Oct
14

Human Rights Exhaustion

In the end, when our civilization and way of life collapses, it will not be because some foreign enemy laid us low. The rot that will destroy us will be home grown.

The lingering decay was on display in Milford recently, where school officials banned Halloween celebrations in the elementary schools lest they offend those who would not participate, apparently on religious grounds.

This brand of idiocy made national news, and a laughing stock out of Milford school officials.

In the end, school officials relented, and let the kids have their parades, and wear their costumes, responding to pressure from outraged parents. “‘Everything has gotten to the point where everything has gotten so P.C. that kids are not allowed to have any fun any more,’” wrote one parent.

There is no sin quite so grave as exclusion, you see.

Jim Richitelli, a senior administrator in the Milford schools explained the short-lived ban this way: “Milford Public Schools do have many children from diverse beliefs, cultures and religions…. The goal is for all children to feel comfortable and definitely not alienated when they come to school.”

“Diversity,” eh?

Maybe kids ought not be exposed to the Pledge of Allegiance, lest anarchists be offended. And why Christmas break? What would Mohammed say?

Forgive me if I cling to a way of life into which I was born and raised. I may not be a flag-waving patriot, but I might become one if I’m told that I must yield to the ubiquitous other.

We live in an era of identity politics. We are less interested in what people do than who they are. In the name of diversity, we must offend no one, lest someone claim their human rights were violated.

I am beginning to suffer human rights exhaustion.

During the past several months, I’m told that Black Lives Matter. Then comes the Moslem immigrant, or is it refugee? Then, last week, former President Bill Clinton spoke passionately about the need for a transgender bill of rights. We’ve forgotten, suddenly, the urgent needs of immigrants from the Southern hemisphere, and the Palestinians, well, let’s have another intifada, shall we? It’s good for ratings.

Each week, a new group, a new identity, claims the urgent need for recognition. If we dare say no to anyone, we’re not diverse enough.

There’s a loopy logic to all this. We need to recognize it and call it out before its too late.

Not long ago, I listened to an interview of a Syrian immigrant to Germany. He was disappointed by what he found when he arrived in Northern Europe. It wasn’t what he had imagined, or, more to the point, what he had imagined he had been promised.

“What about my human rights?” he asked.

Just where do human rights come from? No sovereign grants them. That’s the point. Our Declaration of Independence declares that some rights are inalienable. The French Declaration several decades later notes that rights are common to all. So too does the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

We are all entitled to equal respect, dignity and consideration simply because, well, we are. It is the differences between us that now must be justified. Differences are suspect. We must justify them.

But rights are not self-executing. It takes will, and a corresponding sense of duty in others, to make rights more than empty promises. Thus the Syrian’s complaint at the border: I have arrived, he told the world. Now your duty is to take care for me.

What happens when there are so many claimants that the will to respond to them is depleted? Candidly, I won’t lose a moment’s sleep over the lack of a transgender bill of rights, not a wink.

That’s not because I think transgender folk have no rights. They do. We all do. I just am not inclined to rally to the barricades each time a new group raises the hue and cry. Each right adds to the list of duties I am expected to fulfill.

Life together in common is challenging. Each of us struggles to advance our interests with the tools at hand. Human rights talk is easily bastardized into a tawdry form of identity politics. Your right becomes my obligation.

Lurking just at the periphery of many discussions about race in the United States is a discussion of the need to make financial reparations to people of color. One of this year’s MacArthur Award winners, Ta-Nieshi Coates, made a case for reparations earlier this year in The Atlantic.

Just how big should my check be?

Identity politics, the pursuit of diversity for diversity’s sake, human rights and the incessant press for some vision of equality that offends no one are the insipid language of our times. It’s small wonder that the Milford schools caught the virus. Halloween offends? Let’s ban Halloween!

One used to say of a person with complex judgments that they had discriminating tastes. But the word discrimination now has a foul taste to it. Unless we accord to each his due, we’re moral criminals. It is better to adopt a mindless sort of nihilism or moral equivalence: that offends no one.

Call me a crabby old man, but were I a Milford resident, I'd be calling for the resignation of the geniuses who cooked up the Halloween ban. Just how can educators claim to mold character when they are afraid to take a stand lest someone’s feelings be hurt?

Sure, it’s a goofy holiday, with pagan, and irreligious overtones. But what of it? If someone is offended, so be it.

The Roman orator Cicero once said that a republic is more than a mere collection of folks sharing common interests. It is also a people bound together by common values. The public space is a place of shared values.

Respecting all doesn’t mean hiding your own commitments. Respect for others begins with respect for oneself. Do they get that in Milford?

Happy Halloween.

Related topics: Journal Register Columns
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

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Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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