Friday, August 14, 2009

Dignity and Respect

Which is the core of radical ideology. Everybody and even everything is entitled to dignity and respect. Which is so much fun to say and sounds so right. But is it true?

Where does the entitlement come from? Is it a right? Where do rights come from? Are they G_d-given? Are radicals, who rarely believe in G_d other than some sort of New Age vagueness, in good faith in claiming the agency of a deity in Whom they do not believe? If they are not in good faith, i.e. lying, why are they entitled to be listened to at all?

Many, perhaps most, radicals profess at least an interest in Buddhism, though almost always painfully, embarrassingly, ignorant of it. And Buddhism is quite pointedly atheistic. Not agnostic - atheistic. In Buddhism the underlying reality behind the world of appearance is the Void - emptiness, nada, zippidee do dah, nothing, zip. Not Hashem, not any system or order, and certainly not rights or entitlements.

So Goat's assertion that there is an entitlement to dignity and respect seems at best groundless, at worst hypocritical. When examined, the fundamental proposition is simply a bare assertion unsupported by any rationale. It is a prejudice. A superstition.

Are mosquitoes entitled to respect? Or entitled to be swatted for their bloodsucking? Are pneumococcus bacteria that invade the lungs to be treated with honor? Or treated with antibiotics?

Of course this is academic when speaking of insects or germs. The real debate is whether all people are entitled to dignity and respect - without regard to their actions or merits.

The seminal image in this discussion is Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks, for the benefit of the young and ignorant, that is to say the Irish, according to legend was the African-American cleaning lady who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus in 1955. By so doing she sparked the Montgomery bus boycott of that year, led by a young preacher named Martin Luther King. Which rapidly blossomed into the Civil Rights movement. According to the legend, her reason for refusing was that she had worked hard all day as a cleaning lady and her feet hurt.

So the question has been proposed as "Is a humble cleaning lady entitled to dignity and respect?" In the dual context of a religion in which the meek inherit the earth (just not this earth) and a much spoken-of but rarely applied notion of the dignity of labor, the answer was yes.

Never mind that the legend is a lie. So far from a cleaning lady, Rosa Parks had been for 10 years the Secretary (i.e. head) of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP. Rosa Parks was neither meek nor was she labor. Her act was not that of a tired cleaning lady but a deliberate political provocation by the head of a political organization representing half the population of Montgomery. The Montgomery bus boycott was not a spontaneous uprising but a planned political campaign.

The fact that the legend is a lie does not change the equities and inequities of the struggle over integration. But it does show that politicians, even those representing downtrodden minorities, are lying scumbags. Hardly a revelation. And that any claim of vast moral superiority, such as that claimed by the Civil Rights Movement, is generally based on wanton and shameless lying. And, one might add, on the willingness 0f large numbers of the public to be duped. And it shows the power of a fun lie as opposed to a boring truth.

But that is an aside. The real question is not if Rosa Parks, whether cleaning lady or opposition politician, is entitled to dignity and respect. It is whether the guy who got on the bus in hopes of snatching a cleaning lady's purse is also.

Put differently, are dignity and respect things to be earned in some way? Do they flow from merit? Does one have to do or be something in order to deserve them? Or are they automatic?

And is everyone equally entitled to dignity and respect? Is a purse snatcher who preys on the poor entitled to the same dignity and respect as someone hard-working, underprivileged, harming no one, someone like the imaginary Rosa Parks, whose pitiful wages he steals?

Is the pathetic loser, given every opportunity but who nevertheless descends to exploiting and abusing everyone around him, entitled to the same respect and dignity as Mother Theresa? Whether the exploitation and abuse are local and personal like individual junkies or national like Idi Amin, are the undeserving to be accorded equal dignity and respect with the meritorious? If so, why?

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