This ad for the King Khalid Foundation says that female abuse is “a phenomenon found in the dark”, cunningly – or involuntarily – mocking Saudi dress code rules. The veil does indeed cover more than the female body.
Work is indeed a human right, but it’s not true that free trade is a major cause of violations of this right. When trade barriers are removed, some jobs will indeed be outsourced overseas, notably to countries where the relative labor cost is lower. But the people overseas who benefit from this outsourcing arguably need the jobs more than citizens of wealthy western welfare states. Also, it’s not because some jobs disappear that others aren’t created. Furthermore, lower production costs often translate into lower retail prices for many consumer goods, something which may compensate for job losses or for shifts in labor markets.
The alternative to free trade is protectionism, and protectionism is a major cause of poverty in developing countries. Absence of poverty is also a human right. We have therefore two human rights that need to be balanced against each other. In this case, I think the right not to suffer poverty should take precedence, for the following reason: on the one hand, protectionism aggravates poverty mainly in developing countries and those countries often don’t have robust social security systems; on the other hand, to the extent that free trade and outsourcing do produce job losses they do so mainly in developed countries that offer social security. The harm caused by protectionism is therefore greater than the harm caused by free trade. Also, let’s not forget the numerous positive effects of free trade:
- more specialization
- more use of comparative advantage
- better access to technology and knowledge
- better and cheaper intermediate goods (raw products etc.) and capital goods (machines etc.)
- benefits of scale
- and increased competition.
It’s very difficult if not impossible to cite a similar number of positive effects of protectionism.
Here’s another advert making the same mistake:
More human rights ads.
(source, click image to enlarge)
I think I can guess most people’s reaction to this infamous WWF advert comparing the death tolls of 9/11 to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami:
How can you compare these two events? They are completely different in nature: one is a wanton act of cruelty inflicted by humans on other humans, while the other is an unfortunate natural disaster. A terrorist attack is a type of event that one can and should try to prevent – through force, violence, education, information and whatever else it takes – while a natural disaster is a type of event that is an inevitable feature of life on earth. If you equate the two types – which is in essence what you do when you compare the death tolls – then you ignore personal responsibility and agency, and you degrade humanity.
This is more or less correct, I think, but I would add one nuance. The two types of events are different and they shouldn’t be equated, but there’s one similarity: both are, after all, human rights violations. This may sound strange to many of you: how can nature violate human rights? Doesn’t a human rights violation require a responsible violator? I’ve argued in this older post that the cut-off point between rights violations and unfortunate harm is actually a rather large gray zone. For instance, the Boxing Day Tsunami would probably have had a much smaller death toll with a better warning system, better infrastructure, better houses, better rescue systems etc. And people are responsible for the lack of those things. If people and governments fail to provide those things, knowing full well the risks, then their omission is a rights violation, just like failing to rescue a drowning person is a rights violation. (For instance, low-income countries account for only 9% of the world’s disasters but 48% of the fatalities, source).
Hence, it is indeed nonsensical and even insulting to equate a natural disaster and a terrorist attack, and people are rightfully angry about adverts like the one above, but at the same time we shouldn’t let our anger blind us to the similarities between two types of events that are apparently incomparable.
Here are a few similar adverts:
More posts in this series are here.
It’s a bit of a strange one, this. I understand what they are trying to say: governments perform executions only because people acquiesce in them (don’t oppose them) or because they actively approve of them (this approval can be intellectual or moral, or it can manifest itself through active participation as viewers in the process of a public execution). If the public were to turn their backs on the whole affair – not because of apathy or acquiescence but because of opposition - then capital punishment would probably disappear, even in non-democratic states.
However, the image used here conveyes the opposite: people turn their backs, and governments are left in peace to carry on. In light of the massive presence of people at the scene, they could easily stop the execution if they had not decided to turn away.
But perhaps I’m reading this the wrong way. Other interpretations are welcome.
Wire clothes hangers, because of their use in performing illegal or self-induced abortions (by unfolding and inserting one in the uterus), have become a symbol of pro-choice protests.
This is the original poster from communist Poland:
A similar one is here. One can question the wisdom of such campaigns, comparing violence to a healthy pastime. Even more dubious is the fact that these punching bags have been placed in the streets, not in order to “try them out” but some won’t be able to resist.
More human rights ads.
