Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

There is much in the way of praiseworthy aspirational language to be found within the four corners of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is not self-executing and it is questionable whether it has measurably advanced its own stated goals.  Moreover, it is doubtful whether its stated goals are universally beneficial to the human race. 

Take, for example, Article 25:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

By implication, it would seem that an all-pervasive paternalistic cradle-to-grave socialism is the only ethical means by which a government may structure a society in accordance with universal standards proclaimed by the United Nations.  Even if we can forget that the U.N. as an organization has an incredibly weak claim to the status of moral exemplar to the globe, it is inexplicable that the socio-economic system of a price-coordinated economy (which has provided countless people with the abovementioned necessaries of life) gets such short shrift relative to the exaltation of the forcible redistribution of wealth (the implementation of which has starved millions to death in Asia alone). 


The general failure of pseudo-arguments asserting an ethical mandate for unfulfilled rights has been aptly demonstrated by Thomas Sowell:

One of the most remarkable—and popular—ways of seeming to argue without actually producing any arguments is to say that some individual or group has a “right” to something that you want them to have. * * * Take, for example, the proposition, “Every American has a right to decent housing.” If all that is really being said is that some (or all) of us would prefer to see all Americans living in housing that meets or exceeds whatever standard we may have for “decent housing.” then there is no need for the word “rights,” which conveys no additional information and which can be confused with legal authorizations or moral arguments, neither of which is present.

Moreover, if we are candid enough to say that such “rights” merely boil down to what we would like to see, then there is no need to restrict the statement to Americans or to housing that is merely “decent.” Surely we would all be happier to-see every human being on the planet living in palatial housing—a desire which has no fewer (and no more) arguments behind it than the “right” to “decent” housing.

However modest a goal, “decent” housing does not produce itself, any more than palatial housing does. Be it ever so humble, someone has to build a home, which requires work, skills, material resources, and financial risks for those whose investments underwrite the operation. To say that someone has a “right” to any kind of housing is to say that others have an obligation to expend all these efforts on his behalf, without his being reciprocally obligated to compensate them for it.

Focus especially on that last sentence.  If my worthless bum of a cousin has a moral right to be fed, clothed, housed, and medically treated at taxpayer expense, does this right imply any moral duty on his part to stop indulging his Article 24 “right to rest and leisure,” get off his fat ass, and find a job?  I would think the question answers itself, but the U.N. seems not to be even aware of the issue.

1 comment:

Shawna Renee said...

I saw your name on Mainstream Baptist, and I had to come say hi. I'm from Oklahoma and now live in Chicago. :)