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Mainstream, VOL L, No 33, August 4, 2012

Universal Human Rights Are Neither Universal Nor Rights

Thursday 9 August 2012, by Sunita Samal


Though in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack in the US and the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq there is a shift from deconstruction towards politics, deconstruction is of great assistance to the post-human culture and power studies when it comes to analysing its relation-ship with politics. The world of simultaneous homogenising forces around market capitalism, information technology and global consumerism begs the question as to whether there is the appearance of a single universal system. They have tended to place human rights in a transcendental position with respect to all other discourses.

Democracy and peace do not necessarily go together. The mainstream is always made up of contentious minorities who disallow one another from reaching hegemony. Minorities can respond simultaneously from many locations of the world. Many dissents have considered ways to move across centres and peripheries instead of encouraging one-way travel to a fictitiously fixed notion of identity from where one tries to overcome differences. These actions point to majority trends in a certain ideal in typical ways with the West carrying its promises around the world. Peripheries do not move into centres but centres continue to move into peripheries. The process takes us beyond any simple or absolute unit and into a realm that diversifies majoritarian thinking. Nationalism is easily walked through in international relations living with better developed minority status than ours. That is the logic behind the end of universality.

There is a storm. The love between the writer and reader is never celebrated in the post-modern era. There is a potentially shifting identity. The reader enters through the text into another’s space imaginatively and in ways that enhance identification. The text travels to the reader as the space read repositions the characters and connects the reader in new ways. There is also a shifting construction.

In the name of tolerance, it denies that the invented others to whom one give space could possibly have something in common with one’s self. A coherent politics of empathy could be imagined as a real possibility for the future. Still others will readily go on reconstructing to make the world a better place. It is a political home which would ideally represent all.

Its politics can be nostalgic. The more inclusive and more tolerant, the stronger and wiser the nation. It will stick us around national politics where those who embarked will certainly learn what it means to be without stable majoritarian aspirations as a person. Benedict Aderson’s argument is that a national community need be no less for being imagined. Identifications are sometimes more pressing than those relating to being exclusive. Peripheries become increasingly difficult to classify over time experiencing divided or multiple selves practising different identities according to private and public circumstances.Therefore, the distinction between minorities and majorities become blurred. In some cases, global communication networks provide every individual with a distorted image or a stereotytpe of all the others. This is raising gigantic obstacles before any dialogue.
There is sparring within the mainstream of the field which gives the impression that nations welcome controversy and now constuctivists and rationalists are having their day. The reader enters through the text into another’s space, imaginatively enhancing identification. Is there an alternative location of reason?

Are rights and justice bourgeiois concepts? The liberal order has hardly the capacity to penetrate the outside of the order. The problem is: how to take constitutive power of universalist reason beyond object and order to form a constitutive outside. Universality cannot solve the problem of public/private dichotomy. A Kantian tradition emphasises the impersonal character of morality and stresses that reason has to be universally appropriate if it is to be moral. But until we settle the domain over which law universalises, the requirement of universality does not yeild any particular content. Universalism in human beings cannot rest without recourse to the question of otherness.

The central and most urgent political paradox of our time is communication. Technology can no longer be separated from everyday life. Its influence is so powerful, its integration is so seamless that it no longer makes sense to think of ourselves as human beings. The obsession with extreame culture to explore the possibility of seeing beyond its surface can no more distinguish human individual from its objects. Human beings see it in a deceptive form which brings about an end to human rights. It encounters its own limit.

Dr Sunita Samal, who resides in Bhubaneswar, is a former Research Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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