Archive for December 24th, 2008

Is Christmas shopping bad for your identity?

It wouldn’t be Christmas without clerical complaints about commercialism:

But God is far from a capitalist, says Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier, who said the commercialisation of Christmas and encouragement to spend increased the risk that people would define themselves only as consumers.

Praise the Lord and Clive Hamilton!

But outside Clive’s books, how likely is it that people would define themselves only as consumers? The 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked its respondents to agree or disagree with the proposition that:

Shopping helps me create who I am

2% of respondents strongly agreed, and 11% agreed, for a total of 13%. But they were massively outnumbered by the 34% who disagreed, and 28% strongly disagreed, for a total of 62% (there was a large ‘neither’ response).

Unhappily for the Archbishop, listening to Christ’s message on a regular basis isn’t a big help in warding off the evils of consumerism. 11% of people who attend church once a week or more agree that shopping helps create who they are, exactly the same proportion as among the people who never go to church.
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Are human rights based on love?

According to The Australian, the new girlfriend of David Hicks, Aloysia Brooks, ‘writes poetry on human rights issues’. Thankfully the paper spared us any quotations from it. But we were not so lucky in escaping ex-Justice Michael Kirby’s imaginative musings on ‘human rights’:

In an article published in The Age last week he told us that:

The essential underpinning of fundamental human rights is love. Love for one another. Empathy for fellow human beings. Feeling pain for the refugee; for the victim of war; for the prisoner deprived of the vote; for the child dying of cholera in Zimbabwe. We can imagine what it must be like to be a victim because, as human beings, we too feel, and yearn for, life, freedom and justice.

That’s quite a segue from ‘love’ to the pity we feel for a kid we’ve never met and never will meet dying of cholera. Putting ‘love’ as the underpinning of human rights seems to me to have things the wrong way around. It is because we don’t love each other, because positive emotions of any kind are in finite supply, that we need social norms and legal and political institutions that seek to protect us from others and to manage conflict in a peaceful way.

Judith Shklar, a fine Harvard political theorist and escapee from the Nazis as a girl, had it right in her famous essay on the ‘liberalism of fear’: that liberalism – which provides much of the ideological basis of ‘human rights’ – begins with the evil of cruelty, and the desire we have to live free of fear.

Whether legally-entrenched ‘human rights’ are the best way to put limits on cruelty is a debate that we will again be having over the next six months. But it we had unlimited love no such legal rights, and no such debate, would be necessary.