergo resurgences, in one form of another.

Slavery might be ostensibly abolished, but illegal human trafficking is thriving across the globe, and legalized wage-slavery is one of the primary end goals of the slowly ascendant corporate system. The true Nazism of the Third Reich might be gone, but Fascism itself is still out there lurking in the hearts of millions, waiting for a chance to found a Fourth Reich. Apartheid itself might have ended, but the Racism and Xenophobia that birthed it persist in nearly every society. Specific oppressed minorities of today might eventually become "accepted", but unless the underlying drive to hate others is removed, the old victims will simply be replaced by new ones. We used to hate Irish and Italians, but nowadays we accept them and hate people like Mexicans and Arabs instead.

Second flaw - who says we necessarily have to live with one another? Why are we only allowed to find things like slavery, Nazism, and apartheid to be intolerable? Why should we be expected to not also ruthlessly destroy other existential threats entirely incompatible with the principle of "do no harm"? Threats like sexism and patriarchy, nationalism and selfishness, gun violence and militancy, ruthless capitalism and unbridled greed, et cetera?

Some people simply aren't worth trying to live with. To use Friedersdorf's own analogy, you can't be married to everyone. Heck, you can't even just be friends or acquiantances with everyone. Some people absolutely insist on being intolerable, and sometimes reconciliation, or even simple live-and-let-live coexistence, is rendered utterly impossible.

And even when it isn't, there's still only so much time, effort, and patience to go around. It's like operating a triage ward - some causes are simply too far gone to waste resources on. It might be possible to save them, but if you're being realistic, then you have to realize you simply can't afford the cost - those resources are better spent on helping others with better odds of success.

So while in principle I agree, and absolutely wish I could find ways to reconcile everyone, if I'm being remotely realistic I know that in many situations, reconciliation is virtually impossible. I'm probably not going to ever get along with homophobes, or with religious fundamentalists and literalists, or with gun right activists, or with climate change denialists, or with flat-earth conspiracy nuts, or with countless other groups of unreasonable and intolerable people.

That doesn't mean I won't keep hoping they'll eventually come around, or that I won't keep extending the occasional olive branch, or that I'll never try to find shared middle ground, or that I'll refuse to ever negotiate if they show significant and believeable interest. But it does mean I won't be holding my breathe, and that I won't have any real patience for their bullshit, and that I won't tolerate the harm they insist on doing, either to myself or to others.