Noan Chomsky

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at
Tue Oct 27 12:24:07 PST 1998

Charles Brown wrote:

> Charles: Right on. Predominantly mental
> laborers tend to think of freedom of
> thought , consciousness
> and conscience (speech, assembly
> political protest, religion) as the HIGHEST
> right. But being determines consciousness
> for materialists. Freedom from genocide
> is a right equal if not prior to the freedom
> to communicate etc.
> Regular folks understand this better
> than intellectuals.


I missed this section--somewhere in the hundred plus posts. When you put it this way, then the battle against racism and genocide are transformed into the right to exist, rather than the freedom from extermination.

I mean, it seems like a stupid point in the face of atrocity, but somehow it gets at what racism is at a philosophical level that matches the universality of human rights. So, in this sense the right to exist is prior to other rights.

If we take racism to be the advocacy of extermination which makes it more explicit what is behind it, and not just bigotry and prejudice, then that relieves the issue over speech. After going back over the UDHR this morning here is article 7:

"All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination."

But there is still the issue of the difference between individual groups running around screaming, 'kill them all' and formal bodies that institutionalize racism. So, for example in the article above it is unclear whether incitement goes to government or is extended to groups of people outside government.

In any case, I want to see the extension of human rights put down onto the shop floor, the work place. There is an artificial division between what can be said and done at work or on supposedly private property but which is after all a public place, and what can be said and done on the sidewalk out front. In what sense is such a place private, if it is theoretically held in 'public' by stock holders and chartered by the state?

The most immediate example that comes to mind is the business policy of prohibiting people from discussing their paycheck. But there are a zillion other little shit business practices that have grown up in corporate culture at work that violate and actively suppress ordinary rights--particularly of speech and assembly.

Since most people live most of their lives at work, they live under a suppression of these rights. The net psychological effect is to make such rights an abstraction, a theoretical potential that is never actualized in life. After all who goes outside and stands on the sidewalk and begins discussing politics? (Well most people during smoke break, but that isn't the point.)

I had one particularly nasty job where you were not allowed to talk to each other, you were not allowed to discuss paychecks or personnel policy, on or off the job. Work in silence. Man that got me thinking hard about the violent overthrow of capitalism fast and secondarily about unionizing. But I hated the job so much, I just walked out the door--because I could.

Chuck Grimes

PS. Wondering around the UN web, I can see under 'Instruments' that the UDHR is one of many documents. The others fill out the more specific detail. It is definitely worth the time to go over them. It is little wonder that the US penal colony is right up there on Amnesty Internationals list. I wonder if they visited the California prisons? See:

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