Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What's the deal with human rights?

China seems to have backed out of their promise to decrease infringements on human rights during the Olympic Games next month in Beijing by blocking foreign journalists access to certain websites (though I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that these websites are blocked to everyone in China, journalists just won't be the exception they had hoped they would). 

I have two roommates, a married couple, from China. One of them has been living here since January 1, and since that time we've had several discussions about Western opinion and criticism of China, particularly its government. He doesn't understand why Western societies, particularly the U.S., harps on China's human rights record since a) the U.S. has an equally bad human rights record, and b) the people of China are happy with the way things are, and c) incidents like the Tienanmen Square protest were so long ago.

I find flaws in his arguments, but I admit that I haven't pressed the issue very hard for two reasons: because I know very little about China, and because I have a western bias. He hasn't swayed me on my belief in human rights, but I haven't changed his mind either and I don't expect to. I don't think we know the whole truth about China, considering the inherent bias of all media, but I don't think he does either, and I think there is something to what we hear about the Chinese government, whether it's worse or better than we're told.
I firmly believe that governments are a human invention ("Well, duh," I hear you saying, but what I mean is I don't think any god gave us the idea, or created us to be able to have the idea). If it wasn't for government laws, we could literally do whatever we wanted (inside the laws of physics, of course), and while I'm thankful we have laws to deter most people from killing, raping, plundering, etc., I don't agree with laws that prevent us from ruling ourselves like China's ban on certain websites — or Canada's laws against drug use, but that's another tangent.  
Though I'm not a spiritual person, I do believe in truth (I think it lies somewhere between both sides of the story) and I believe we all have a right to seek it. Maybe the Falun Gong are a cult, and maybe the Dali Lama is a terrorist, but if that's the case, shouldn't people have a right to figure that out for themselves? 

Governments shouldn't put parental controls on their people and censor what information they have access to — the people are supposed to control the government (and I think that applies in all forms of government. Even if you have a dictator, aren't they, in theory, supposed to carry out the will of the people?). If the government is so convinced that they're right, what are they so afraid people will find out?

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