Friday, January 3, 2014

UN Declaration of Human Rights - Articles 1-10

Herewith do we take a look into the meat of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR).  It is with an eye to semantic clarity, sufficiency, and correctness that we shall turn our attention to the document.  It shall be the purpose here to examine the articles to the point that either they are deemed sufficient and correct and of good and proper utility to the race of men or that they fail.  It is certainly true that in such a declaration of a purported "right" it is required that all elements addressed therein must be clear, correct, and complete to the purposes for which they are contrived to serve.  To that last point we may add that it behooves us to be perfectly clear about those very purposes, what they are, the reasons they are claimed as important, and an examination of all those to whom they purport to apply.

It is not the intention here to compose a vast volume on the merits and shortcomings of the UNDHR, but rather to determine the general timbre and sufficiency of its stipulations and to point out the general nature of its inadequacies, if any.

We will further make note of those places where the rights under consideration stray from those of the inherent and fundamental variety to those of a synthetic, arbitrary, and essentially contractual nature.  For those not familiar with the distinction, a couple of examples should prove helpful.

A fundamental and inherent human right is one that is part and parcel of the being and therefore cannot be excised by any means, whether legal or surgical.  The right to life, for example, which directly implies the right to preserve and protect it from danger, which in its turn further implies the right to acquire, keep, and employ the means to exercising the right, is inherent to the living being.  The right cannot be removed by any means, but can be violated in manifold ways and degrees.

A deer, for example, holds the right to make use of any means at its disposal to protect itself from being killed by a predator.  It may endeavor to remain hidden or, once discovered, to run away as fast as its legs will carry it.  It reserves the right to use its hooves and antlers as weapons against those trying to kill it if perchance it has been cornered.

A man holds the selfsame right to life and thereby the right to the means of preserving it, whether it be with firearms, clubs, fists, or a grenade.

On the other hand we have the contractual right, which is by nature synthetic.  That is to say, it is contrived in the mind and agreed to by the parties to the agreement.  For example, two people contract to have one wash the windows of the other's home and the other will pay him for the service.

In the political context, for example, one's voting rights are contractual in nature even if no specifically signed contract exists.  One is not born with a voting right, but rather it is bestowed upon him through law.  Were voting a fundamental right, it would not be morally permissible to deny one his voting activity during time in prison.  But because the right is artificial and there are conditions of performance attached to one's entitlement to exercise of it, failing to meet or by otherwise violating those requirements, one may forfeit his claim.

The right to the presumption of innocence in cases of criminal law as found in the United States is likewise contractual.  In France, the opposite is encountered, where one is guilty until proven innocent.  Therefore, we see that contractual rights are by their very nature arbitrary and therefore perforce subject to change on an equal basis.

The question of inherent v. contractual right is a very centrally important issue because a declaration of universal human rights should speak only to those claims that are inherent to the creature and not the product of arbitrary contriving, the latter being appropriate to contracts, constitutions, and perhaps some law.

This analysis shall be divided into three separate documents for the sake of taking nominally manageable bites and not present readers with a great wall of text.  Since there are 30 articles, the sections shall be numbered 1-10, 11-20, and 21-30.

Finally, this analysis is as much intended as a tutorial by example of how to conduct such examinations of just about any argument for its semantic quality and content.  If you feel you do not possess the skills to adeptly splinter the assertions and arguments of others, pay attention to how it is done here and you will at least endow yourself with some of the basics.

But to be more helpfully specific: question everything.  Always keep asking questions until you arrive at what you feel are irreducible truths.  And when you have arrived at the bottom of the rabbit hole, ask more questions, because one can never be quite 100% certain that you have run into the wall beyond which questioning will penetrate no further.  This is as much a matter of habit as of knowledge.  There is no doubt in my mind that you are capable of developing the skills and attitude for powerful thought.  It is a mere matter of getting to it and sticking with it.

Without further ado, let us then have at it.

Article 1.

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

The opening sentence, albeit vague, strikes an intuitive chord with many, myself included.  As far as it goes it may be casually considered agreeable, but in a formal document such as the Declaration such loosely constructed language fails to meet a minimal standard of semantic rigor.

