Should law be an instrument of global social change and human rights, or should we leave that up to religion?
These are tough questions that you ask. First you have to define " traditional western values”. Are they from the inner city; the middle class suburbs or the vanishing lifestyle of the farmers that were once considered to be the icon of western traditional values? They all have major faults when viewed from a global perspective. When anyone talks about global consideration, it is economics that is the real issue, without the hope of substantial monetary gain; the resources will not be made available for any purpose.
Personally, I think the concept of western traditional values is a cliché. The term “traditional values” implies empowerment, an honored code of conduct, time tested through the generations for acceptable social behavior inside and outside of the family. These values work only when there is predictable stability in the family; now and in the foreseeable future. In the U.S. this stability has been shaken to the core by the financial leverage corporations have placed against family values. Major employers like Ford, Chrysler, General Motors and IBM use to place a high priority on family values. Their employees assumed a high status in the community because of their salary and job stability. Today the same corporations place a high priority on financial gain and their concern for family is all but non-existent. Their loyalty has shifted from the employee to the shareholder. Down sizing, mergers (especially in the banking industry), job outsourcing to other countries and the reduction or elimination of employee benefits and retirement plans has routed family stability. In western culture it is no longer the family that has value and clout; it is the corporation. Even our laws are enacted to benefit the corporation. The seat belt laws, enacted in many states, were passed for the financial benefit of the insurance companies. Sure they save lives, but that consideration was secondary.
What does the western way of life really have to offer? In order for any meaningful change to take place large amounts of money have to be poured into the “project”. Look at the Iraq situation. Literally tens of billions of dollars are being dumped into it every year, and none of it is to make their living conditions better; it is to try to effect change. Corporations are the only source for enough money to make it desirable for people to want to change. Increase their standard of living and the likeliness that they will be on board is better. But then you have to deal with the effects of the corporate agenda. McDonalds will give them more accessible food, but at what cost? The quality compared to traditional food is by far inferior. Exploitation of a new cheap labor market is a corporate dream.
How can corporate exploitation possibly replace traditional values in a meaningful way?
I thought about the religion side of the issue and I am not sure it is a good choice either. There are many examples where missionaries have gone into “ uncivilized “ regions and have converted the people to the Christian way; and after abandoning their traditional beliefs and life styles, those people resorted to prostitution and alcoholism as survival and coping mechanisms. The anthropologist Margaret Mead spent much of her life studying the consequences of abrupt change in the various cultures of North America. She coined the phrase “The generation gap” to describe what happens when the adults of a culture are put in a socially impotent position by abrupt change. In this particular assignment she studied early twentieth century immigrants to the United States that didn’t speak English and were not familiar with local social norms. They worked in factories for meager wages and their life style was inferior to that which they came from. Their children grew up in the new environment and became fluent speakers of English. There was a social break down within the families because the adults had to rely on their children for language interpretation and other social needs. Because of this, the children held a higher social status within the family than the adults. Traditional parental respect was abandoned and the children went to their peers for advice rather than their parents. Her book came out before the full consequences of this break down could be seen. However, I believe it is the loss of the traditional parental respect and support, which she called the “generation gap” that is leading to the demise of the extended family tradition and to moral decline.
Religion alone is not equipped to deal with the consequences of the break down of traditional social values from abrupt change. I still believe an educational approach to the issue is a better and less traumatic solution.
I have a couple of problems with international law being a suitable answer. First, just the enactment of a law by others outside of the culture being legislated implies inequality. That is that the legislators, in passing the law, feel that they have the moral and legal right to impose their views on another culture. When England colonized Australia, they thought it was within their moral and legal rights to take Aboriginal children from their parents and put them in orphanages where the children were brutally and savagely beaten in an attempt to get them to “give up” their heathen ways. As a natural offshoot of this initial legislation more laws were enacted that stripped the Aborigines of their right to use “ their” land. Afterwards these indigenous people were treated as an inferior race, giving them menial servant style jobs many being servitude in nature. This was done because the legislating British felt their culture was superior to the Aboriginal culture and it was in children’s best interest to do so.
