Equal Rights

This article suggests that equal rights should maybe apply internationally as well as intra-nationally, but then it points out problems that could arise and a possible better approach to the issue.

Back to Godless Morality       Back to the Life-21 home page

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - words from the American Declaration of Independence, 1776.

This was written while slavery was widespread in the US. Clearly, slaves didn't count as 'men'. In fact, in the 1857 Dred Scott case the US Supreme Court found that blacks were not and never could be US citizens and that the US Constitution and civil rights were not applicable to them.

Slave being beaten

Slavery was abolished in 1865 after the Confederate states lost the civil war. But segregation continued until the 1960s. Facilities and services such as healthcare, education, housing, employment, and public transport were segregated with those facilities provided for blacks rarely matching those provided for whites in quality. Most white people found this quite justifiable on the basis that blacks were after all a different people from them.

The US shouldn't be singled out. In Australia, Aboriginal people were shot as vermin in the early colonial days and it was only after a referendum in 1967 that they were recognised as Australian citizens. During the apartheid era, South Africa was even worse than the US or Australia and Nazi Germany worse still. And Nazi Germany isn't the only country to have engaged in deliberate genocide in recent times.

  *   *   *   *   *  

Nowadays, everyone in most western countries has equal access to healthcare, education, housing, employment, and public transport. They have the right to buy land and live anywhere they can afford. In fact, equal rights for all citizens are enshrined in the laws of most western countries. People today mostly see this as the way it should be, because, while people of different races might differ slightly in outward appearance, they are essentially the same on the inside, including in terms of their brains and minds. Any difference are the result of culture, including past history of discrimination.

There are still individuals who maintain racist views, but in the eyes of the state and the law, for the most part, all people are equal.

As long as they were born in the same country, that is. A person born in Belgium has very different opportunities from someone born in Chad. Most Chadians have access to only very limited healthcare, education, housing, employment, and public transport. A Belgian has the right to live and work anywhere in Belgium . . . or France . . . or anywhere in the EU in fact. Someone from Chad doesn't even have the right to enter those countries without seeking special permission.

This is segregation similar to but more extreme than that in the US segregation era except that it is based on place of birth rather than skin colour, and people have no more control over or responsibility for their place of birth than they do over their skin colour.

Is this compatible with our concept of equal rights? After all, most of us still consider that all people are created equal and that no one should be more deserving at birth than anyone else.

The high value we place on equal rights and the vastly different rights of people born in different countries is a glaring contradiction in modern world affairs. The culture of justifying intra-national segregation has gradually given way to one of striving for intra-national equality. But what about inter-national segregation?

Each year, millions of people enter countries not their own as illegal immigrants. They leave their home and often their family and everything they've grown up with to move to a new country where they know no one and often don't even speak the language. On top of that, they often risk their lives getting there, especially if they travel part of the way in a people smuggler's boat. As illegal immigrants, they have no education credentials and can expect only a meager living. But despite all the negatives, they expect their new life to be better than their old one.

If people in the US, Europe and Australia, relatively speaking, have easy lives handed to them on a plate, how do we justify letting people in other countries live in such poverty and danger?

The reasons tend to be not so much philosophical as pragmatic.

Boat capsizing

Giving everyone equal rights of residence in any country might, on first thoughts, solve the problem. But this might in actuality give rise to one or both of the following scenarios.

Scenario 1: There would be mass migrations from third-world countries to first-world countries. First-world countries would be flooded with people without work. Many of these would not speak the language of the host country, would have no eductional credentials, no work experience that would fit them into any available job and little knowledge of the culture of the host country. The increased demand for social security would greatly reduce the funds available for other government services like health, education, policing etc. Many of the original inhabitants of the country would become unemployed, further exacerbating the demand for the social security system and eventually making it unaffordable in its present form. Many locals and immigrants would be forced into poverty and many would resort to crime. Because of reduced policing, people would have to defend themselves in whatever way they could and gang warfare would become the norm. Gangs would grow and amalgamate to remain competitive and the country would eventually be run by competing warlords. Much of the existing housing and infrastrucure would be destroyed in the fighting. Housing would become totally inadequate for the newly ballooned population and people would have to rely on the warlords to defend their homes by force or give them up and join the multitudes of the homeless. In places with cold winters, once all the trees had been cut down for firewood and the wildlife caught and eaten, millions would freeze or starve to death. It wouldn't take long for life in the first-world countries to become worse than in the third-world countries people had come from. As a result, nobody would be better off and millions would be worse off.

Scenario 2: People from countries with very different cultures might overwhelm the populations of some first-world countries and use the opportunity to impose their culture on the population. For instance, Norway and Sweden might be subjected to Sharia law or might be run by an ISIS-style militia.

All in all, suddenly abandoning borders and immigration controls would likely make things worse for almost everyone and so is not really a viable solution to the problem. A more viable solution to the inequality problem might be for first-world countries to greatly increase aid to third-world countries in order to try to make living standards more comparable.

During the colonial era, vast amounts of wealth were extracted from the colonies to boost the economies and infrastructure of the colonial powers. In fact, a significant part of the present affluence of western countries results from this appropriation of resources in past times. It might seem fair to pay some of that back. With a modest reduction in the standard of living in first-world countries, we could make a relatively large improvement to the lot of people in third-world countries. Such action would in turn reduce the level of illegal migration. However, people do tend to see the way things are done at the moment as the way they should be done, especially when they get a better-than-average deal from the situation. Thus people and governments are resistant to making significant changes in this area.

Apart from this unwillingness on the part of first-world people, a real problem is that of population. Most of the world's poorer countries are predominatly Christian or Muslim. Adherents of both religions believe that the world will soon come to an end in the day of judgment. Thus it doesn't need to be looked after. In fact, disasters will speed the arrival of that day and so destroying the Earth is almost a good thing. Over-population is not a problem.

Also, people of both religions see the afterlife as mattering far more than this life. Only people of their faith will have a pleasant afterlife; everyone else will suffer in hell. Therefore, the larger the proportion of the world's population that has their religion the better. It's hard to proselytise and convert, but much easier to out-populate. Dominantly Christian and Muslim third-world countries tend to have very high birth rates. The average couple in Niger has between 7 and 8 children and the median age of the population is 15.

Large family

For more secular and well-to-do Western Europe on the other hand, the average number of children per couple is well under 2, meaning that the population of indiginous Europeans in decreasing.

In this context, increased resources in third-world countries tend to lead to increased population rather than an improved standard of living. And, along with that, an increase in the proportion of the world which is religious.

Making greatly increased aid available to poorer countries that manage to curb their population growth could conceivably provide an incentive for population constraint and solve several other problems.

Top of this page          Back to the Godless Morality page          Life-21 home page

Image Acknowledgements

Slave:Internet Archive Book Images on flickr.com
Boat: NTB, ndla.zendesk.com
Family: Wikimedia Commons