The second sentence runs into further trouble, for while it is demonstrably true that some people are endowed with reason and conscience, it is clearly not the case for all.  To be fair, we note here that this is a relatively minor semantic nit being picked, but deem it worth noting in any event.  The second sentence runs into significantly greater trouble in its latter half where it attempts to specify how people should act towards each other.  We may assume the best of intentions here, but that does not save the author's reputation from stain, and in fact deepens the taint.  For one thing, what exactly defines the "spirit of brotherhood" and why "should" we act in that way toward each other?  Who has determined this and by what authority do they claim to speak for so many, if not all humanity?

If one is going to make a Declaration for all humanity, especially one whose tone rides perilously close to that of a universal mandate, the fundamental assertion cannot itself be sufficient to demonstrate justification.  There must be with it given a properly reasoned and sufficient contextual basis upon which the attestation is put forward.  Without it, the Declaration essentially boils down to an attempt at proof-by-assertion, which is invalid and thereby reduces the assertion to non-acceptability regardless of its truth value.  Such statements are of a different league from "I prefer vanilla" because they presume to speak to every living man, compelling performance at the point of the sword.  It is by necessity that when one speaks so broadly and with the presumption of such authority as found in the UNDHR, the requirement of proof of validity and correctness is absolute and cannot be disregarded, save at the peril of all credibility.

Article 2.

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty."

It may be argued that the placement of this as the second Article is oddly premature or perhaps late, depending upon how one looks at it. But given that as yet the enumeration or other specification of the rights to which reference is made is itself yet to be expressed, how are we able to accept whether everyone is so entitled?  Placement aside, the first sentence carries with it a strong intuitive sense of its truth and propriety because it appears to speak against arbitrary endowment of and respect for the rights in question.  This is a laudable seeming principle on its face and I will go so far as to say that it is correct.  However, the Article stands as incomplete because a sufficiently complete and properly reasoned basis for why the Article is valid and truthful is absent.

No matter how compelling such a declaration may appear or how appealing to the soul, they must not be accepted as true unless they are complete and correct in their specification.  This Article fails the test for completeness including a sufficient demonstration of correctness and therefore remains invalid and unproven.

There are a few other issues with the right as expressed in the Article.  For example, the catch-all, "or other status," is potentially problematic.  If, for example, one has the right to acquire, keep, and use kitchen knives and that right is absolute as clearly stated in the Preamble, then he retains that right even after having been duly convicted of a true crime and sentenced to a term in prison.  Given the sorts of places prisons tend to be, is it really wise to allow the inmates such free access to knives?  Just a point to consider aside from more philosophical issues.

The second line presupposes by implication that any given individual perforce "belong[s]" or must belong to some arbitrarily defined political entity.  What of free men?  The construction of the sentence is semantically vague, requiring a reader to fill in several holes.  For example, one must assume "distinction" refers to the rights to which the first line refers in order for the sentence to make minimally reasonable sense, yet anyone in political power is equally free to assume otherwise.  That aside,  the sentence seems to be saying that a person's rights stand regardless of the listed factors that may be in effect in the land from which he hails.  But what about when he is in a land that is not his home?

To what does "limitation of sovereignty" refer?  Limitations of sovereignty of a nation?  Of the individual in question?  If the latter, judging by the preamble which acknowledges rights as absolute and inviolable, in what manner does the Article speak?  Nothing is clearly delineated in the sentence and as such its meaning cannot be positively ascertained.

The Article is, therefore, reduced to dangerous nonsense and cannot be taken as meaning anything definite, thereby voiding it of all value, credibility, and authority.  These, however, are precisely the semantic properties of which the politically empowered bounder will take fullest advantage as he claims the authority to determine what a given sentence means vis-a-vis what the rest of the nation may think.

Article 3.

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."
Ignoring the now-customary absence of definitions of terms such as "life", "liberty", and "security", this Article goes a bit futher into specifics as to the right to which we are entitled.  Perhaps some help from the dictionary is in order.  To wit:


1.   the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally. 
2.the sum of the distinguishing phenomena of organisms, especially metabolism, growth, reproduction,and adaptation to environment.
3.the animate existence or period of animate existence of an individual.
4.a corresponding state, existence, or principle of existence conceived of as belonging to the soul. 
5.the general or universal condition of human existence.


1.freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.
2.freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.
3.freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right ofdoing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice. 
4.freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint:


1.freedom from danger, risk, etc.; safety.
2.freedom from care, anxiety, or doubtwell-founded confidence.
3.something that secures or makes safe; protection; defense.
4.freedom from financial cares or from want.
5.precautions taken to guard against crime, attack, sabotage, espionage, etc..
6.a department or organization responsible for protection or safety. or precautions taken against escape; custody: assurance; guarantee.