(source, click image to enlarge)
An interesting setup:
Caritas, a Polish homeless charity got the permission of the several Warsaw office buildings to build these mannequin installations in their lobbies. The sign reads something like: “I let myself spend the night here since I was cold. The only address I have is www.bezdomni.pl.” (Caritas’ homepage. bezdomni means homeless.) From the agency press note: ”The same day the homeless appeared in the offices, the employees working in the very same buildings received an e-mail with the bank account number to which contributions for Caritas could be made. After the event a 100% increase of donations was noted comparing to the previous year.” (source)
Some people touched the mannequins to see if they were alive. They must have guessed by then that these weren’t really homeless people since we don’t actually touch those, do we?
Here’s a campaign from the U.K.:
And one from France:
The US Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United correctly emphasized the importance of free speech in a democracy. (There’s a thorough discussion of this point here). Free speech serves to expose government corruption and is the means to hold governments accountable to the people. The people also need free speech to deliberate on possible policies and on the respective merits of political parties, candidates and incumbents. The latter in turn need free speech to make their point and attract support and members. And, finally, political assembly, protest and organization require speech.
So it’s fair to say that no democracy can function without free speech. It’s also important, as noted by the Court, that this speech right should not be limited to individuals. Organizations, such as corporations, labor unions, pressure groups etc. should also enjoy this right. They are, after, all, collections of individuals who may want to exercise their free speech rights in common.
However, this is precisely the main problem in the Court’s decision: politics is already heavily dependent on corporate funding. Giving corporations an unlimited right to marshal their substantive resources for corporate political speech would only increase the influence of money on politics. Enormous amounts of money are already necessary in order to win elections in our present-day democracies, especially in the U.S. Candidates have no choice but to accept contributions from those members of society who have the money, and those are generally private corporations. There’s a persistent feeling that candidates can be “bought” and that, as a result of contributions, the interests of large donors receive disproportionate government attention. This may or may not be corruption, but it flies in the face of democratic ideals that tell us that it’s the people who rule, not large donors.
The Citizens United decision seems to make this situation worse by stating that corporations have an unlimited right to engage in political speech and that they can, for example, fund political commercials endorsing or attacking a candidate. As such, this right should not be controversial since it’s part of the right to free speech. However, many people fear, rightly in my opinion, that corporate speech, because it can use disproportionate financial resources, will drown out the voices of everyday citizens and give corporations a role that’s even more important than the one they have already managed to secure for themselves through campaign contributions. Hence some form of limit on corporate spending should be possible. And this applies to both campaign contributions and corporate political advocacy in favor or against certain candidates. Corporations would keep their speech rights, of course, but we would simply limit the amounts of money they could spend on their political speech. In fact, rather than a limitation of speech as such, this is merely a limitation of the amplification of speech.
Now, it’s in the nature of speech in general that some voices drown out others. Some people have more interesting things to say, some are not interested in saying anything, some are better at speaking or are better educated, and some have more resources or time to speak. However, we do generally try to equalize speech in some way, even in ordinary life. We have rules on etiquette and politeness. We think it’s better if people speak in turns, for instance. We don’t allow the best speakers to monopolize everyday discourse. Also, we subsidize education, and one of the reasons why we do that is to give people the ability to speak their minds.
We usually try to do something similar in politics. Democracy is the ideal of the rule of the people. That means that everyone’s influence on politics should be more or less equal. It’s useless to adopt a principle like “one man one vote” if afterwards we allow asymmetrical speech power to dramatically increase the political weight of one vote over another. We know that this ideal of equal influence is impossible to attain, and yet we try to make influence as equal as we can. Limits on campaign spending and financing are part of that effort: a candidate should not be allowed to dramatically outspend other candidates because that would give him or her a disproportionate influence over the voting public. For the same reason, donors should not be allowed to contribute excessive amounts to a single candidate, because then that candidate would be able to outspend other candidates. Now, why not limit corporate advocacy spending as well?
Of course, campaign contributions to candidates as well as spending on advocacy in favor of candidates are clearly acts of political speech, and therefore protected by default. By donating to a candidate or a party, or by funding or producing political advocacy, you state your political preferences. And the fact that this “you” is not, in our case, a private person but a corporation shouldn’t change anything. A corporation is a collection of private persons (owners, directors or shareholders) and they have a right to voice their opinions collectively, using their collective resources, just like other collectives.
