On Human Rights Culture (PART II)

Mr. Joefer Maninang
University of Mindanao

Rorty’s pragmatic stance on human rights, on the other hand, conceives the human being as “a centreless web of historically conditioned beliefs and desires” and from this conception we follow Rorty’s assumption of the existence of the human rights culture. Historically conditioned by the Holocaust, the human rights culture expresses the common ‘beliefs and desires’ of some of us which is basically the respect for human rights. But beside this culture are other cultures that have their own beliefs and desires that do not respect human rights. People who belong in these cultures are the human rights violators. For Rorty, violators have to be integrated in the human rights culture and the efficient way to do it is through sentimentalism.


The human rights culture occupies the ‘mainstream’ of our society. It separates some of us, as humans, from non-respecting ‘minority’ cultures. Membership in the mainstream culture generally requires respect for human rights while the features of minority cultures which pertain to illegal groups or associations speak for its members. For instance, the Davao Death Squad has the following features of its members, perpetrators, rebel returnees, former target victims, etc. So those responsible for the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia or genocide in Rwanda , the recent Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines, and many more emerging ones possess distinct features which echo their membership in non-respecting cultures. This then leads us to imagine not just the obvious divide between the violators and their victims but also between some of us, members of the human rights culture, and the violators themselves.

Rorty says there are “three main ways in which we paradigmatic humans distinguish ourselves from borderline cases” . Two of these allegations namely: (1) invoking the ‘human-animal distinction’ and (2) the ‘distinction between adults and children’ pertain to the separation or divide between the perpetrators and their victims in human rights violations and the divide between the perpetrators and some of us, who are members of the human rights culture. This can be analyzed through the Davao Death Squad as a historically contingent fact.

The human-animal distinction closely applies to some of us who are members of the human rights culture and the death squad perpetrators. This distinction happens when we hesitate to do something to help save the victims. It happens when we paradigmatically deny our involvement in the quarrel between animals. We judge the perpetrators animals because they do not know that it is irrationally wrong to kill. In this way, we are no different from the foundationalists and moral philosophers who judge humans animals because they do not know that they can know. The victims are animals as they are judged by their perpetrators. We discriminate the perpetrators who also discriminate their victims as well. This manner of discriminating the perpetrators only reveals that our judgment on them makes us animals like them. In other words, our moral conscience is as weak as the perpetrators’ judgment on their victims as animals. For Rorty, this form of weakness must be addressed. To address it is not to let the perpetrators know that it is morally demanded by their rationality to realize they did wrong. This is the work of the foundationalists which aggravates rather than mitigates. Instead, to begin with is to have a little more of our patience and understanding towards the perpetrators and trust that they can change. This means to open our eyes about the reality of the killings. This is when our sympathy is manipulated by the reality itself. This in a way means being taught by the killings. Recognizing this manipulation as the ‘moment of truth’ is an important step in realizing sentimentalism to really reach the victims.

The second way of discriminating others which is invoking the ‘distinction between adults and children’ implies the human-animal distinction. In the case of the perpetrators and their victims, the victims were paradigmatically labeled ‘children’ before they were actually killed by their perpetrators not because they are literally children but because they are animals. Meaning to say, these children are those “ignorant and superstitious people…[who can] attain true humanity only if raised up by proper education [and] if they seem incapable of absorbing such education, that shows they are not really the same kind of being as…educable people be” . Uneducable people are not human. This distinction in concrete terms is depicted by the situation when the Calinan Police precinct policeman warned Adon through his mother saying that unless her son changed his behavior something may happen to him. Suppose this certain policeman is the principal perpetrator who conspired with the ‘hitman’, we can consider him as the perpetrator whose way of educating is through a warning. Since Adon was killed, we can say that he was distinguished first by his perpetrator as uneducable- an animal, not human. This is the mentality of the perpetrators calling us to change. To change this is to sympathize with the perpetrators. Being protectors of the victims’ rights, this change of perspective is just what is needed if not, the only thing that is needed. The moment of truth is therefore the ‘moment of sympathy’.

The hope of democracy is to achieve a better future-“more freedom, more growth, more empathy, and more solidarity” , “a planetary community”. So the ‘paradigmatic distinctions’ discussed above which threatens our human rights culture threatens our democratic society. Nevertheless, this culture has found a cure from dying in sentimentalism. Sentimentalism is the practical way of factoring in more and more people whom we find trouble tolerating due to their differences. These people pertain to the perpetrators in the death squad killings who label their victims animals and to us who are suppose to be promoters of human rights yet do nothing except labeling the perpetrators animals. Sentimentalism treats these cultural distinctions as violations with the human rights culture as its background.

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