Know Your Rights (A Party Election Broadcast by the PLAGIARIST Party)

It’s been rather difficult to avoid the looming election in recent days. Well, if you’re in the UK, that is. British politics doesn’t have the international But then, the way the media have been going overboard on the coverage, you might have been forgiven for thinking that the campaigns started months ago and that this was a global revolution rather than something that occurs with comparative regularity and frequency in our small island nation. Nothing like blasting all sense of perspective in a quest for ratings. It certainly feels like it’s been a very long and protracted run-up, and there are still several weeks to go. The quality of the coverage in he mass media is hugely varied, although on the whole, lacks depth and isn’t all that informative. For the most part, we’re told endlessly about where the party leaders are visiting and what issues they’re going to be addressing, but apart from a brief 3-4 bullet-point summary of the manifestos, very little information is being given about what the parties actually stand for. Small wonder many people are confused or don’t care. Nothing like overkill to turn people off.

Similarly, there’s nothing like a lot of tedious hot air spouted by people who don’t appear to live in the same world as the rest of us to perpetuate disengagement, and there’s no shortage of evidence that much of our society is disenfranchised and has no interest in politics or the political process – Facebook groups like ‘I Bet I Can Find A Million People With No Interest In The UK Election’ are just one of almost countless examples of people who are more interested in telling the world how much of a turn-off politics is than they are in changing the political landscape.

Personally, I’m not nearly as apolitical as I sometimes claim to be. I am deeply frustrated with politics, but always cast my vote, if only because I feel more readily entitled to complain about how crap the government is, and that the wrong party got voted in. It’s alright, it makes me feel better, at least in the moments when I’m not mired in despondency over the futility of participating in a democracy where ‘the majority’ who wield the collective power are the very people I  spend my entire life battling against in my writing and in my daily life. People are ignorant, stupid and selfish: of course those who vote are going to vote out of ignorance, stupidity and selfishness, whatever their personal agendas may be. Moreover, I believe a spoiled paper makes for a far more effective statement about those standing than a non-vote. The latter says ‘I can’t be arsed.’ The former says ‘I turned out to vote, but none of you represent me in any way. Change the system, change the parties!  So however disaffected and disillusioned I feel about our rigged and flawed democratic political system, I have the right to vote, and I’m going to use it.

But about my ‘rights’… I recently completed a survey that required me to select from a menu which election issues were of greatest importance to me. One choice was ‘human rights.’ We seem to be obsessed with rights at present – even more than usual. Charity appeals are begging for my money, showing pictures of emaciated children in Uganda, while telling me that every child has a right to an education, and that clean water is ‘a basic human right.’

Now, far be it for me to suggest that education or water are luxuries, but, well, I think we need to get a handle on differentiating rights from needs and wants – right?

The trouble is, so many of those who vocally and vociferously defend these rights – not only their own, but, more often than not, those of others, to the extent that they become rights campaigners and crusaders, are also those who demand protection, restriction and prohibition… in the name of rights. People have a right to walk down the street without fear of being assaulted, or harangued by druggies or drunkards or homeless people… and so shout for tighter restrictions on alcohol, drugs, begging without considering that one individual exercising their rights to personal freedoms will invariably impinge on another individual doing precisely the same. The ‘right’ to demand security, or the freedom to do this, that or the other, can be countered by the ‘right’ to drug oneself up to the eyeballs, the right to kill oneself through gross stupidity. Blocking a person’s right to get horrendously wasted by demanding the right to ‘safety’ may have the best intentions at heart, but is it ‘right’ that one set of rights should take priority over another? This seems to me like a case of two rights making a wrong. Moreover, who should determine which rights are more right?

The mainstream media – and not just the tabloids, I might add – thrive on a good bit of moral outrage, and there’s rarely a week that passes without there being a revelation concerning something un-PC that someone has said or written. From Ross and Brand’s public mauling (which ultimately didn’t ruin their careers, and besides, they’ve got more than enough cash to see them through retirement if it had) over ‘lewd’ and ‘offensive’ answerphone messages to leaked internal emails passed amongst civil servants (rather unimaginatively) poking fun at the Pope (you can’t speak ill of a nazi sympathiser who covers up child abuse when he’s a man of God: he’s got divine rights, I assume), there’s never a shortage of energy to expend on such comparative trivia when there are real issues to be ignored. So those who complain about, say, offensive comedians are on difficult terrain: the ‘right’ to free speech means that individuals have the right to express views that others may not want to hear. Not wanting to hear those views is their right, too. But to expect to be able to defend someone’s right to be offensive – as long as they don’t offend you by touching on topics that are personally sensitive is a blatant double standard. Take for example the couple who went to see a Frankie Boyle stand-up show. With tickets at £20 a pop or whatever, it’s probably a fair assumption that they enjoy his brand of ‘humour,’ and as such they must’ve known what they were in for. Alas, they decided it was all too much when he referred to Down Syndrome children as mongers – because their child has Down’s. Ok, but they’d’ve been laughing themselves silly if he’d focused on spackers or spinos instead, right?

Reported – so surprisingly – in the Daily Mail, the couple in question were portrayed as being able to take a joke, but that Botyle had gone too far: ‘Former marketing executive Mrs Smith said: ‘Throughout his show he made fun of disabled people. But when given an opening he launched into a puerile, childish and ignorant attack on Down’s syndrome sufferers. ‘It wasn’t funny.’

Mr Smith, managing director of an online book company, said: ‘We’re fans of comedy. We’ve been to lots of live stand-up shows. We knew what to expect, or we thought we did. This was out of the dark ages. Not the material of a highly regarded comic. I’m still fuming. We both believe in freedom of speech but Boyle’s jokes were borne from ignorance and based on stereotypes.’

I’d call that hypocrisy myself. Moreover, this is simply one of countless examples of the way people become indignant about ‘rights’ – not only their own, but the rights of others. Far be it for me to suggest that campaigners of any form of rights act in self-interest, but I can’t help but feel that for many, there is a strong element of self-righteousness intermingled with the purer motives. Perhaps I should qualify this by stating that I do believe in equal rights for all. That, however, is my ideal world, and I find it necessary to accept that the reality is rather different. That’s life. Similarly, I would hope to live in a world where everyone lives harmoniously, respects one another and can agree to differ without killing one another, where everyone respects the rights of others and takes advantage of the rights they have and are able to apply in their daily lives with due care and common sense. I won’t even mention ‘responsibilities,’ at least in the clichéd context of rights. Very well, perhaps I will.

The point is, we all have rights, we all have responsibilities, we all have needs and we all have wants. Not only is it important to understand the difference, but it is also important to understand cultural and social differences. Not all rights, responsibilities, needs or wants are applicable to all individuals across the globe, and to project our own understandings and standards on others is not always appropriate. The ‘right’ to access university education in Britain is not, for example, likely to be of great interest to someone who aspires to be a waiter or a bricklayer, or who is destined to receive an apprenticeship to continue the family trade of, say, brewing. Similarly, the right to clean running water won’t hold too much appeal for mudskippers or marshland wading birds (animals have rights too, of course, as we’re often reminded).

In light of this, my own personal philosophy is simple, but covers pretty much all aspects of life quite effectively: ‘don’t be a twat.’ Perhaps I should stand as an independent candidate in the next election and use this as my campaign slogan. Whether anyone would be willing to vote for me would be an interesting experiment, and no mistake. You should all vote for me, of course, because you know I’m, right (although politically to the left)… right?

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