Friday, June 1, 2012

Slouching Toward "Project X"

"I think that people should really say what they feel... 
everybody has the right to speak their mind."
- Lenny Kravitz
That's a fascinating idea.  People should say what they feel.  In other words, people have the right to speak their mind and say exactly what they want to say.

If I understand how human rights work, an identified right brings with it an imposed obligation on others.  According to the United Nations, "Human rights entail both rights and obligations...The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others."

People have a responsibility - an obligation - to uphold the rights of other people.  

So if people truly have a right to say what they feel - without exception -  and I hinder or stifle their ability to speak their mind,  am I automatically a human rights violator?  I stifled my 16-year-old's speech just last week; am I a moral monster?  When people violate human rights, we put them on trial and punish them. I'm not sure that "Shut it! Don't talk to your brother that way!" is really that risable of an action. But, perhaps it is.  I decided to put this egregious error into the context of other well-known human rights violators:
  • Slobodan Milošević -  human rights violator.
  • Pol Pot - human rights violator.
  • Saddam Hussein - human rights violator.
  • Slave owners - human rights violators.
  • Father telling his son to "shut it" - human rights violator.
As much as we (rightly) defend the ideal of free speech, I just don't think all speech (or all speakers) are inherently endowed with a level of freedom of expression that rises to the level of a fundamental human right.  Libraries don't stock every published work; bookstores hide certain adult books behind locked glass; TV and radio stations edit bad language; theater owners won't let you yell "fire" in a crowded room; you can't slander or defame others; you can't incite a riot unless you are at an international soccer game; and the Secret Service won't let you threaten the president, even if you are a hunter/gatherer/rock star.

All rights flourish within boundaries. The benefits of rights cannot be maintained indefinitely without a civilizing restraint. I have a right to life, but not by killing others to harvest their organs. I have a right to assemble, but not on my neighbor's lawn.  I have a right to education and food (according to Amnesty International), but not by pillaging the local school.

For that matter, having a right to food is not the same as having a right to hoard food.  There are limits to rights. I enjoy my right to food within a community of people who also have a right to food, and if my excess accumulation results in their hunger, the limitations of my right will be made very clear.

All rights require restraint.  When one does not exercise a civilized self-control, the community pays the price. The recent "found footage"  of Project X provides a great example.  The movie makers used the Kravitzian "right" to say exactly what they felt, with the following result:
Meredith Borders: "I simply don't believe that a screenwriter can write a film that uses the word 'bitch' that frequently - said by protagonists whom we are surely meant to support - without being culpable for that sentiment at least in part. Bacall, Drake, Nourizadeh and of course producer Todd Phillips are all responsible for the message in Project X, and the message is execrable." 
'Project X' Parties: Houston Student Dies After Copycat Event: "A spring break party inspired by the over-the-top one thrown in the movie Project X has resulted in the death of a Houston teenager. GMA is reporting that several people fired guns, killing one person as police tried to break up the party. The unidentified male victim suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at a nearby Hospital, police told A string of copycat parties inspired by the out-of-control rave in Project X have caused over $100,000 in real damage and a handfuls of arrests, but this is the first that turned deadly." 
'Project X' Copycat Revelers Allegedly Wreck $500,000 Home: "It didn't take long before the carnage in the hit house-party movie Project X spilled onto the real real estate market.Thirteen teenagers are being questioned for their possible involvement in a wild house party that will cost the builder nearly $100,000 in repairs, reports KHOU in Houston, Texas.'It's devastating. This is a new home that was ready to sell,' said private investigator Mark Stephens, who was hired by the homebuilder to observe the property. Stephens estimates the home to be worth $500,000. A tour of the once pristine, 4,000-square-foot-home today reveals gaping holes in the walls, heaps of broken glass and liquor bottles strewn across the property." 
Houston 'Project X' Party Ends In Gunfire: 1 Dead At Rave Emulating New Movie: "Project X-inspired parties began surfacing following the release of the trailer for the 2012 movie. In the film, three high school students attempt to throw a legendary house party to win popularity, only to watch the night spiral out of control. A similar Houston party destroyed a $500,000 home and part-goers in Miami severely damaged a foreclosed home."
 When people lose sight of the boundary markers inside of which a civilization flourishes, we are in trouble.  Not only will the community suffer, but -  if we are not careful - we will most likely abdicate the power of imposed restraint to others because we could not restrain ourselves.  I don't think censorship will be forced on us by moral crusaders; I think it will be necessitated by unrestrained, self-expressive, free speech exhibitionists who cry "Freedom!" while destroying societal stability.

We talk about human rights abuses in reference to the people who suffer, and rightly so.  But we rarely talk about what will happen when the selfish and unrestrained continually abuse the right itself.  One day we will all wonder what happened to our freedom of speech, when in reality we payed good money to be entertained as we watched it erode in front of us.

I wonder how long it will be before our inability to understand responsibilities, exercise self-restraint, and live in the context of community will result in the loss of our rights we value so highly.  If  we do not clarify and embrace the responsibilities that come with rights,  I'm afraid our societal center will not hold.  And so we slouch towards Project X, never wondering what will happen when we get to the end of the road we are paving so relentlessly, but speaking our mind about what we feel every step of the way.

Responsibility without rights is slavery, but rights without responsibilities is chaos.

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