Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Here comes Damocles with his chainsaw

Anyone who knows a thing or two about Footrot Flats (and who doesn't?) will, at that remark, be running around in a frenzy, looking for a hole to jump into. And if it has a lid you can pull down on top of you, so much the better

No, this isn't a post about comics from New Zealand (though you could do worse than get acquainted with the Dog, and Wal and company ... if you like the Alaskan cartoon, Tundra, and also Bloom County, Pogo, and Calvin, you're in for a treat. Unless you already know Footrot Flats inside out of course, in which case: cheers.)

This is a post about Human Rights. And no, I don't find the subject in any way humorous, but the fact is, you very soon reach a certain line where, if you don't laugh, you'll weep tears of frustration, or possibly just scream and make a run for it, while you can get out with your sanity intact.

The most basic Human Rights would have to be the rights to breathe, eat, sleep and generally exist. Thinking comes next. You can think even if you're tied up tight and blindfolded, so long as they let you breathe and sleep, and feed you. It's WHAT you're thinking that's the problem.

And the whole Human Rights issue goes ballistic right there, with a character who's tied up and blindfolded ... but his (or her) thoughts are unassailable. Your mind is the bastion and citadel of the human organism --

Enter Damocles at stage left. He has traded in his sword for a chainsaw, and if he wasn't short of two-stroke, it would be running as he comes lurching onstage like some macabre character out of THE RUNNING MAN.

(Remember that movie? Has anyone in the USA seen the latest DVD release, which has, as one of its extras, a short documentary about the Patriot Act, and how it's going to be instrumental in bringing about the dystopian (there's that word again) SF future depicted by fictionists and treated, 25+ years ago, as a tongue-in-cheek romp? Does the US edition of the DVD even have this feature, or is it peculiar to the international disk? Can someone find out and let us know??)

So, here comes Damocles with his chainsaw, and like Wal, he's looking to make one helluva mess. And he's got plenty to work with, because what we understand as Human Rights in 2008 is a confused mish-mash of hopes, dreams, desires, fears, furies and phobias.

Consider. Jack has the right to be gay and legally marry a guy. Jill has the right to be hetero and a single parent. Jack has the right to hold down a good job where his boss knows he's in a gay marriage. Jill has the right to be a fundamentalist Christian. Jack has the right to earn good money and buy a nice car. Jill has the right to accept her pastor's edicts regarding the pill and have 11 children. Jack and his partner Bill have the right to buy the big house next door. Jill has the right to hate and fear Jack and Bill because they're openly gay, and the church has told her for years, God reviles and burns gays. Jack and Bill have the right to buy two German Shepherd puppies and have loads of fun playing in the yard. Jill has the constitutional right to own shotguns and handguns: so do Jack and Bill, come to that. Jack and Bill have the right to try to talk to her and/or her 11 children over the fence. Jill has the right of free speech, which means either cutting them dead and walking away, or shouting insults at them. Jack and Bill have the right to decide she's a rude, moronic halfwit and never talk to her again. Jill has the right to consult her pastor about what God thinks of gay people. Jill's Pastor, Ron, has the right to tell her what he understands after being indoctrinated by his teachers (he had the right to be taught this; the teachers had the right to indoctrinate him). Jill has the right to believe what Ron tells her: the world was created in six days, 6,000 years ago, the righteous go to heaven, sinners get burned, and gays are among the worst sinners who'll corrupt you and your kids, if you're not careful. Jill also has the right to be frightened, very frightened, for her 11 children (and by now she's pregnant again and thinking about getting married, though she doesn't see why she should, because Bristol isn't, and everyone thinks Bristol's cute as a bug, so what the hey). Jill has the right to want her children to grow up with God. Jack and Bill have the right to live next door and tell her they're nice guys, harmless, they love their dogs and have no interest in her 11.5 children (they can see she has a bun in the oven). Jill has the right to ask them to go away. Jack has the right to tell her to bugger off and look after her kids, because he and Bill are having a garden party for 20 (gay) pals at the weekend. Jill has the right to go back to Ron and confess how she's terrified, because The Godless Horde is invading next door. Ron has the right to make a sermon, preaching against Jack, Bill and their mates...

