Monday, April 2, 2012

Chasing Utopia?

A recent article I came across, by Tom Malinowski, explains his stance on the basis of which he chose to resign from a post he occupied at Human Rights Watch. The premise of his article, (which after much delay and random observations that make, to my perception, frugal sense), boils down to the notion that not one moment is spent on understanding “how it is the pursuit of human rights that makes life worth living, not its attainment.” This premise flows from his belief that we may just be fast losing all sense of purpose from our lives- with the fall of communism and the rising democracies of the Arab Spring, and that the “portion of people living in, or on the verge of achieving, liberty keeps rising.”

Albeit a paroxysm of deviant thought, and what appears to be frustrated disenchantment at a “system”, Malinowski seems to have lost sight of what is truly important. I may not be an activist with the Human Rights Watch, but I have my own share of experience on issues relating to human rights and the way one needs to lobby for its implementation for a marginalized community. I believe I have indulged in what one would construe as lobbying, for a fairly divergent set of communities. Whether I have achieved results or not is a subject fit for an independent discussion, and is not relevant to this piece of rhetoric I wish to indulge in.
Saying that should the attainment of a ‘goal’ of sorts, where human rights would be ‘realized’ or ‘attained’, would obliterate the significance of a Human Rights activist, or one who works towards it hinges heavily on Utopic considerations. A myopic idea of the way the world is working – it is foolish to believe that we are fast climbing a ladder towards a state of rising liberty. Utopia never existed, and cannot exist as long as each individual human being has a mind of his own. Jeremy Bentham’s understand of Utopia quite clearly explains the fact that Utopia is the ideal. Malinowski might choose to use the Arab Spring and the domino effect of pursuits clamouring for Self-Determination as an example- but he fails to note that the overthrowing of a leader is no sign of liberty. Egypt is still reeling under the propensity for a return to Neanderthal laws. Syria is deeply embroiled in the throes of a civil war, and statistics toll sky high to suggest that peace is still far off, a dream. Bahrain is facing its own struggles with self-determination but geo-strategic considerations have ensured that a greater part of the world have left its pleas unheard. Where is the Liberty, he speaks of? Where is this “on the verge of achieving” he mentions?

As long as there are people, there are always divergent opinions, thoughts and actions. Humanity is all about survival – an expert in psychology could easily bolster my contentions with his expertise – different people want different things. Economics suggests the myriad wants a singular person might have. Power, money, statuses – what if two people want to enjoy the exact same thing? If I wanted be in a position of unshakeable Power, I would do anything to ensure that I got it. And I would not be alone - Adolf Hitler, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddhafi and a whole lot of people that pepper history with their tales of tyranny has done the same. No guarantees ensure that a future would be bereft of such characters. So if people like them did exist, and continue to exist, and may possibly come up in the future, how can someone lay claim to the fact that we are almost ‘there’ when it comes to attaining human rights?

True, if Human Rights Activists succeeded, they might find themselves without a job. But that’s as true as saying that if every individual was vaccinated against diseases, took the  right precautions, countries ensured standards of hygiene and public health care, Doctors would no longer be necessary; as true as saying that if everyone decided to settle their disputes and differences in harmony, and in true amity, Lawyers would no longer be necessary. If governments could make the processes of paying and computing taxes and book-keeping standards easy to follow - who would need an accountant? The simple fact that his inferences are based on conjectures shows that there is nothing to buttress his conclusions.

Malinowski’s main assertion, that ‘not one moment is spent on understanding “how it is the pursuit of human rights that makes life worth living, not its attainment”’, is outrageously unfair. Human Rights activists are pursuing human rights, everywhere. And though there is so much concerted effort in the same direction, the results are not so earth-shattering that one may find a complete obliteration of Human Rights Violations. I’ve worked with orphaned children, I’ve helped teach and guide about twelve children a couple of years back. Some of them have made a niche for themselves, finding themselves in Med-school or Art School, having found a strong footing for a secure future. And because that ‘goal’ has been attained, it is not that I have nothing to do, or that my tryst with activism has died a death because the ‘attainment’ is over with.

Human Rights Watch may take up cudgels for a prisoner, or for a country’s government that is particularly antagonistic to Human Rights. Amnesty International may do it; a thousand NGOs may do it. So WHAT? Malinowski seems oblivious to the fact that none of us are in it for the sake of ‘advancing the day when it will be impossible to live life to the fullest’! Rather, we’re actually facilitating the day for those in distress, to live life to the fullest. We hope to succeed, and put in our best efforts. Maybe we succeed; maybe we need to do more to succeed. But we try. And that’s what makes all the difference.

Life is not the ideal that Pareto chose to evaluate his Theory of the Optimum. That a situation can be construed as having attained an Optimum level, when one man cannot be made better off without making another, worse off, is too theoretical a notion. Life is hardly like that. Today it was the Arab Spring. Tomorrow, who is to know- democracy might be construed an improper governmental organization. After all, Aristotle himself construed ‘Democracy’ a perverse and illegitimate version of Polity. We live, we fight, we move on. That is the essence of life. Today we fight for something, we succeed. Who is anyone to say that that ceases all the fights one might have to encounter?

Malinowski might be disillusioned with the system, or might just be bored with a job with HRW (he’s the best judge of that, mine’s just conjecture playing on what might have pushed him to write what he did). But that’s no reason to construe a situation where rights are sought to be attained and emerges successful in its pursuit, a ‘calamity’. Worse still, that is no reason to purportedly choose an option to work with places that ‘support’ dictatorships.