Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Duties Over Rights

A person is jilted by his girl friend. (We were not told the reason. In fact much is unknown about the case, including identity of the lady involved or actual disposition of kid to be. “Something tells me the reporter is once again giving only half of the story.”).

To take revenge (I do not know the motive), he put up a billboard on a main thoroughfare with the man (35-year-old) holding the outline of an infant, with the sign: "This Would Have Been A Picture Of My 2-Month Old Baby If The Mother Had Decided To Not KILL Our Child!."

The ex-lady friend now sued for harassment and breach of privacy. Who is in the right? (“Jilted ex-boyfriend puts up abortion billboard,” AP June 5, 2011.)

After reading many of 2,569 Comments (as of 4.3 am, central time, June 6, 2011, USA). I find that most of the comments were about right vs. wrong, winning and losing in court.

Some argued that there was no privacy claim to truth telling. (“The rule has always been that you are free to publish or speak derogatory statements about others as long as they are true. I don't know where the privacy twist gets into it.”)

Others suggested that the person has no right to cause intentional emotional harm to others. (“The bad thing is, he put her name on the sign and told that it was meant for her. In any case, he sounds like a jerk since he admitted he isn't even sure she had an abortion. “)

Still others thought it was best to engage in safe sex. (“A box of condoms is cheaper than a billboard.”) Each to his/her own. All make for good discussion, debate.k

My comments make/elaborate on one point that some commentators alluded to, but have not been taken seriously. Why right? Why not responsibility? (“Rights, rights, rights. What about responsibilities?“)


The dispute in the case is classical American – who has the right to do what to each other: right of privacy vs. right to free speech, both constitutional rights of the first order.

Ultimately, who is in the right, or more right than the other.


The real issue in this case? Why everyone is insisting on his/her right, no one is seriously talking about his/her duty.

If we were to start to discuss the role of duty in this case, the narrative suddenly changes:

What is the duty of the man to the lady? I submit that we as humans have a universal duty to not cause harm to others, even when we have a right to do so. Police officers is a good example. Just because they have a right to shoot to kill, does not mean that they should, in every case. That is what discretion is all about. That is also why good judgment is so, so important in policing. However, increasingly, US police training has been titled towards shoot (now taser) first and ask question later. UK police do it differently. Every effort is made to avoid using force, even in the face of violence, and warranted by the situation. Sir Robert Peel, father of modern policing, famously said: "Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient." That I believe is call sensibility and compassion, both duties of the most fundamental kind if we are to have a sustainable - harmonious society. (Later on substainability of society.) Why heap on pain, when the love is gone? (Here again, I “assume” that having baby is about love, not one night stand.)

What is the duty of the lady to the man? We as sex partners (or simply partners) have a duty to discuss with each other whether we want to have a kid before sex, and how to take care of him/her after. This is basic parenting. More simply, being responsible, to self and others. No one should have kids, accident or otherwise, if they do not want to assume their duties as potential parents.

What is the duty of both to the kid to be? (There is sure to be a debate abut when life starts/ends.) We as potential parents, have a duty to give birth to and take care of babies we made together. Alternative, as parents, we need to think about the future best interest of the kid. For the man, why have (unprotected) sex, if there is no common understanding that the kid would be taken care of. For the lady, if no baby is wanted, then she has a duty to tell the man so, before, not after sex. Alternatively, take precaution.


In the US Military Academy (USMA), 18 years old are taught about: Duty, Honor, Country.

In America society, everyone is expected to look out for number one: my rights first and last. Worse, my rights first, your rights last (or not). (Wall Street I: “Greed, in lack of a better term, is a good thing!”)

USMA taught our kids to sacrifice ones most precious thing (life and limb) in service of a nation. An “others – collective” welfare is ones dominant concern mentality. That is what a duty bound society requires. Pat Tillman exemplifies this world-view. He gave up millions to live a Ranger’s challenge. The nation applauded.

US society (corporation really) taught us all that in order to be rich, famous and happy we need to walk all over others. A “me – individual” interest is ones exclusive consideration attitude. That is what a right based society promotes. Sarah Palin personifies this life perspective. She earned millions by selling a Cinderella presidential dream. The public demurs.


I start with a few simple suppositions:

A RIGHT to do things, does not make it right to do certain things, and in a certain way.

A RIGHT tells us what things we can or cannot do, not whether we should or should not do certain things (in certain way).

RIGHTS without corresponding DUTIES bring out the worse in humans:

The sub-prime crisis is an example; in the name of profit, wall street bankers sell “junk” papers and defrauded the nation, world, with many kids doing without their first breakfast and last milk and still more seniors having to do more to make ends meet, in their twilight years. MBAs with huge mansions and fast boats, makes billions. MISs (man in street) with obligations and debts, lose everthing.

Our war effort in Pakistan is another; in the name of pre-emptive self-defense (Bush doctrine) we invaded Pakistan and killed thousands. US security paid with life and blood of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Muslim people.


In the US we have a Bill of Rights. In China (actually all around the world, known by different name) we have a Manifesto of Duties. We know a lot about Bill of Rights. We know little about Manifesto of Duties.

A Manifesto of Duties would read something as follows:

(1) People are born to duty and with duties, not rights.
(2) Duty comes before right.
(3) Duty trumps right.
(4) Right is contingent on duty.
(5) Rights are created by man, and enforced by law.
(6) Duties reside in nature, and compelled by morality.
(7) As humans we have the following duties to our fellow human beings:
(7.1) We have the duty to do the right thing.
(7.2) We have a duty to do good, not evil.
(7.3) We have a duty not to cause harm to people and damages to thing.
(7.4) We have a duty to create happiness and utilities.
(7.5) We have a duty to not to create suffering and do harm.
(7.6) We have a duty to help others to pursue life, liberty and happiness, the way they want it.
(7.7) We have a duty to think about others, first and last, before we think about ourselves.
(7.8) We have a duty to think about collective interests, more so than individual rights.
(7.9) We have a duty to think about the future interests, not just present rights.
(7.10) We have a duty to think about peaceful resolution of disputes.
(7. 11) We have a duty to avoid the use of violence, unless for self-defense, and then only as a last resort.
(7.12) We have a duty to leave the world a better place to live, work and play than when we found it.


If the above sounds familiar to you. It is. It is so because you (as parents, neighbors, friends, strangers) are already embracing duties not asserting rights, every day,willingly and instinctively. (That is also why the news story is so hair raising.)

Duty is in our blood, naturally, until wall street, military industrial complex, and politicians come along.

We need a Manifesto of Duties to safeguard our national heritage.

Again, long, long before we invented rights, we are born naturally with and to duties.

No comments: