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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Should rights be "forever" in a ever-changing world?

We fight for our rights, many, if not most, of our heroes are those who gave their lives to obtain and preserve some rights we now hold dear.
These include freedom, equality (Liberté, égalité, fraternité anyone?)  down to some more modern era/more detailed and specific rights such as (in some countries) refuse to join an army, work-life balance, health, even a minimum wage or a "citizenship income" in some places etc.
People should not work more than 8 hours a day (may vary slightly by country).
Took a while to achieve that and we consider it an important milestone in human rights.
I am all for it, don't get me wrong, in fact it might even be the case we should at this point (some did) reduce those 8 hours.
But, what IF it does not make anymore sense, meaning that in a given context, a given society, that does not work anymore, it is not sustainable.
Would it be still a right?

Now, the one I would like to discuss is even more radicated in our culture, in a way that every single politician in every single campaign would advertise he/she will do everything to boost it.
Politicians do their research (with our money) and even the dumbest of them are able to select their stands on these topics, so I know I will attract a lot of hatred reactions just for discussing the matter, but, hey, go ahead, hating is one of your rights after all (and I am not running for office anytime soon) :)

The right to have a family.
Ok, ok, I hear you booing already, once you are done, can we have a serious discussion about it?
The "light" version of it says that a men and a woman should be able to marry.
A slightly modernized version says that two humans, regardless of their sex and their sexual preferences, should be able to marry.
I am fine with both versions, no issues here.

Now, in most places this extends to "a family"  in the sense you have rights to have children.
Children are cool I guess, who could argue with that?

Before we go ahead, I know in these discussions we are all biased, so I will just declare my bias upfront, for the benefit of a rational and honest discussion :
I have no children, never married, never wanted to, never felt the urge to create a family, for a number of different reasons.
At this point I guess you MUST be hating me a little bit already, right?

Ok, now, back to the point.
Rights to have children in general means a lot of things which go beyond the actual fact of having one or more babies.
It ties into making it easier to families to support them, in other words it is like the society is promoting families.
In most countries the society recognizes that raising children is an expensive task, so you get a little bit of tax reductions, some maternity leave rights (for both parents) etc.
These "allowances" are granted  using the society resources (mainly collected taxes) as in general such resources should go to support the citizen's rights and well being.
If something is a citizen's right, then I totally agree that the society should do whatever possible to favour its implementation and even promote it.
But is it?
Is transmitting your DNA really a right and, in a more general sense, can we say that a right is still a right regardless of the context, forever?
Or can we say that rights are a mere product of our culture, which, in turn, generates from our history?

Let me introduce another bias I have : I am an atheist (which I find a funny definition, but most of you would call me that way) and have no holy book telling me what's good or wrong. I do need to find it out myself and for this reason I ask myself several questions and sometimes discuss them with others.

So, it is clear that the urge of transmitting our DNA is present in all animal species, but normally they (slowly) evolve, both genetically and "culturally" in a  way that affects their reproduction rate according to the needs.
A wonderful explanation of this concept (although with the opposite problem) can be found in the speech that Douglas Adams gave for TED, about 1 third in the speech, when he tells the story of the Kakapo.

I strongly encourage you to watch the full speech as D.A. was a phenomenal speaker on top of being a witty and creative writer.

(Douglas Adams : "Parrots, the universe and everything")

The "problem" with humans is that we became remarkably efficient in modifying the environment around us to suit our needs, so, when the environment was supposed to counter our expansion, we fought back and somehow "won".

Going from the Kakapo to another animal that might be more familiar to all of us, let's consider the cat.
I love cats, in fact I live with two 10 yr old females since quite some time.
Most of the people who love cats agrees -like I do- that it is a good thing to spay or neuter them.
In the wilderness, the chances of survival of a cat in his/her first years are pretty slim, plus when the populatuion grows in a given area, it is regulated by competition for food or territory.
So they needed to procreate very quickly, the fittest would generally survive and maintain the specie alive.
Since most of the cats now live with humans, they share the "benefits" of the modified environment, i.e. we provide medical care and food for them which extends greatly their life expectaion and dramatically reduces chances of deaths for lack of food etc.
Is the cat risking extinction because we neuter and spay most of them?
Not that I am aware of, in fact it seems to me that population control, given the actual context, is being a benefit for the cat specie.

Now, why would it be different for humans?
Take a look at this chart :

Does anybody see any alarming trend there?
Humans in 1960 : 3.000 Millions
Humans in 2050 (projection) : 9.000 Millions
( 3x in 90 years)

Cat's chart would have been similar (worse actually, because of their high reproduction rate) if we did not take actions. We realized that having an average of 3 cats per square meter aound us would have been quite an issue for everybody, including them.
Cats have no right to procreate in fact, it did not take long to us to negate that one to them, few complained.

Now, back to humans, I believe it is culturally difficult to "cap" the number of children a family should have (it is somehow happening in some places), mainly because we feel that having them is a right.
For the same reason we still try, as a society, to encourage families to have children.
But, does it make sense?

Shouldn't a behavior that actually damages the society, the human kind and the whole world alltogether be considered more like a crime, rather than a right?
I know this is a strong statement, but it is really a question.
I am not immune to cultural biases either, so that question scares me as well.
But I do know that sometimes truth can be scary, because it shakes our belief system, but I grew accustomed to this, I know that scary or not does not change the fact that it is the truth.

I also imagine many of you will say things like : "If your parents thought the same thing, you would not be here blogging" and yes, I can see that, but, so what?
Isn't this an incredibly egoistic thing to say?
Each one of us feels special, but from the community point of view we are just another human contributing both with good and bad interactions.
I try my best, most of the time, to ensure that my contribution to the society is worth the air I breathe and the food I eat, sometimes I question it (and I believe that's a good exercise).

Can our society still consider that having babies is a human right?
Should rights be demoted to "cultural habits" and eventually to "bad habits coming from a past, different, context" when they damage the society?

Pick your answer and try to be consistent with facts.