Thursday, August 25, 2016

#24. No One is Free Unless We're All Free

This is Day 24 of our 30-day blog on the Declaration of Principles adopted by the 10th Annual Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression held in Toronto, May 14-18, 1982.  (More info here.)  Today we are talking about Principle 24.

Principle 24 reads in full as follows:

We believe that so long as one individual's freedom is unjustly restricted no one is truly free.

Basic Rationale

This principle is a litmus test.  The test is about which paradigm - which worldview of human relations - we identify with the most.  If I'm in the self-interest, free market, business as usual paradigm, this Principle makes no sense.  In the business as usual paradigm, What does it matter if you're not free?  I'm free and that's what counts.  

In the business as usual paradigm, the only way it matters to me if you're not free is if what happened to you could happen to me.  So long as I can rationally distinguish you from me, I'm free to keep doing what I'm doing how I'm doing it.  No problem for me, too bad for you. My focus is self-interest, and under the business as usual paradigm I'm free to exploit that to my heart's content.  After all, that's what the free market, competition and capitalism are all about.

All good -- as long as I'm getting what I personally want & need.  All good -- as long as I'm pretty sure I can keep what happened to you from happening to me.  All good  -- as long as I can see you as different enough from me that I can keep your fate separate from my fate both mentally and materially.  All good -- as long as I don't have to worry that you'll drag me down or suck me into the vortex that sucked up you.

In this business as usual paradigm, we worship human successes and despise human failures.  We distance ourselves from misfortune and loss and the possibility that it could ever happen to us.  We shun vulnerability, align ourselves with the fortunate, compete for opportunities, and grade our own efforts and those of others based on our relative successes at achieving these aims.

If all of this seems pretty 'normal' and kind of like 'duhhh', then it just goes to show how much we've internalized the business model (think corporations and industry) of human relations.  In the business of human relations, our safety and survival - physical, emotional, social - all depend on how much power and privilege, relative to others, that we can secrete for ourselves and how securely we can maintain it.  We compete with each other, trying to get as much power and privilege as we can amass. We amass as much wealth, power and privilege as we are able to access.  We get to use our power and privilege in any lawful way we want (as well as a lot of unlawful ways so long as we have enough power and privilege to insulate ourselves from the consequences).

It's a high price to pay.  Unbearably high, when you really think about it.  

Human beings in this profit-centric relational paradigm have no affirmative obligation to each other. We're basically free to wheel and deal in any way that gets us the best deal. Beyond bare legal minimums, there is no requirement to think about the consequences of our actions on others.  If you get a good deal and I don't, that's your good fortune and my tough luck.  If you become a millionaire and I freeze to death in a cardboard box, that's still your good fortune & my tough luck.

The boundaries (rights) of this profit-centric world are basically set by power and privilege.  They protect the power and privilege that some have managed to amass or acquire - even when it means that the needs of massive numbers of human others will be thwarted or outright unmet.

The problem is, no one really wants to go home to that model.  It's actually not a way of thinking about human relationships that anyone ever feels safe with.  In the profiteering industry model, no one has your back.  The world is forever dog eat dog.  A momentary lapse of attention or performance, and - guess what? - you're toast...

The consequences of this way of social operating are a boatload of anxiety and insecurity all around. Everyone, everywhere, is naturally nervous about their fate and their future.

We should be.  

The fact of the matter is that life lived from this worldview is lonely, isolated, cut off from the best of what life has to offer - the consideration, kindness, authentic connection, generosity of spirit that potentially abound in our species. Instead, we devolve to our lowest common denominator.  Self-interest rules the day.  Beneath the rhetoric of social progress, it's basically just the same old the law of the wild and predator-prey.  Looking out for each other is the exception, the aberration, an unexpected grace.

I suspect this is not the world that most of us want to live in.   More than likely, the longing most of us have is for the possible world of grace and graciousness, rather than our current world where conniving, unscrupulosity and the ever present need to 'be on guard' rule the day.  A lot of us - perhaps all of us - would be more than willing to be there for others if only we knew, really knew, that others would have our backs too in meaningful significant ways.  But since, in modern society, this latter feels really out of the question, we mostly just keep slogging along in paradigm #1.

All in all, it's a quiet despair.  We mostly put it out of our minds and distract from the nagging, unacknowledged background noise that disturbs the surface certainty we would vastly prefer to gloss over.  

