Thursday, September 19, 2013

Do All People Deserve to Live?

This seems to me an important question that I think is often neglected. Here in the U.S. we say “all men are created equal,” and then, by implication at least, “are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”One might well ask, first, do these noble claims apply only to those who live in the U.S.? Even a moment  of reflection should indicate that no one takes these claims seriously, not even here in the U.S. Obviously not all men are created equal, some men are larger than others, some are smarter than others, some more clever or cunning, some willing and able to work harder than others, some more creative and so on. The only meaning such a claim can have is basically they are all equal in their right to vote. And even now we have many who do not even believe in that basic form of equality. But consider the question in a broader perspective.

Does it apply to all people everywhere?. That is, people are born and live out their lives pretty much in the same general pattern all over the world. They are born, pass through childhood and adolescence, adulthood, old age and death. Along the way they marry and have other adventures, have children, problems and etc. Humans vary somewhat physically and even more so culturally, having customs and practices that are unique to some, barbaric and primitive to others, even downright disgusting to still others. Are all these people entitled to life, let alone liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And if not, why not, and who is to decide?
The history of the human species makes it quite clear that different people at different times and under different circumstances clearly were not considered to have a right to life, liberty, or happiness. Humans abused, murdered, and engaged even in mass annihilations without regret in most cases. We all know what happened to American Indians, for example, and what transpired during the hundreds of years of European colonialism dwarfs even the Holocaust.

It seems the decisions as to who should live and who should not were mostly made by people who lusted after what other people had: land, gold, spices, rubber, ivory, gems, oil, and so on. Those who could commandeer the largest and best armies simply took whatever they wanted by force, most often from lesser people who were often defenseless. Murder, arson, rape, torture, infanticide, (“nits make lice”), slavery, bombings and chemical weapons were all employed at times. Nothing was too horrible for some humans to inflict on others.

Interestingly enough, there seems to have been an (perhaps unconscious) underlying understanding that such things could not be done to other human beings, hence those that were targeted were, by definition, defined as non-human and called by other names: Niggers, Japs, Gooks, Krauts, Towel heads, Savages, Barbarians, Chinks, Jews, Wops, Spicks, the Yellow Peril, even Animals, and I don’t know what all else, but whatever, converted them to something other than ordinary human beings, thus to proclaim that all men are equal, entitled to something-or-other, has been, and remains utter nonsense.  One could argue that after the worst of colonialism and the Holocaust things have improved, but I would say, not much.

 President Obama has recently decided that Syrians apparently have no right to life and, if not helped out by President Putin, would certainly have bombed some of them. He may still do it, depending. President Assad has decided that many of his own subjects have no right to life and is apparently killing them at will. Israelis kill Palestinians pretty much at will, Sunnis kill Shiites and Hindus kill Muslims and Christians, and so it goes, as it has for thousands of years. Whether people have a right to life depends upon the whims and powers of essentially random people who make such judgments. Crazy, yes, but that is the human species. There is no overriding power that can prevent people from killing each other, and religions seem to make little or no difference, at times both condoning and prohibiting killing, depending upon who the victims are to be. Attempts to create international laws and organizations to prevent conflicts have failed as some people are so determined to kill others they pay no attention.

Personally, I think all people have a right to life, certainly some liberties, and the pursuit of happiness, although this last “right” is probably pretty recent and may not apply to most people. If you are struggling constantly just to survive and live I doubt the pursuit of happiness is of great concern. I suspect that even a hundred years ago the pursuit of happiness was not a goal for most people.

Jamaica Kinkaid

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