Human Rights for Tomorrow

30 April 2008

The Persistence of Discrimination

March against discriminations . . . by youkeo, with Creative Commons licenceDiscrimination isn’t always obvious, and it’s often explained away as something else. Racial discrimination becomes a matter of ‘unsuitability’, social discrimination becomes a lack of proper ‘skills’, discrimination against people with disabilities becomes an attempt to redefine what’s ‘normal’. There are even situations in which the very possibility of discrimination is rejected because ‘that sort of thing doesn’t happen here’. That’s hardly a logical position, but there’s no real defence against it.

What can you say to someone whose mindset fails to accept the presence of discrimination at all? To give an example mentioned here previously, how do we react to the Hong Kong government’s refusal to even address, in law, acts of racial discrimination outside the workplace? Long-standing claims by the Chief Executive that his government’s policies are “people-based” clearly depend on what sort of person you are – your skin colour, your wealth, whether or not you’re prepared to be critical.

But Hong Kong is just a dot on the map when it comes to the many forms of discrimination, both covert and overt, that deny human rights around the globe. A world that has nourished discrimination based on race, class, sex, perceived ability and any other deviation from a shifting sense of ‘normality’ will always throw up barriers to change, to the natural right to be treated as a fellow human, without fear or favour. Still, even as the struggle for human rights continues there is one area in which discrimination could well be stamped on before it properly takes hold – genetics.

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Being Led Astray

6 April 2008

On e-Books and Eugenics

Shock, by Meredith_Farmer, with Creative Commons licence The Internet is a bit like the sea here in the Pearl River Delta: sometimes it washes up curios, little gems of information, but at others it vomits grotesquries upon us. Clicking through the Clustr map in the sidebar on the right today to check visitor locations I noticed an advertisement for a free online book. Having spent time this week watching someone grow increasingly frustrated with actually trying to use Google Adwords, and given my previously mentioned interest in e-books and copyright-free sharing, I decided to take a look.

The link led to the dedicated website for a pamphlet by a retired professor of Russian literature, John Glad. Not entirely interesting you might think. A quick search of Amazon will produce a list of volumes edited and translated by the good professor. He apparently gained a little notoriety in the 1980s by predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union. But his is hardly a household name. Wikipedia has a posted a notice on his biography stating that it “may not meet the general notability guideline” for such entries.

figurines, creator unknown, dowloaded from whatwemaybe.orgSo what’s the fuss? Glad’s pamphlet is entitled “Future Human Evolution: Eugenics in the Twenty-First Century” and the site’s only graphic is a play on the famous monkey to man illustration that often accompanies latter day editions of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Except this is of what appears to be South Americans in a line, the last sitting on a Donkey. Mexicans waiting in a US immigration queue?

Maybe not, but it’s suggestive and pulled me away from what I was already writing about. Eugenics, put mildly, is the selective breeding of humans. Like cattle. The elimination of the weakest genetic strains, to be a little more precise. It might be possible to do that humanely, but who decides? And what ethical right does anyone have to make the choice? Eugenics reached its ‘scientific’ zenith during the First World War and its horrific climax with the Nazis in the Second World War.

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