The Universal Right to Choose

By Cyberquill 07/20/20144 Comments

Barack Obama

Speaking on what appears to have been the accidental downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over the Ukraine by Russian separatists that had skipped over the part in their mobile missile launcher’s manual where it said that all large aircraft look alike on the target acquisition radar, President Obama outlined general U.S. policy thus:

The United States of America is gonna continue to stand for the basic principle that people have the right to live as they choose, that nations have the right to determine their own destiny, and that when terrible events like this occur, the international community stands on the side of justice and on the side of truth.”

The president, of course, omitted to append to this basic principle the qualifiers “within reason” and “as long as U.S. interests are served.”

Pointing out that Mr Obama’s affirmation of the universal right to self-determination was obviously intended as a lopsided dig against the Russian separatists in Ukraine—and by extension against their suspected ringleader in the Kremlin—is not meant as a dig against Mr Obama. All nations and all individuals, be they loyal conformists or unruly separatists, have a rooting interest in clearing the path to their own chosen destiny; an interest that, alas, frequently collides with the interest of others to the exact same thing from their perspective.

Everyone strives to live as they choose and determine their own fate. And everyone will point to their right to do precisely that as the justification for their actions, non-violent or otherwise.

Enlightened as it sounds when enunciated by Mr Obama’s euphonious baritone, assigning an all-embracing right to self-governance has conflict written all over the very concept itself.

Burger King might function in this manner, but in the world at large, if everyone has perfect moral standing to have it their own way, clashes are inevitable. All too often, alas, one man’s freedom redounds to another man’s perceived encroachment on his.

Your right to live as you choose may include the right to smoke whenever or wherever you want. My right to live as I choose most certainly includes my right to breathe smoke-free air without having to constantly adjust my daily routines so as to circumvent smokers that may materialize in my path at any moment.

It is not difficult to extrapolate from seemingly trivial tiffs over personal freedoms the mechanism by which such tiffery may eventually escalate into the taking up of arms against those we regard as a fundamental threat to our right to live as we choose, or that a nation regards as a fundamental threat to their right to determine their own destiny, or that various factions within a given nation regard as a fundamental threat to the freedoms they feel entitled to.

The unnamed author of a most insightful essay on the vexing difficulty of assigning the moral high ground in any given conflict situation, titled Reflections on an Unforgiving Day, reaches the following conclusion:

There is nothing easier and cheaper than advising others to get along.”

Likewise, nothing rings more hollow—and provides a more powerful recipe for perennial disharmony—than to proclaim that every person has the right to live as they choose, and that every nation has the right to shape their own destiny.

Sounds great, but nobody ever truly means it.

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  • Richard

    Thank you for the link. It was a most careful and rational assessment of conflict. The writer describes well how eternally incompatible rival claims are and how they swiftly escalate into a fight for the survival of indivivual lifestyles, although he seems to forget that D-day was a mere 70 years ago.

    And your essay crucially demonstrates the blindness of world statesman to the dilemma.

    In the modern world, the referendum is regarded as a panacea, but the losers do not lose their sense of injustice. All a referendum can do is endeavour to buy enough time to enable the rivals either to forget their differences or learn to live with them until the next power-seeker decides to exploit them.

    All most ordinary people want is to be left alone to live their brief lives with minimal interference by those who govern them or want to govern them. Sadly, individuals also have their fights and the key here is tolerance. Indeed, so much bloodletting and loss boils down to intolerance. You’d think natural disaster, accident and disease would be enough to occupy our time.

    • Cyberquill

      The key is tolerance. Question is, where’s the line between being tolerant and being a doormat?

      I am unable to locate either an overt or a covert reference to D-day in the piece I linked to. Given that this particular website deals in global conflict assessment in the context of world history, I find it difficult to imagine that any of its writers might have forgotten when it occurred.

      Your free lunch is hereby cancelled, and your entry fee JUOC competition will be retained as a fine for the glaring serial comma omission in the final sentence of your comment above.

      • Richard

        ……Look at Europe and the way it was reshaped by armies. Perhaps that happened centuries ago, but is there an expiration date on injustice?…….

        This passage was taken from the essay, and I thought the writer had overlooked WW2, maybe, but I stand corrected.

        Ideally, tolerance should prevail over the ideology of doormatism, but the erstwhile tolerant are too easily persuaded. There comes a time, of course, when dust accumulates and the doormat has to be shaken into life again, even if it involves mixed metaphors.

        I shall submit to your decision and surrender my lunch. Does that make me tolerant or a doormat?

        • Cyberquill

          I suppose the writer should have said “Perhaps some of that [reshaping of European boundaries] happened centuries ago, …” An omission most certainly born from speed of composition — after all, the article was published in the evening of the “Unforgiving Day” itself — rather than an incomplete grasp of 2202020202twentieth century history. (Only last year, the CEO of that website, whom I strongly suspect to be the nameless author in question, had written a piece titled “Thoughts on Omaha Beach.”)

          Given that you seemed rather averse to the items on the menu, surrendering your lunch makes you an opportunist, a person quick to accept anything that serves his interests.

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