Opinion

Human Rights Day is one of the greatest pieces of clickbait ever

Human rights may be theoretically sacred but in a practical sense they’re as useful as a third nipple

17 March 2019 - 00:12
Human rights exist as an impressive legal ideal but their tangible reality isfelt only by those who can afford them.
Human rights exist as an impressive legal ideal but their tangible reality isfelt only by those who can afford them.
Image: 123RF/nito500

Have you ever been floating around the internet (for non-porn-related purposes) and had your attention hijacked by a juicy headline of some variety? Something like "TRUMP DECLARES WAR ON MARSHMALLOWS!" or "ZUMA ADMITS TO USING SKIN-LIGHTENING CREAM!"

Basically a headline so compelling that the rational part of your brain that knows it's clickbait gets kidnapped and locked in a cupboard while the part of it that enjoys Keeping Up With the Kardashians gets on with the business of clicking.

Well, on Thursday, our rational brains are scheduled to be bundled back into the cupboard as we celebrate one of the greatest pieces of clickbait ever, Human Rights Day.

We all know the sales pitch. As human beings we are each born with a set of inalienable rights. Things like the right to human dignity, privacy and equality before the law. They are like genes but for society and every year on March 21 we break out the party hats and high five our societal makeup. But just how inalienable are these human rights that we're so chuffed with - and, in a practical sense, how do they help?

In November last year, Stats SA posted something interesting on Twitter. More people in this country have access to cellphones than to toilets. Just over 75.5% of the population has access to what our country's maths boffins would call "decent" toilets and 12.2% of that number are pit toilets with ventilation.

Call me bourgeois but the idea of having to think about what happens when my ventilated hole in the ground gets full feels very alien to the right to human dignity.

That is just one example, though. The whole concept of human rights can't be fake news just because a few people have to shit in a hole. Except we all know it doesn't end there. Theoretically we are all equal before the law but that dirty homeless man who finds a gun and puts a hole in the chest of someone "stealing" his sleeping bag is not getting the same sentence as Oscar Pistorius.

We all have the right of access to sufficient food, water and adequate housing and freedom from violence from public or private sources. Lol.

Human rights are like money in that neither is real. Not in the way the sun or being punched in the face is. Those cleverly fabricated pieces of paper that we exchange for goods are worth only what we've decided they are worth. At this point most of it is just random ones and zeros.

The same is true of human rights. They exist on a piece of paper and as an impressive legal ideal but their tangible reality is felt only by those who can afford them. If you cannot afford food, dignity or housing, none of those rights apply to you.

They may be theoretically sacrosanct but in a practical sense they're as useful as a third nipple.

Much like money, your belief in human rights is what makes them real, not the rights themselve

So what's the point? Why don't we all just throw our hands up and go back to being as unpleasant to each other as possible?

Maybe the point is to protect the disadvantaged from us. Left to their own devices, people with privilege across all societies have been known to take particular joy from mistreating those less fortunate than themselves.

Much like money, your belief in human rights is what makes them real, not the rights themselves. Thus if we pretend hard enough to be bound by these rules, then we actually will be.

Who knows, maybe one day if enough of us pretend hard enough, we may collectively realise that in a world where individuals can build toilets out of gold, no-one should have to carve one out of mud.


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