However, all this doesn’t mean that we’re talking necessarily about an unlimited right. If corporations or other entities with a lot of resources (wealthy individuals, labor unions etc.) are allowed to donate without limits or to engage in unlimited advocacy, it’s likely that they thereby “buy” a disproportionate share of influence. And this, ultimately and after a certain threshold is passed, destroys democracy. The beneficiaries of their donations or advocacy will receive more attention during the election campaigns, and will in turn give more attention to the interests of their backers once they are elected. During the campaign, it will seem like the beneficiaries of excessive contribution or advocacy have the better arguments because those arguments receive more attention. Simply the fact that a story is “out there” and is repeated a sufficient number of times gives it some plausibility and popularity. There would be no commercial publicity or advertising if this weren’t true. Flooding the airwaves works for elections as well as sales.
However, are we not infantilizing the public with this kind of argument? Is a voter no more than an empty vessels waiting to be filled by those political messages that are best able to reach him? Or can they see through it all and make up their own minds irrespective of what they hear and see? If they see that a candidate receives large amounts of money from a particular company, isn’t that reason enough to vote for the other candidate? The truth is likely to be somewhere in between. People are neither empty vessels for donors, nor objective arbitrators of political truth. And the fact that they can be partly influenced should be reason enough to restrict the political speech rights of those with large resources – or better their right to amplify their political speech. It’s not as if they can’t make their point. It’s just that they shouldn’t be allowed to push their point. Just like we don’t allow a heckler to silence others, or a bully to just keep on talking because he never learned the rules of politeness.
Here are some data on rules applying to the financing of elections in a selection of countries:
(source, personally I think the inclusion of the CPI here is arbitrary and meaningless)
- Radhika Balakrishnan: Corporate Control of Our Democracy: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (huffingtonpost.com)
- Citizens United – that dreaded Supreme Court case – empowered unions to “flush $10 million of their members’ money down the toiled on a pointless exercise.” (althouse.blogspot.com)
An interesting double entendre, mixing a gendered children’s toy with a certain unspeakable manly use of the appliance. A pink vacuum cleaner, so it must be for girls, right? Gendered toys like this are often used to instill gender roles at a young age. I guess you need to be kinky these days in order to get people’s attention focused on serious things.
People in advertising have long known that exposure to certain images – perhaps even subliminally – can change behavior. The same seems to be true in democratic politics. Studies have shown that American voters exposed to the American flag are increasingly supportive of the Republican Party, even if they identify as Democrats, and even if the exposure is fleeting. This effect can last up to 8 months. Exposure to the Confederate activates negativity toward Blacks and results in lowered willingness to vote for Obama. In 2007, Israeli researchers showed that even subliminal exposure to a national flag influences voters (in their study, it encourages voters to support politically moderate views).
This is proof of a lack of voter rationality and of the limited effect or even the futility of deliberation. It’s all very depressing and, when taken together with some other disturbing facts about democracy, it makes you reconsider the supposedly good reasons for promoting democratic governance. Let’s hope nobody in the Middle East is listening.
More posts in this series are here.
(source, click image to enlarge)
These landmine-stickers with self-adhesive topsides are placed on the floor and are invisible until they stick to your feet. While removing them, people discover the landmine-picture on the bottom side and are informed that in many other countries they would have been mutilated at this moment.
(source, Advertising Agency: TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, Johannesburg, South Africa Executive Creative Director: Damon Stapleton Creative Directors: Adam Weber, Hennie Stander Art Director: Wihan Meerholz Copywriter: Dan Parmenter Photographer: Seppi Hochfellner Released: May 2008)
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration says:
Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
- Calif. Senate OKs homeless civil rights protection (sfgate.com)
- Killings Of Homeless Hit Highest Level In A Decade (huffingtonpost.com)
- Hate crimes against the homeless | Sadhbh Walshe (guardian.co.uk)
- Vancouver Declares War On The Homeless (huffingtonpost.com)
A good excuse to link back to one of my older posts on animal rights. I’m personally very concerned about animal wellbeing and condemn all kinds of cruelty against animals. (I’m also a vegetarian). I believe that humans have certain duties towards animals, but it doesn’t follow from this that animals have “rights”. The main problem I have with proponents of animal rights is that they fail to see that rights are inherently discursive. Rights exist so that people can claim them, can criticize those who violate their rights, and can join efforts with like-minded people in order to improve each other’s wellbeing or the wellbeing of third parties. Animals can do none of this.
More human rights ads here.
- The Nation: Sexism Creeps Up Again For Kagan (npr.org)
- CU’Independent : Sexism [Image] (scaryideas.com)
- Sexism in the Workplace Hurts, New Study Finds (livescience.com)