And now, it gets tougher. Now, 250 people from the church know Jack and Bill live nextdoor to Jill ... and they have gay parties, and Jill is scared stiff. She's just had child #12, the place is swarming with kids on one side of the fence, while there's (yeeeech!) homosexuals!!!!!! on the other side of the fence. The 250 members of the congregation are protected by their rights: they have the right to be religious, to believe the Bible, and their pastor, and love God, and stand up for what they believe in, and own automatic weapons. Jill has the right to get pregnant again, and is looking a bit plump by the time the congregation has figured out what to do. They all have the right to bear arms; half of them have shotguns, some have handguns, a few have machine pistols. They have the right to own them, and love God, and be frightened for their children, because the homosexuals!!!!! are wicked or evil or something -- just like witches used to be,which was the last time human beings were so mesmerized by religion that hate and violence started to look like viable, yea, logical, solutions.

Now, where do Human Rights come to a shuddering stop? Does someone have the right to throw a brick through your window because they don't like your sexual preference? Or because you're the wrong color to suit them? Or you attend the wrong church, or no church at all? Because you wear a pentacle? You're fat or ugly or old? You have a highly communicable, lethal disease -- like tuberculosis or golden staph?

If the answer to the brick question is "yes" (and it should NOT be), the next question is about pipe bombs, and drive-by shootings. These are actions which are untenable --

Yet the thoughts driving them, born in the bastion and citadel of the human mind, are religious fervor, love of God, fear of hell, longing for heaven. These are the very Republican "small town values" which are one's unalienable human rights ...

Until they come to be put into practise. One has the right to fear and hate, like Jill. One has NO right to act on those thoughts and feelings. One has the right to TEACH fear and hate, like Ron. But this branch of Human Rights very soon reaches the end of its rope. It don't leak far over into reality before your right to hate and fear your neighbor turns into a crime for which you'll be looking at the wrong side of the bars for 20 to life ... and in some states, you could be executed.

Like morality, Human Rights is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways, and draws blood wherever it lands. One could suggest that "right thinking" is the way to fix it. Stop teaching fresh generations of kids to despise people for being gay (or pagan, or Muslim, or foreign, or commie, or ugly, or [fill in the blank]) and the problem will go away. But people like Ron have the right to teach what they understand, and they themselves have been taught (by others who have the right to teach) to despise and fear.

How far back can you track this reasoning? No one yet yet knows. We've passed laws making it illegal to discriminate on the bases of gender or race or religion, and those laws are slowly extending to cover sexual preference. But these fears and hates have very deep-seated cultural and religious roots. It's not been a century, yet, since such rabid fervor resulted in a pogrom that claimed six million lives; the name "Hitler" has become synonymous with "Satan" for that one. Now, street interviews with ordinary Americans reveal some folks saying, "Muslims don't belong on this planet." Yet --

Wasim has the right to be Muslim, and not be discriminated against in the workplace for his religion or his race. He has the right to have a good job, buy a nice house and have a partner and seven cats. Bobby and Carol have the right to live next door, attend church, be pro-life, and have 9 children. Jim, their pastor, had the right to be taught by elders he respects (who have the right to teach what they understand) that Muslims are evil personified. Bobby and Carol have to right to be horrified that Muslims!!!!! live next door, and they naturally consult Pastor Jim ...

Here comes Damocles with his chainsaw, and it cuts both ways, and no matter where it falls, there's going to be blood.

Hopefully we have plenty of bandaids and elastoplast in stock, because before the next few Republican years are over, we're going to need them.

But when wounds and broken bones heal, the mended tissue is stronger than it was before. Humans will make it through, and my personal hope is that it'll happen inside my own lifetime, so that I can see it.

I think I have the right to see this happen.

1 comment:

Aricia said...

Would dearly love to see Peace & Tolerance happen, esp. while we're all still young(ish). A few years ago it was Russians, and commies, and the Red Chinese that were the "boogiemen." Now it's Islamics. [heaves long sigh] What will be next?? Scares you to ask.

And incidentally, I love Footrot Flats!!! There are some good webpages on it, and the movie.

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