Human Rights Promotion (6): A Fatal Paradox for Human Rights Proponents?

Like the opponents of human rights, the proponents also face a paradox. Imagine human rights utopia: the world has managed to get rid of oppression, domination, exploitation, discrimination, injustice and suffering. Or perhaps human rights violations haven’t disappeared completely but people have managed to make them a rare occurrence. People find it easy to be moral and to respect the rights of others, and there’s hardly ever a slip-up.

However, we could argue that this world has lost something important. It’s undoubtedly better in one sense of the word, but at the same time it’s worse: people have lost the opportunity to show solidarity, to be charitable, to help each other and to strive towards moral heroism.

Because of the risk that a successful struggle against human rights violations results in this loss (only a potential risk at this moment in time), we should perhaps value the struggle itself, and not just the successful outcome. But then we value the struggle and at the same time we are upset about it. We are upset because we obviously believe it is a struggle that we should end victoriously as quickly as possible, but at the same time we value it because we believe that it’s generally a good thing for people to be working towards a moral goal and to act benevolently (we may also value the struggle because it allows us to signal our own personal moral worth, but that’s another point).

So, paradoxically, we want to win the struggle for human rights as quickly as possible because rights violations are evil; but at the same time we want to cherish and perhaps even prolong the struggle because of the moral value inherent in it. But that means that the struggle against human rights violations confers a certain value to these violations and makes them a bit less evil, which surely isn’t the purpose. If people are morally enriched and ennobled by the struggle against human rights violations, then it’s also these violations that enrich and ennoble. But of course we cannot acknowledge this because we want to abolish those violations; we can’t desire to abolish them and at the same time claim that they have value. If you start to see good in evil, you endanger your mental health.

More on human rights and utopia here, and on human rights and paradoxes here and here.


1 thought on “Human Rights Promotion (6): A Fatal Paradox for Human Rights Proponents?”

  1. I disagree so vehemently I could possibly do, perhaps, as you say, because admission that human rights is paradoxical would be quite unfortunate.

    I don’t quite understand the stance you believe we as a human race have on morality. Do you sincerely believe we desire to be moral because it is difficult? Nonsense! There is value in being moral in and of itself. By definition in fact, which is why I cannot make clear sense of this purported paradox.

    I would, however, agree that there is some worth to the moral struggle, however it is both not the same worth as the result of a moral action (hence making it not paradoxical, but less black and white) and it’s worth may itself be explained in resulting effects.

    Moral struggles characterize our moral development. Think of the child who is praised for the most simple of moral actions, of sharing, say, a piece of cake with their sibling. We recognize this is a struggle because there are forces working towards making him act differently. We value the struggle, as it teaches him, our hypothetical child, that in inner turmoil the moral sentiment should defeat the selfish sentiment. Moral struggles are valuable because they help us do right in the future.

    Simply because we are not especially moral compared to other people does not mean we are not moral. Unless, of course, you view morality to be ultimately relativist. This would quite frankly be forcing a paradox on yourself.


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