The expressed "right to life" presents the fewest problems, yet the declaration still manages to fail to meet the minimal standard of sufficiency.  Once again, simplistically stating that each man possesses the absolute "right to life" is emotionally very compelling and the intuition tends strongly to take the assertion as true.  However, the right is expressed with not even nearly the amount of context that is required in order to render it acceptable as a statement of universal human rights pursuant to which the force of law would hold just authority.  But if it is to be claimed that the expression of the right as given above is axiomatically obvious and irreducible, onus still rests with the claimant to demonstrate that it is so.  Neither of the necessary conditions required of proof have been met.

In no way is the issue of conflict addressed.  Conflict of action and right raises very basic issues for which there must be proper solutions.  A declaration of universal and absolute human rights must, therefore, carry with it the acknowledgment of the need for such elucidations or references to them, if not the elucidations themselves, which in principle could become voluminous.  But at the very least such a declaration must make clear that the issue of conflicting rights or rights with actions is to be somewhere found and treated in its full detail and course.

For example, if one's right to life is absolute as the Preamble states it must perforce be, then if one is being murderously attacked in a dark alley, there is nothing in principle to prevent one in political power to declare that morally justifiable acts of self defense resulting in the death of the attacker constitute murder.  This is, in fact, very close to the case in the United Kingdom where people are put into prison for justifiably killing those whose attacks are reasonably taken to have been laced with murderous intent.  In fact, they are often jailed for causing such attackers any bodily injury.

Because there is no treatment of the issue of conflicting rights and actions given in the Article,  whether explicitly or in the form of simple recognition of the issues and reference to the places where specific treatments are given, the door of interpretation is left gaping.  Humanity has been treated to endless examples of the horrors to which such open doors subject the ruled at the hands of the ruler.

The precise same failings apply to the treatments of "liberty" and "security of person".  The latter, however, carries with it some further problems.  What, exactly, is meant by the "right to the security of person"?  The Article gives absolutely no clue as to the precise semantic character of the assertion and the failure is rather spectacular because the potential implications of at least one interpretation of the "right" are vastly reaching.

One possible interpretation is that of a negative right.  In that context we can say that the right to be secure in your person means, for example, the right not to be physically attacked by others.  In this specific case the negative right of one implies a positive duty of others to refrain from attacking him.  This, of course, would be the correct interpretation of the right as vaguely expressed in the Article.  The positive duty implied by the negative right comprises but a single simple and elegant prohibitive maxim that is readily met by all at no cost whatsoever to them.

Another possible interpretation is that of a positive right.  The positive right implies the positive duty of others to ensure one's security not only through refraining from attacking him, but by providing him with security through positive action.  This, of course, could lead to any number of positive obligations such as acting as body guards in the event he is attacked by another or providing him with the instrumentality by which he would mount an effective defense of himself.  Such instrumentality could include weapons such as firearms.  Another possibility would be the duty to provide persons with other means of securing their persons such as armored motor vehicles, impregnable houses, and so forth.  In other words, in principle there are no limits to the positive compulsory obligations that might be imposed upon one toward his fellows.  This is clearly identical to the fundamental nature of "rights" as found under welfare entitlements.  What is left is a legacy of potentially limitless and ungainly obligations, each of which exacts from each individual costs in both material terms ($, for example) and those of his inviolable rights as an irreducible being.

The positive duties concommitant with positive rights such as this comprise a potentially endless list of duties to which each man is obliged to perform for the sake of others and the "greater good".  Taken not even remotely to its extremes, positive rights can rapidly become overwhelming in this respect from the practical standpoint of one's available resources.  Some will argue that this is an unreasonable fear and base their assertion on the positive "fact" that such endless enumerations of onerous duties have not arisen.  This, of course, is readily arguable, but if we grant it as being so for argument's sake, it can point to no other conclusion than that it has not yet happened, rather than it cannot.

But let it be clear that the reason it has not happened is due largely to the enlightened self interest of rulers who seek to continue their reigns for as long as possible.  The interpretation of a vaguely specificed right as being positive in nature leaves open to those rational men in political power the broadest possible menu of potential mandates from which they may pick and choose.  This will always be preferable to them because more power is always preferable to less.  It would not likely serve them well to begin imposing impossibly large lists of specific obligations.  Far better to the purposes of power to choose carefully those mandates that give the best and safest returns on the risks of imposition.

