culture ethics politics

rights and responsibilities

Three recent events, a complaint about a sermon, a movie about Margaret Thatcher and a FB conversation about gun laws, have me reflecting on the tendencies of ‘left-wingers’ and ‘right-wingers’.  Both left and right folk will express concern for both ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, but at different times.

On the topic of social welfare:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the poor/unemployed
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the poor/unemployed

On the topic of gun laws:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of gun owners
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of gun ownership/use

On the topic of war:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of all humans to have peace
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of defending peace

On the topic of abortion:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the woman
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the man and woman

On the topic of ‘the environment’:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of individuals and businesses
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of individuals and businesses

In all of these scenarios, I am interested in embracing the tension between BOTH rights AND responsibilities.  I’m interested in BOTH short-term practicalities, AND long-term wisdom.

I’m interested in social policy that is both generous and sustainable – that avoids the extremes of too much or too little assistance, which (ironically) both end up cementing the poor in their poverty.

I’m interested in gun laws that are both practical and wise – that avoid the foolish extremes of taking guns away or assuming that no regulation is needed at all – both of which will end up causing harm.

I’m interested in a military policy that is both prepared to use force, and seeks to be accountable to human rights – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic and passive pacifism on one hand, and a short-sighted/arrogant agression on the other.

I’m interested in an abortion policy that is committed to the quality and quantity of life for both the pre-born human and the mother (and father, family…) – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic, legislate-heaven-to-earth, fantasy on one hand, and a careless, inhumane, abortion-as-contraception nightmare on the other.

I’m interested in environmental policy that uses both legislation and education to motivate people and businesses to care for creation – avoiding the extremes of avoidance and assumptions that all is OK on one hand, and aggressive, undemocratic pushing through of eco-laws on the other.

3 replies on “rights and responsibilities”

Both ‘left’ and ‘right’ perspectives indeed should not be seen as two sides to any of the social issues you have listed, but rather as a ‘holistic’ perspective. They need to be placed side by side as if at a negotiating table rather than opposite each other across the table. This is more likely to resolve the issue.
As a landlord who has recently been in contact with ‘poor’ people (ie less ‘well off’ than we are) I’m struck by other circumstances that these folk are in that go deeper than their finances. In fact their finances are a result of personal perspectives (and therefore lifestyle), created no doubt by family and maybe cultural background. This sort of critique is, of course, a social minefield especially in the light of being politically correct. The picture also has to incorporate the responsibilities and praticipation of those more well off as well.
I recommend a book, which I think covers these topics well, called ‘Walking with the Poor:Principles and Practices of Transformational Development’, by Bryant L. Meyers. It is focussed primarily on third world applications, but it could well be applied to all top order ‘developed’ societies. Probably more so, since the invasive and seducing effect of western monoculturalism is currently so powerful. This book could well be applied in critiquing the perspectives we have about our own cultural issues.

many thanks BC,
Excellent thoughts, and good book recommendation (Peter Reid was reading it last year at Carey).
Enjoying the heck out of that new album of Lydia’s! :)

Comments are closed.