Down with breathing!

hold_breathImagine, if you will, a survey which asked respondents for their views on breathing. Imagine 68% of those respondents indicating that they either had no strong feelings on the matter or were actively opposed to the process of respiration. How would we makes sense of it? Apparently, two-thirds of the population want breathing stopped. If the survey is to be believed, there’s a significant majority in favour of mass suffocation.

I’m not aware of any such survey. But I’m just as perplexed by actual research which indicates large numbers of people opposed to human rights. According to a report published by the Scottish Human Rights Commission outlining the findings of a YouGov survey, only 17 per cent of Conservative voters are human rights supporters. This suggests that a massive 83% of Tory voters reject the idea of human beings having fundamental rights. Assuming that Tory voters are included in the category of ‘human’, more than three quarters of them want to be stripped of their own basic rights.

This is every bit as incomprehensible as being anti-breathing. And not just because the figure is so high. It would be startling if even one person scorned something that is essential for life. It is surely just as remarkable that anybody should spurn the principles which make life tolerable.

According to the research, 51% of SNP voters are also at best ambivalent about human rights. While that number doesn’t have quite the jaw-dropping impact of the Tory’s 83% opposition to human rights, SNP voters can’t really afford to be smug. That’s still a majority who, if we interpret their votes literally, disagree with the idea that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

That’s a majority who, based on their responses to the survey, think it’s OK to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, sex, language or religion.

It’s a majority who don’t agree that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

It’s a majority in favour of slavery and the slave trade.

It’s a majority in favour of people being subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It’s a majority in favour of arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

It’s a majority who reject the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Of course, most of these people would almost certainly deny most or all of the above. They’d deny that they favour slavery and racial discrimination and arbitrary imprisonment without trial and the use of torture. They would probably insist that this is not what they meant when they repudiated the concept of human rights. They might even dispute the definition of human rights being used. Even when it is pointed out to them that it’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948, they’ll still insist that their own definition takes precedence.

They’ll say that, when they voted against human rights, they were voting against convicted terrorists being allowed to go free. They were voting against prisons being like luxury hotels. They were voting against the ‘political correctness’ that forces employers to take on barely educated black people when there are plenty of better qualified white people available.

Explaining why people would, apparently, eschew their own fundamental rights is difficult. But it may be easier to understand the disparity between Tory and SNP voters. They read different newspapers. They listen to different voices. They have a different world-view.

This is both cause and effect. They see the world differently because of the media messages they consume. And they consume those media messages because they seek confirmation of their world-view. If you think suspected terrorist shout be tortured to extract information, you’ll tend to avoid publications which denounce torture and those who advocate it. You’ll tend to favour newspapers which tell you torture is a good thing. You’ll derive satisfaction from reading stories of how torture was used to acquire intelligence which led to some murderous plot being thwarted. You won’t learn of the abundant research indicating that torture is woefully ineffective as a means of acquiring useful information.

It’s not a full explanation, of course. People are complex. And so are the issues. But, if nothing else, it illustrates an important point. A properly functioning democracy relies on informed consent. It depends on at least a significant part of the electorate actually knowing what they’re voting for – or against. Which leads to questions about the duties and responsibilities of information providers. That means the print and broadcast media.

Let’s look on the bright side, shall we? If, as is not entirely improbable, the Daily Express ever decides to denounce the fad of breathing as a dastardly plot by evil Eurocrats bent on undermining traditional British values, this could prove to be a very Darwinian solution. Would it be such a tragedy if three out of every four Tory voters chose to demonstrate their superior British stoicism by holding their breath until they expired?

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