Decoupling human rights

June 11, 1996|By ANDREI CODRESCU

NEW ORLEANS -- What ever happened to human rights? A few years ago they were so big actual humans were being mentioned by name in presidential speeches. Imprisoned dissidents in authoritarian countries became the reason to bring down their governments. Political oppression was our public enemy and we vanquished it, sort of, in a big chunk of the world. Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, no more U.S.S.R. Vaclav Havel, no more ''socialist camp.''

Well, that was a long time ago. Humans and human rights are no longer in vogue. Democrats and Republicans alike bend over for China. Buying suit jackets made by political prisoners is more important than setting them free. We wear the suits, they wear the chains.

Let the Chinese goose-step all over the humans of Tibet. With the inconvenient exception of the Andrei Codrescu

Dalai Lama we can't pronounce their names anyway.

Human rights has this hidden proviso: the less-pronounceable their names the fewer rights they need to have. Selling tobacco to Vietnam is more important than free elections. Let the prisoners smoke the cigarettes we won't. We now prefer chain-smoking humans in real chains to unpredictble free people. The economy demands it.

In the words of commentators, our foreign policy has become ''decoupled'' from human rights. It didn't stay single long: It coupled immediately with human greed. The only problem is that human greed goes against everything we thought the U.S. Constitution and our democracy stands for.

Does this mean that very soon we are going to also decouple our foreign policy from democracy and the Constitution? And if that is the case why not decouple the U.S. from all such notions and simply start putting our own people in camps to make suit jackets cheaper right here at home? I mean, we have to compete on the world market and how can we compete if we let mere humans stand in the way of the mighty global economy?

More and more, the most significant figure of our time turns out to be Rip van Winkle. Marx is in the dustbin, Freud's been replaced by pills, Gandhi and KIng silenced by the NRA, Joyce and Einstein cyberspaced. That leaves Rip van Winkle who now has to sleep only five minutes to miss the dizzying replacement of our principles by callousness and selfishness.

Andrei Codrescu teaches at Louisiana State University. He edits

Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Letters & Life.

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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