Equal Rights

Zygmunt Bauman (b. 1925), Polish philosopher
Zygmunt Bauman (b. 1925), Polish philosopher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sociologists like Zygmunt Bauman often point out a fundamental tension between two social ideals:

(a) Equal Rights, including the right not to be harmed by another, and

(b) Personal Freedom

To put this into everyday terms, it’s great to have equal rights and the freedom to do what you want. But at the same time, if that freedom to do what you want impinges on another person’s human rights, a problem arises.

Problems usually arise when two or more conflicting belief systems meet head on. For instance, is a Catholic mother justly concerned about a gay high-school teacher imparting apparently “bad values” to her young and impressionable son or daughter? Should her taxes contribute to that school’s funding? On the other hand, is a lesbian woman justly concerned about a Catholic professor teaching her impressionable female partner at university? Should the lesbian woman’s taxes contribute to the funding of that college?

Another dimension of this problem comes out, especially in America, with the issue of free speech. CNN’s Andersoon Cooper talks about this problem almost on a daily basis. In a nutshell, it’s not always clear at what point the right to say what you believe conflicts with the rights of others who hold different beliefs, and who deserve to live in a world without fear of being discriminated against.

The question of free speech takes yet another interesting twist with the internet, where posters can use anonymous names, thinking that this gives them a ticket to be abusive or libelous. A recent lawsuit, however, shows just how wrong those anonymous posters can be. See That Nasty, Lying Anonymous Internet Post Could Cost $13.78 Million.


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