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A practical not ideological approach to human rights - Straits Times


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The idea that human rights have an autonomous reality or are somehow "natural rights" is, as Jeremy Bentham said, "rhetorical nonsense - nonsense upon stilts". It is a civilising myth we choose to believe in so that we may at least occasionally live in a civilised manner. But we should not forget that beliefs are not stable; they change and they do not change in a teleological manner towards a single preordained destination.

Of course, all cultures and societies hold some values in common. But this is generally at such a high level of generality as to be practically meaningless as a guide to how specific societies or political systems actually organise themselves or even as a guide to how they ought to organise themselves. Most rights, despite a superficial consensus, are in fact essentially contested concepts, both within societies and between different countries and societies. And it is to my mind pointless to console someone deprived of the basic necessities of life that his or her civil liberties are protected. It is at best naive if not downright cynical.

It makes sense (unfortunately) that most rights are contested. 

Rights are one of the most important things to fight for. 

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