Pretty Words, Ugly People: Human Rights throughout Western History

Like any humanities course, what you don’t write about, you read about. This week, I have several readings about the concept of human rights in the western world, namely The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights,

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a human rights document written by the United Nations’ General Assembly in December 1948 describing in 30 articles what every human being is entitled to as being well, human. This aims to be an impartial document, a noble moral code that could be implemented into any culture, nation, or community.

And what a pretty moral code it is!

Article 1: All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

With gems like these littering the whole of the document, why would this Bill be disregarded for 70 years in various countries? One of the difficult things about learning about humans is learning about how wicked and corrupt in spirit all of us are.

Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

This semester, my class will be discussing flagrant disregard for the UN’s Universal Human Rights bill,

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

In many ways, the UN’s Declaration is an upgrade of America’s Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independance.

Although we in America celebrate the 4th of July as the day we severed political connections with Britain (and literally started a war over it), we cheated with France after calling ourselves an independent nation.

The Declaration confronts the increasing taxation of the American colonies and their lack of autonomy in government. Majority of the rights that the King of the British Empire committed against America had to do with government and representation in the will of the land. I’m surprised not more was mentioned about the colonies’ rights to faith and religion, but

The original Declaration of Independence, 1776.

In today’s world, Britian would have been violating at Articles:

Plus, racism is quite literally written into the foundations of America:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the mericless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

The Bill of Rights is more expansive, with notes on how the country will treat individual persons such as freedom of speech, religion, the right to bear arms, and the right to a fair trial.

The words show how aged America has become in just 250 years. A well regulated militia’ is having several hundred warheads prepped for war with North korea or something like that


More on discussion in class

You know, humanities classes are very different from science classes. There’s no extended periods of time when the professor just talks and talks, there’s little structure to my notes, and whatever comes out of the class is usually based entirely from what we as students discuss.

We jumped from religion and its place in the construction of reality, to the presence of culture and how going aganist the norm may or may not remove you from your family system, to fetuses being parasites (I wouldn’t call them that) to back to an explanation on the construction of reality.

This is roughly what I got from my seminar:

There are negative rights, and then there are positive rights

Negative rights are what people cannot do to you while positive rights are obstacles removed to that you can be the best that you can be.


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