PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, February 05, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Minority Rights

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Minority Rights.

We are also fortunate to have three essays for our subject; Charles
kindly sent us some of his ideas on the topic despite his work pressure;
Ruel, no doubt, wrote one of his usual authoritative essays on the topic
(I don't read the essays before I send out the email) and I have tried
to share with you some of my ideas on the subject.

My basic position is that I am not too keen about speaking of minority
rights; for me there are only rights that we all have in equal measure
by virtue of being born a human being. Thus, from my perspective there
are two basic issues about our topic: first, our topic is basically
about conflict resolution, and secondly, how do we persuade some people
who believe that they have some special rights, over and above the
others, that such rights do not exist? The challenge for us is to find
an objective method that will help us decide whether a right does exist.

Hello Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote on Sunday's PhiloMadrid topic:
Thanks. See you on Sunday.
All the best,


MINORITY RIGHTS (or what rights should minorities be endowed with) – AN

The issue of Minority Rights has become a constant and ever increasing
subject of discussion and controversy both in governments and in the
public at large in Western countries. Almost on a daily basis we read or
hear about minorities whose rights – or who consider that their rights
-- are not being properly attended or indeed violated. We appear also to
learn more and more often concerning the reaction of minorities (in the
Western world) who are starting to react forcefully and even violently
at what they consider discriminating attitudes towards them by either
the public or even more importantly, by governments of the countries in
which they reside.

It would be rather presumptuous on my part even to pretend that I can
give a proper answer to the very complex issue to the problem of what
are (or should be) the rights of minorities. Nonetheless I will attempt
at putting some of the issues revolving around Minority Rights into (my)
perspective and submit these to your better judgement.

For starters lets us look at the concept of "minorities". What really
constitutes a minority (or minorities)? Do ten people constitute a
minority or would maybe a hundred people or possibly a thousand people
constitute a minority? Is it really a question of sheer numbers, or is
there anything else involved in considering a number of people
constituent of a "minority" . There are possibly as many definitions of
the concept "minority" as there are people approaching the subject. For
the time being I would consider that a definition offered in 1977 by
Francesco Capotorti (Special Rapporteur to the United Nations
Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of
Minorities) provided the following definition:
"A minority is a group of numerically inferior to the rest of the
population of a State,
in a non-dominant position, whose members—being nationals of the
State—possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing
from those of the rest of the population and show, if only implicitly, a
sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture,
traditions, religion or language.

While the nationality criterion included in this definition has often
been challenged, the requirement to be in a non-dominant position
remains to my liking as quite important. In many instances a minority
group will be a minority in numerical numbers, but in other situations a
numerical majority may also find itself in a minority-like or in a
non-dominant position, such as for instance Blacks under the apartheid
regime in South Africa.

Secondly, exactly what is meant by the concept of "(human) rights".
Again, borrowing from the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, the
definition reads:
Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever their
nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour,
religion, language, or any other status. Minorities are all equally
entitled to the recognition of human rights without discrimination.
These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

Western countries ever more so than before go to great lengths to ensure
that minorities occupy their rightful place in their societies, and yet
those countries appear to encounter the most trouble with Minorities,
then their Eastern counterparts. Nowhere and never before has there been
so much concern regarding the well-being of minority groups as there is
in the West, and yet, Europe and North America have to cope with very
angry minorities. What is it then that those Minorities are trying (or
demanding) to achieve, at times rather violently.

The concept of Minority Rights to my mind is already a misnomer. Why
should we talk, or why should we even consider, the term "Minority"
Rights. The concept Rights cannot have a qualification. To speak of
Minority Rights should put us immediately on guard, as it does appear to
seek the establishment of an echelon over and above the Rights of the
Majority. Rights are Rights, and Minorities who wish to achieve – if
that is what they try to achieve – recognition of equal status with
their Majority brethren should not seek to have Minority Rights, but
simply "Rights". Or is it really parity that which Minorities wish to
achieve, and not a special status, ie some type of exemption to the
rules by which the Majority is governed. If such special recognition is
what Minorities seek to achieve it would mean yet again that their aim
is to differentiate themselves from the Majority, and we are so to
speak, back to square one, namely that by achieving a special status
they become differentiated from the Majority and again are not on equal
footing with their Majority brethren.

Suppose for sake of argument that a Minority which comes from a far off
land consider it part of their cultural heritage to make human
sacrifices; a tradition dating back to hundreds of generations and which
give that particular Minority their sense of belonging. Could a western
democratic country ruled by law tolerate such a tradition? Or, to take
another example, an ethnic Minority which claims as their inherited
right to bury the widow with her deceased husband. Again, could a
Western society tolerate such practice? To both examples the answer
would surely be nay. And yet, Minorities could be well-posed to demand
from the Majority the right to continue such practices, undisturbed.

We go then back to the question of "what are then Minority Rights"?
Should not Minorities in claiming for their Rights trying to achieve
equal and not differentiated treatment from the Majorities?

It would appear reasonable then to assume that when a given Minority
seeks asylum in a country for political, religious, ethnic or whatever
other reasons, it also accepts the fact that the given country has
rules, norms and regulations that they will have to adhere to, as those
rules, etc are the basic norms that the Majority living in that country
has given itself. And further, should it not be accepted by such
Minorities that every Right carries with itself also a Duty, and that
Duty is precisely to abide by the laws and customs of the country that
grants them asylum.


