Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My Rights, Your Responsibility

I’m home now in Vancouver, with the daunting task of summing up and integrating a journey that covered four continents and more than eight months of my life. It can leave a person wondering how to bring that much home, or what home even means.

That said, there are a few common themes that became clear over the course of the journey. A major one concerns the views and assumptions that tend to guide the actions of our culture with the rest of the world, the damage of which becomes obvious when viewing there effects on some of the most impoverished nations on Earth.

In the case of Rwanda, we have been told that there horrific genocide was the culmination of tribal conflicts that stretched back centuries. After a mere days in that country, the truth became quickly and overwhelmingly obvious – that the division between Hutus and Tutsis was a colonial weapon established by the Belgians, and exploited by the French, in order to gain greater control over the population and later to profit by selling the weapons of genocide.

In rapidly developing India, they are celebrating their initiation into the world's nuclear fraternity, while domestically, the moral stance of the Dalai Lama has been criticized and questioned on the grounds that it may threaten Sino-Indian relations. One of the world's greatest ironies may explain India's true motivation. In 1999 , Major William Corson, intelligence aide to US President Dwight David Eisenhower, alledged that India agreed to grant the the Dalai Lama asylum in exchange for US help in developing nuclear weapons.

The case is similar in the issue of global warming, where western governments, in particular the US, points the finger of blame at developing countries while it is responsible for maintaining the worst mileage standards, consumes the most beef (one of the largest greenhouse gas contributors), and uses the most crude oil while they continue to propogate a war over oil to maintain the status quo.

That word, responsibility, is the key. Western morality is anchored on a bastardization of Adam Smith that assumes ultimate good will magically prevail for all by pursuing our own individual interests. However, unless balanced by an equal sense of our personal responsibility, what we perceive as our rights quickly turns into indulgence, and there begins most of the world’s problems.

An embrace of responsibility, alongside of our personal rights, makes it obvious that while we have a right to trade and deal diplomatically with African nations like Rwanda, we equally have a responsibility for the outcome of that trade when we market in weapons of destruction to an oppressive regime. It makes it obvious that the moral rights of an entire people are not appropriate negotiating items in diplomacy and trade. It also becomes obvious that the country responsible for the most environmental damage needs to take the lead in forming environmental solutions.

If we strike another person, that blow is not the fault of the person receiving it. A gun owner is responsible for their weapon falling into the hands of young children. Unintentional murder is deemed involuntary manslaughter and is not the responsibility of the murdered. Likewise, the direct harm caused by our consumer, policy, and business decisions is not the fault of our trade partners, but the responsibility of those perpetrating the actions - exploitative businesses, the government’s that those businesses lobby for profitable trade policies, and we, the citizens, who value what we call prosperity over the human rights of other nations affected. The solutions, then, rest with us.

Responsibility can begin at home. The United States, Canada and my own city of Vancouver have a lot of work to do this fall. It’s time to get to it.


WesternGrit said...

Excellent post! We only need more people to think responsibly, and with compassion for our planet and our descendants...

Invisible G. said...

Bravo, bravo - the sociopolitical beast that is Conscious Earth is baaack!!!

Sue said...

Welcome back, it will be very interesting to see how your last eight months of travel (which have been interesting to observe in themselves through your pictures and posts) will translate into your future commentaries.

Alex said...

Responsibility begins at "us," individually. We must avoid the vice of abstraction, which is suggested by the concept "at home." We get mired in "They're not doing it so my efforts are useless," or "It takes too much effort because the problem is all-pervasive."

“Did you know going vegan helps slow climate change? Did you see this article:


A plant-based diet is safe, healthy, and sustainable. See this for more:


These are direct actions with direct consequences.

Donna said...

Great article on responsibility. I appreciate your vantage point after being in the international community. I hope you write about what it feels like to be back after such an eye-opening trip.