By virtue of its vagary and failure to meet the standard of sufficiency, the Article fails completely and cannot be said to hold any adequately clear meaning, credibility, or authority.

Article 4.

"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."
Missing clear, complete, and correct (CCC) definitions of "slavery" and "slave trade".  As stated, the Article may be interpreted to mean nearly anything and as such offers no clearly identifiable protections. In addition, it places people transacting otherwise legitimate business at the mercy of state caprice.

Far more fundamentally, the Article specifies only a procedural prohibition, failing to specify the underlying inherent right.  The Article is therefore inappropriate to the Declaration and on that basis alone should be removed, perhaps to be included in some statutory specification or elsewhere.

The Article fails to meet CCC requirements, fails to address and fundamental human right, and on those bases carries no credible claim of authority.

Article 5.

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
No definitions of which to speak.  What, then, does this really mean?  What is the meter of "degrading"? Is it degrading to placed into a prison cell after having been rightly convicted of murder?  Not only is a clear, complete, and correct (CCC) definition of the term provided, no reference is made to the practical standard by which "degrading" would be judged, thereby leaving judgment open to arbitrary outcomes and caprice.

Are convicted child molesters, for example, to be afforded gourmet meals, cable TV, and provided with all the child porn they can handle?  After all, it can be reasonably said that denying one that to which he is accustomed constitutes cruelty.  During the 1970s courts even used to make reference to terms such as "relative deprivation", meaning that people accustomed to living in Beverly Hills mansions and brunching on caviar daily are "relatively impoverished" when circumstance would call upon them to eat mere lox for breakfast and live in a tiny ten-thousand square foot house in Belaire, Hollywood's lowly next door neighborhood.  As I recall, such references were often made in divorce cases where one party's legal representatives made cases for increased alimonies, the judges then having found themselves in tears at the thought of the devastation the party was to suffer in the wake of having to live on a mere half a million dollars per month.

The Article makes reference to a contractual right by specifying the benefit, "shall [not] be subjected..." but not specifically to the right in question.  While one may infer reference to an unstated inherent right, the connection is so vague that those in authority remain perfectly free to deny that any such reference exists.

The Article fails to meet CCC requirements and inappropriately addresses a contractual right.  Therefore, it carries neither credibility nor authority.

Article 6.

"Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law."

"Person" as in "legal fiction"? Why not phrase it as having the right to be recognized as a free and sovereign man? What is the definition of "law" as used in this Article? Does it refer to true law based in logically provable moral principle, or arbitrary statute? What, exactly, does it mean to be "recogni[zed]... before the law"?

Most importantly, the Article speaks specifically only to a contractual right rather than to one that is inherent, the references to the latter being very obliquely vague at best and perfectly deniable by those in political power.  This is especially worrisome when those in political office are the only ones with access to the means of brute physical force, such as firearms.

CCC failure, as well as failure to address an inherent right explicitly, and thereby bears neither credibility nor does it carry the least authority.

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."
"Equal before the law" is another strongly compelling statement, emotionally speaking, and seems "right".  But if one stops to ask the pointed questions regarding what exactly does the statement as given mean in more explicit terms, the problems become immediately apparent.

The second sentence suffers from a vague semantic structure in that "Declaration" may be interpreted as referring to either the Article in question or the entire UNDHR.  Depending on how the sentence is interpreted, the Article may be regarded as having wildly differing meanings, and therefore potentially very different implications, consequences, and effects for all.

More deeply troubling is the absence of any precise explanation of what constitutes "incitement to such discrimination."    This inadequacy leaves the statement wide open as broadly interpretable, thereby placing people at potentially grave risk for acting in ways that no minimally intelligent and rational man would regard as intolerable.

Far more significantly, one should note that the Article speaks more to a contractual right than one inherent, making only a vaguely implied reference to a fundamental right in language to unclear that plausible deniability that any such right is referenced remains strongly in the hands of "authority".

Because the Article speaks to an arbitrary procedural benefit to which it declares all men entitled, it is not appropriate that it be included here.

Once again I remind you that these articles issue from a document that at least implies to purport to stand as universal mandates by which every man on the planet is obliged to comport himself under pain of the sword.  It is therefore clear that the Article fails fundamentally to demonstrate its correctness, completeness, credibility, and the least authority whatsoever.

Article 8.

"Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law."
The Article makes only oblique reference to some unspecified inherent human right via the specification of a contractual right to the means of remedy.  This places the cart before the horse, so to speak, and in a manner such that we cannot tell neither the horse's breed nor even if there actually is a horse of which to speak.  This Declaration is not the appropriate venue for the treatment of synthetic rights and the Article fails on that point.

Far more importantly, note the reference to "fundamental rights" as being "granted".  This is a failure of a terminally catastrophic nature and of monumental proportions such that overstatement would be next to impossible.  This assertion alone is sufficient to deny the least credibility to the entire Declaration and to call into serious question the competence and intentions of its architects.  The nature of this failure is to lace the entire Declaration with a fatal poison from which nothing of value can be recovered.  Also note that it stands in diametric conflict with the Preamble that explicitly states that rights are inherent to the creature, directly contradicting the notion that they are granted by any means whatsoever.

The notion that a fundamental human right is granted to the individual by some conceptual entity such as "the state" is dangerously preposterous and must under no circumstance be accepted as true in even the least epsilon.  The notion behind the words is dangerous to every living man on the planet and should be rebelled against with interminable fury and bluntly kinetic energy lest the race find itself hoodwinked into accepting a notion carrying with it the credibility of a flat-earth theory and he danger of an armed and down-counting strategic nuclear weapon.  Nothing good can come of its acceptance, but much harm will.

Beyond its more alarming flaws, this Article tells us nothing of substance, but announces an emotionally compelling idea shrouded in fog.  It is not only devoid of credibility, it hides a thinly veiled element of profound danger to all humanity and fails most spectacularly.

Article 9.

"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile."
The standard against which arbitrariness is judged is neither listed nor referenced.

Also note that the Article dances on the edge of propriety and sensibility as it refers indirectly to the fundamental negative right to be free from the violations by his fellows but couches its expression in the language of contractual stipulation and as a broadly expressed principle of legal formalism.  This renders the Article extremely confusing in that one cannot tell whether the right is being recognized for protection, being granted by the "state", or some senselessly contradictory combination of the two.

Recognition of the preexistent and inherent negative human right is appropriate in the Declaration, but must be made far more clearly, and completely.  The method used here is wholly inadequate, failing in every way imaginable.

Specification of the synthetic contractual right to some procedural benefit pursuant to the presumably inherent right as expressed in the Article is not appropriate to this Declaration and should have been presented in another document.  This is a tremendously basic error in structure and speaks very poorly of the performance of the Declaration's architects, or perhaps of their truer intentions.   Note that, given the structure of the Article, one can only weakly assume it refers to the inherent right because reference to it is made in only the most oblique fashion.  This leaves political "leaders" in the real world at ease to decide as they may see fit in any given moment when and how such a right may exist, if at all.

By these various basic flaws is the Article rendered devoid of meaning and is therefore non-credible and bereft of any authority whatsoever.

Article 10.

"Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him."
 Which definition of "tribunal" is at work here?  Is it a court of law or a seat of power?    Where is the cite to reference material so that we may see the specifications of these tribunals and know whether they are satisfactory to the competent dispensation of fair and reasonable justice?  What avenues of redress are open to us when we feel justice has not been served?  Are we to assume that everything has been taken care of competently and honestly?  Human history provides a vast parade of examples of the corruption of rulers and other heads of "state" who have bid their subjects, "trust me" as well as the appalling and seemingly endless horrors that have resulted.

There is no mention of trial by a jury of one's peers.  At least there it may be said with even odds that the people whose job it is to determine guilt are statistically likely to have no horse in the race, whereas a differently arranged tribunal, presumably of judges, may not be able to claim such impartiality with nearly the same degree of credibility and truth.

Note that this Article speaks not to fundamental human rights, but rather to those of a contractual nature.  Such rights differ from nation-state to nation-state, even from municipality to municipality, and sometimes even court case to court case.  This Article does not belong in this Declaration in the first place, but given it is there, the poor craft by which it was contrived voids it all credibility and authority.

Interim summary

As is plain to see, the UN Declaration of Human Rights thus far fails to live up to its title and the promises implied there.  While every article fails the semantic smell tests of clarity, completeness, and correctness, Article 8 carries with it the most deadly conceptual virus imaginable: that human rights are granted by other humans upon the rest.  The wild danger this poses cannot be overstated and one is behooved to educate himself as to why this is the case, a topic which may be addressed in another essay.

Until next time, please accept my fondest regards.