Minority rights

The impression we might get from a general title like -minority rights-
is that minorities might not have any rights, or maybe they have some
special rights different from the rest of us or even still, they ought
to have some extra rights which the rest of us should not have.

Of course, this topic does not mean any of the above mainly because
right are granted to people by virtue of being born and being a human
being. To have rights one does not need any further qualification and we
are all granted the same standard issue rights. Like in most military
institutions, personnel who have blue eyes do not get to wear blue
coloured uniforms and the rest brown coloured uniforms or whatever.

So our topic is really about abusing the rights of a group of people by
being different from the rest of society. In other words, the topic is
about discrimination and racism.

A rough and ready definition of discrimination is to apply different
criteria towards someone to exclude them or disadvantage them from
something. And the justification for this disadvantage is some
characteristic of the person: they are short, belong to a different
religion, their sexual orientation, their gender, etc. Racism is
basically to disadvantage someone for the sole reason that they are from
a different social or genetic group. Usually, based on colour of skin,
maybe the accent they speak our language and habits and customs.

The biggest challenge we have is not that discrimination or racism are
whimsical dispositions we have from time to time. But rather
discrimination and racism are embedded in us as a left over from our
primitive and primordial state of existence. The problem is that these
primordial instincts have not been filtered out by the evolutionary
process partly because evolutionary strides tended to favour the
development of the brain in human beings rather than remove redundant

We therefore find ourselves in the rather surreal situation of being
able to create wonderful technologies, such as television and radio,
build super structures, like stadia, not to mention the marketing
strategies that will rival any biological creature on the planet, and
yet we use all this talent for twenty two men to run after a leather
ball. Probably leather ball no different from the dead goat the original
cave people played with. While this may or may not be entertainment and
on the whole quite harmless, discrimination and racism are certainly
redundant behaviour in modern society and they are harmful and
dangerous. The problem is that some people prefer to behave like a
biological blob, and only activate their primitive and primordial
instincts, rather than engage their rational intellect that is so
necessary for a civilized society.

And it is this ability by some people to behave like a biological blob
that highlights one of the main drawbacks of evolution. Evolution does
not progress at the same pace everywhere and nor does it impose the same
talents and rationality on everyone. The challenge for a civilized
society is certainly to limit the damage that can be caused by
primordial behaviour over a rational civilization. And because a society
is an open dynamic system there is always the danger that negative
behaviour might creative a positive feedback loop (ie create more
negative behaviour) to the extent that primordial behaviour might once
again take over any rational standard; or to put it in vulgar terms,
rationality will be replaced by blobbery!

However, there is also an immediate challenge for ethicists and
political scientists: how do we resolve conflicting behaviour people
might have due to social or racial differences; especially behaviours
allowed by their respective groups or societies, but are conflictive
when they come in contact with other societies.

If my society allows me to eat Christmas puddings at any time of the
year and not just Christmas, then surely I can eat Christmas pudding at
any time of the year and where ever I want? But what if I am not allowed
to eat this pudding in the neighbouring country or only on Christmas,
who has the right me or the country next door?

In the case of the Christmas pudding, I am happy to say that we have a
much higher authority than the zealots at home or next door to decide
for us (especially me) where and when we can eat the pudding. That
authority is known as our Family Doctor; our doctor usually decides for
us what we should and shouldn't eat. But the authority of our GP does
not come from some super natural powers but the product of many years of
study and the validity of scientific results our doctor is experienced
in; at least that's the theory.

There is nothing in medical science that says that certain people with
certain diseases are not to be treated. Any decisions not to treat
someone are usually based on clinical criteria and not arbitrary
characteristics of the patient. And if treatment is not available this
is either because none have been discovered or for political reasons
such as resources not being made available. My point is that if we have
an objective method to establish what is morally right or wrong, then we
know what is discrimination or not and what is a right or isn't. The
mind set of medical science practitioners, as opposed to the attitudes
of political masters, is to try and find treatments or solutions for any
ailment. The scientific method can take us a long way to establish such
an objective method, advocating we should physically harm people is not
an objective method.

Conflicts about rights can, therefore, be solved by appealing to some
objective criteria. Thus, like medical practitioners will never
prescribe people with infectious diseases, such as ebola, to mingle with
other people, social authorities ought not to allow practices that hurt
society, or rather the members of society: taking away the rights of
people harms them irrevocably.

Thus there is no right, minority or otherwise, for Female Genital
Mutilation (FGM) on children, nor restricting access to education or
freedom of movement to half the population, nor excluding some from a
job opportunity because of the colour of their skin or the accent of
their voice.

Sometimes, however, certain characteristics do not qualify a person for
a certain activity. For example (as practitioners), actors, sports
people, members of the armed forces, health carers, electricians etc.
Someone who freezes from vertigo when six inches above the ground is not
exactly qualified to remove the dead bugs from the blades of a wind
turbine high up at the top of a turbine tower. But this is not
discrimination nor racism, but common sense.

Thus, the issue for us is: how do we stop people from abusing the rights
of others? And even more important, how should we deal with people who
believe they have a right, minority or not, when no such right exists?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Minority Rights

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