When we see repeated and vicious attacks on public figures, too many involved in charged political debates need to assess their moral and ethical compass. We should question if it is wise and improves our society to be pulled into public mud fights. We should question a culture that believes in “humiliation” and “mockery” regarding political leaders as the means to debate political issues and promote democratic values. We should also question what such a culture does to the level of civil behavior and communication in general society.
Our universal human rights includes freedom of speech, and we can use it as we will, both wisely and unwisely, which can be viewed differently depending on our individual perspectives. But our shared Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) begins with the understanding that “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.”
Being endowed with “reason and conscience,” and being urged to “act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” is not a focus to predominantly mock and humiliate others. The UDHR is based on the “recognition of the INHERENT DIGNITY and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This is where our commitment to human rights begins. It is often forgotten that “dignity” is referenced many times in the UDHR, as a fundamental part of our universal human rights.
While using the universal human right of our freedom of speech, too many of our vicious political discussions and our political “humor” comments are far from such a “spirit of brotherhood” and the recognition of the “inherent dignity” of our fellow human beings.
While such extreme political comments may be part of our shared freedom of speech, it is unfortunate that those who degrade and humiliate others to promote “political views,” do not understand that such comments still retain consequences for us, both individually and as a society. Our society is worse off when degrading and humiliating comments are viewed as socially-acceptable behavior.
Supporting dignity for our fellow human beings should also reject comments and tactics of obscene remarks and slander. Such comments and tactics do not further democratic principles and our shared universal human rights.
If anything, such a negative culture fixated on the humiliation and degrading of “others” undermines our shared universal human rights, security, and dignity for all.
Part of the problem remains the view by some that “political satire” can be effectively focused, during what are very charged, even out-of-control, disagreements. The cruelness of mockery under “political satire” is a short walk from abusive and mean-spirited behavior. When such “satire” involves someone we disagree with, it may be difficult to see this. But when such “satire” is turned against those we support, it is easy to recognize the viciousness behind such attempts at humiliation. We will then hear the argument that “it was a joke” and that people need to be more “thick-skinned” and “have a sense of humor.” We are even told that perhaps “we are not good fun at parties.” What type of “parties” do we need to mock, humiliate, and degrade people who are different than us and who have different views than us?
Too many are willing to write and say cruel, malicious, slanderous comments, and then when they are called upon it, they sneer and ask, “what’s wrong with you? can’t you take a joke?” But in our shared respect for universal human rights and dignity, we must not allow those who promote the malicious humiliation of others to hide behind the mask of “humor.” It is not funny.
The argument will be made that “political satire” is only used to target “powerful oppressors” who need to be mocked. But a culture of viciousness that embraces humiliating “the other” can be quickly be turned from perceived “powerful oppressors” to simply “anyone they disagree with.”
We have seen this before by laws and group-think from other groups and nations, where the majority sets down some standard, whether it is a blasphemy law or something else, for use to maintain certain standards. But inevitably the law becomes used as a means to persecute minorities and minority opinions.
So it is with “political satire.” A culture that seeks to promote democratic values and principles through humiliation and mockery is not really defending free speech; it is defending the degradation of others, simply because we disagree. Furthermore, there is no end to a culture of degrading others. This path of darkness in human interactions inevitably requires worse and worse mockery and humiliation of “the other” to become more and more extreme. The jaded views by those who accept humiliation and mockery as a substitute for dialogue, eventually require more extreme mockery and humiliation than the last time, so that they can get their emotional satisfaction in attacking the “other.”
Defenders of such a culture of “political satire” will say that they “need” “political satire,” as it is the only method they have of educating the public and expressing political views. Why? Do we need satire/mockery to discuss everything else in our lives? Do we need satire/mockery in our jobs, schools, homes, families, public places, houses of worship to effectively communicate? Of course not. We communicate just fine without such satire/mockery filtering our communications with one another, in most other aspects of life.
Do we need to mock our doctors at the hospital? Do we need to mock our co-workers and supervisor on the job to do our work? Do we need to mock the bus driver when on a bus? Do we need to mock our server at a restaurant? In fact, we don’t. We can communicate just fine what our needs are, what our concerns are, without resorting to mockery and humiliation in our communications.
In politics, this addiction to humiliation and mockery in our communications is a sickness in our political health. It does not help our democracy, it does not help our politics, and it certainly does not improve our integrity, no matter how “right” we may view our political position.
A commitment to democracy must start with the basis of our universal human rights. This is how we bring meaningful, productive, and inclusive political change. It must begin with our shared “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women” as a basis “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
We urge our fellow human beings to respect the dignity of one another as human beings, even when, or perhaps especially when we disagree.
Honoring human dignity is the starting point to be Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.)