International Human Duties

A few days ago I watched an interesting documentary about China. In the Marxist China, some smart students ask themselves ‘is this it?’ and therefore started to study the works of Confucius. These students said some interesting stuff that made me think about our current individualistic society and our taken for granted Western ideas and Eurocentrism. This is what one of the students said in the documentary:

‘In the Chinese texts there is not a lot written about rights. In the Chinese body of thoughts the emphasis is on the opposite: duties. This means that people find eachother the most important. I take your rights into account and you take my rights into account. In this way it’s not about my rights but about how I respect your rights.’
‘Here [in China] child obedience is important. Everybody thinks that’s bad. As if it’s a means of power, in a totalitarian system. But in the Classics it’s more about obedience and fatherly care. It’s about how you treat each other. Not about oppression of the one by the other. Not like in the West where there is so much attention for rights. In the West everybody demands his ‘natural rights’. They talk a lot about human rights. If you are always emphasizing your own rights, you only think about your own desires. So the West puts too much weight on desires and not enough on reason.’
It’s an interesting way of just looking at our own daily lifes I guess. In which perspective am I living it? Making sure my own rights are recognized and respected, or making sure other people’s rights are taken care of? I guess it’s a mix of both though. But it makes a difference between indivualist acting and family/community oriented acting. Though, I think the best would be a balance between these two ways (maybe I’m too Western to let go of my own rights ^^ but I see that acknowledging my own needs, and feelings and being is so important to being able to be fully present and live up to my full potential in order to be there for others and take care of others and stuff in the right way. To contribute in a beautiful way to this world)
I like how they turn our way of thinking around. And how clearly they show us that these Universal Human Rights are so eurocentric. I knew that already but never saw it in this way. Maybe China should declare Universal Human Duties and set up the Human Duty Watch around the world to make sure these human duties are fulfilled! =D I think in the end they will probably most of the time work on the same cases as the Human Rights Watch is working on. I mean, probably there where Human Rights are not respected, Human Duties are not respected. But I also think that there is a nuance to it, and they’ll end up also working on some different cases than the Human Rights cases. I’m not sure, it’s just a feeling, a hunch. Maybe something to do with those countries that have a big mouth about human rights and how they should be respected in other countries and then invade those countries with NGO’s and organizations and the army even, telling them what to do, while at the same time they are not actively fullfilling their own human duties, and passively letting stuff happen, in their own countries, or in countries without some kind of power/economic interest.

Then, a few days after watching this, I read a really interesting article about our consumption society. Let’s stop hiding behind recycling and be honest about consumption Basically it says that we are hiding behind ‘recycling’ and lowering our nation’s carbonfootprint in production in order not to address the issue of overconsumption that lies behind it. Pointing our finger to the others, because after all, we are reducing our carbonfootprint by many percents right?!

Well, no. We are just measuring the pollution we create in a way that we come out positively, in a way that it easens our conscience, so that we can just continue living our lives, consuming, the way we’ve always done.

“When nations negotiate global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, they are held responsible only for the gases produced within their own borders. Partly as a result of this convention, these tend to be the only ones that countries count. When these “territorial emissions” fall, they congratulate themselves on reducing their carbon footprints. But as markets of all kinds have been globalised, and as manufacturing migrates from rich nations to poorer ones, territorial accounting bears ever less relationship to our real impacts.”

Why, when national emissions have been cut down by 20%, world emission has risen by 20% over the past 20 years? It’s really easy: we have displaced the production of our consumption goods to other countries like China. About 45% of China’s emissions comes from production for our Western countries! Isn’t that a bit hypocrite? Also, according to the same article still, we measure the carbon impact of services like heating and transport, forgetting about the huge impact the production of consumption goods has.

This all made me think: aren’t we, as Western consumerist societies, transgressing International Human Duties? (If they would really exist). Aren’t we depriving the world from essential needs, of Human Rights of clean water, clean air, enough food in the future, basic needs really?! Aren’t we all committing a major crime against humanity?! I can totally imagine in the future, big leaders of countries and big companies being sued and put in jail because of crimes against humanity they committed in the past (past being right now). If we would start thinking more about our International Human Duties, instead of our rights, maybe we would realize that what we are doing, is really unforgivable.

Moreover, it’s always easy to say it’s the government and the big CEO’s that should change their way of leading countries and businesses. But let’s not forget our role in this story. If we start changing our perspective and our behaviour, together we can have a big impact on our surroundings too, which will lead to an impact on businesses and government policies for sure. What can we do for our communities, with our communities? It starts by empowering each other, cultivating awareness about our habits, our consumption habits and thought patterns. It start by awakening our passion for the world, for our communities, for each other, for mother earth. So that with this understanding and motivation we will actually start changing our habits. There are already many initiatives and projects that try to empower people in changing their habits. But we need more of this! Let’s think about ways to empower eachother in this process, in all domains from the clothes we buy to the food we consume, from our overal lifestyle to our attitude in society to our own inner consumption habit.

[ For Dutch (and Chinese) speakers. The documentary I watched was an episode of Tegenlicht, spoken in Chinese, subtitled in Dutch and can be found here]

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