The second reason why I have an issue with any law as a mechanism for change is that laws, by their very nature are: full of loopholes, misinterpreted, abused and often superceded or outdated. This manipulation of the law(s) gives an inequitable advantage to the legislating culture.
The last reason I will give here is that often after the damage of the legislation and subsequent exploitation has been done; how do you undo it? In the case of the Aborigines, it has been found that they are the oldest continuous culture on the planet. Who has the legal or moral right to legislate that away?
I Agree, Elone, corporate exploitation is a bad alternative and should be rejected. If I understand your argumentation above, it seems that you choose the capitalist model to describe western culture.
In that light, the western way of life has little to offer in ways of a caring society. I believe you would agree. In order to sustain itself, the concept of capitalism demands the protection of the economic interests of a select and powerful group within that society. These interests are disconnected from the welfare of the most vulnerable in that same society. Laws in a capitalist model, therefore, would first be designed to maintain the economic strength of the elite.
On a global scale: those elitist interests still apply, but now outside the scope of national law. An undesirable situation!
It is my believe that international law would be a workable instrument within the process of global implementation of human rights.
Positive social change can only take place within a culture in which equality based on care rather then competition is a notion of vital moral value.
Elone, reading over this thread again I spotted in my entry of January fifth the following: '...interests still apply, but now outside the scope of national law. An undesirable situation!' I hope that you did not pick that up wrongly. I did not advocate the application of a forreign national law in an other (occupied) country. My intention was to reject invasion (colonialsation) for it allows the occupier to operate outside any law (justice) whatsoever resulting into cultural/economic travesty. And THAT would be the undesirable situation.
Sorry for not being too clear in the first place...
Laws are always enacted to benefit one side to the perceived detriment of another. The British tried it with Apartheid and the United States tried it with Prohibition, they both brought resistance instead of change. Change implies acceptance of behavior modification, while the enactment of laws implies the resistance toward these changes. Along with the law is needed a policing policy with penalties for non-conformity which could lead to more resistance. A better way might be through education
I am in total agreement with your last post, Elone. I believe that law should be a guaranty for JUSTICE. Alas, that is indeed not a global notion.
'Justice' seems often subject to politically or religiously motivated moral projections and dogmas, and, to gross greed for economic power. In those cases, respect (as a vital element of justice) seems badly compromised.
Could the UN have a more positive and constructive role in promoting and implementing the idea of Human Rights?
In the light your post, could one argue that traditional family values, as practiced in our western world, are perhaps not equipped to deal with necessary global social change?
Intolerance towards critical observations of traditional values, often adds to problems concerning human rights and social well being.
As you state, the opposite can be true too, I agree. Since both views seem to have merit, might we not have to question traditional values too?
The US' economic interest in Iraq is holier to them than God himself. Even if the UN would see justice through Human Rights as a priority (and I still would like to believe that), it would take a true miracle before they would be able to stop the US from gaining and strengthening those interests. And as we all know, the US is willing to protect its interests with weapons of mass destruction. The UN does not operate in that realm.
Our beliefs may, or may not, inform our view of human rights and global justice, but on its own they will never be enough. Whilst 'religious' interference in law and government is very risky, it is up to all 'women and men of good will' (as my friend in the Jubilee Debt Campaign puts it) to let their governments know that we as voters prioritise global justice and human rights.
I agree that there needs to be some way to champion human rights on a global scale. However, I believe that the U.N. in its present form has shown itself to be ill equipped to be the principal organization to do it. They were powerless, inspite of their overwhelming objection, to stop the United States from invading Iraq.
Without legislation, how do you suppose the U.N. would be able to effect human rights changes? We all would like to believe that the U. N. doesn’t operate in the realm of weaponry to achieve its goals, but the sad truth is that the countries providing coalition forces are also members of the United Nations.
Law. But law needs to be implemented more effectively.
It should be founded on education, honing of individual morality, and the ability to distinguish right from wrong.