First published: 18 May 2006
One of the most frequent intellectual sleights of hand carried out by apologists for imperialism is the reduction of ‘human rights’ to ‘political rights’. That is, when they claim to be speaking about ‘human rights’ they in fact eliminate most human rights and reduce these to a much narrower range of political rights – most imperialist apologists are also in practice totally selective in which countries they chose to discuss political rights in, but that is another aspect.
Consider the difference between these two issues. Human beings are real living entities. They eat, drink, get ill, raise children, are sexually active, want entertainment, have interests and hobbies. Their needs range from the absolutely vital for survival, for example food and health care, through those issues rated by almost all societies as extraordinarily desirable, such as finding friends and having partners for sexual activity, through knowledge and skills vital for participation in wider human culture and access to higher paid employment, such as the ability to read and write and education, to the desirable but less than truly essential – having a black iPod as opposed to a white one. The real ability to undertake all these, both separately and according to priorities determined by the individual, constitutes the sum of their real human rights.