Despite the boatloads of propaganda telling us this is the only possible world, however, it really doesn't have to be this way.  In 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, the peoples of the world took a hard look at this way of operating. They concluded it was a dead end, and they proposed something radically different.  In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they proposed a new world order where we protect not power and privilege, but rather each other's access to basic human needs.

The basic concept of human 'rights' really is indistinguishable from what the mental health system calls 'boundaries'. The major difference is that, with human rights, you focus on protecting the universal human needs of the people you say you are serving, rather than the provider's privilege to go home and sleep at night while totally ignoring them. In other words, like boundaries, human rights are designed to protect human beings.  But unlike mental health boundaries, they're not primarily concerned with protecting human self interest.  Rather, they protect both individuals and communities from the fear, vulnerability and outright bad behavior that result when people anywhere get scared their basic needs won't be met.

Here are the core principles:

The Human Rights Model  

1. There are certain things (food, housing, freedom, fairness, material and emotional safety, respect, dignity, voice, the means to make a living and support a family) that every human being needs in order to live and be well. 
2. No one does well without these things. 
3. If we want a world where human beings treat each other well, then we must protect people's access to the basic things that every human being needs in order to live and be well. 
4. Protecting this access is the function of human rights. 
5. Human rights, in effect, establish a boundary that begins and ends with the personhood of every human being. 
6. These boundaries endeavor to protect everyone's access to basic human needs.
7. Such boundaries (rights) insure that no human being is deprived of access to the basic resources that all human beings need in order to live and be well.
8.  If we want to prevent social ills - including the mental distress, strained relationships, social ill-will that so often precede them - then we have to promote human rights. 

Accordingly, in a human rights informed world, protecting access to essential life supports is the obligation of everyone.  Thus, instead of prioritizing power, privilege and the rights of individuals to exclusive enjoyment irregardless of the harms or deprivations suffered by others, the human rights model protects access for all of us to the life essentials that none of us can live or do well without.

In the human rights model, these protections (rights) are shared by all.  They represent a common trust, a precious resource, a survival element that all of us require.  The capacity of our communities to ensure a fair and just allocation of these precious resources determines how we feel about each other.  This in turn, impacts the quality of the social relations and collective good will we collectively create.  When there is not enough to go around, the requisite access to resources is negotiated thoughtfully, respectfully, between human equals as a matters of fairness, principle and conscience.  It is not - as in the business/ corporation/ self-interest model - yanked unilaterally by moguls of might.

Thus, in the human rights paradigm, the freedom of the one is inextricably intertwined with the freedom of all.  The shared recognition is that our inherent nature, right, is to be dignified and free.   Instead of insulating ourselves with petty divisions, we align ourselves based on shared and universal needs. Protecting the freedom of one and all is a shared endeavor and responsibility.

In a human rights-informed world, it makes perfect sense that the unfreedom of one of us is a threat to all of us. None of us is free - or fed, or respected, or housed, or treated fairly, or heard, or valued, or believed - unless we all are.  We simply can't afford the ill will or the collective insecurity that sacrificing a single individual's needs on the alter of public expedience will create.   We rise and fall together.  Our social welfare and collective good will rises and falls together.  The future of our people and of our kind rises and falls together.

This is totally different from the business profit model.  Rather than being about self-promotion or self-interest, the human rights model is really about something in the nature of kith and kindred bonds.  It is about our legacy - our birthright - as members of a human family.  It is about being seen - and about seeing each other - as allies of worth, dignity, reason and conscience with whom we can learn, grow and make a life together.  

That is what we are allowing psychiatry - and all of conventional society with all of conventional business as usual - to rob us of each day.  Our birthright - as equal, valued members of a human family - is being stolen from us every minute that we continue to put up with it.

Suffice it to say, there are two basic choices to make these days. We can stand with each other in our ordinary, flawed, vulnerable humanity or we can stand with power and privilege and all the deniability and obfuscation of limitation that good PR marketing can buy. The former is about living into a vision of a human rights-informed world, where we all matter and are seen as having something worthwhile to contribute. The latter is about perpetuating the business of marketing exploitation as usual (people, the environment, whatever else is sale-able).

The major requirement for change is an investment of heart and will.  It is about deciding to do differently.  Deciding.  A simple decision, each day, that as much as possible we are in this together. As much as possible, we will stand with each other. As much as possible, we will have each other's backs and treat each other like family.   As much as possible, there will be no 'others' whom it is ok to treat as less than worthy of accessing the basic resources that every human being needs to live and be well.

Not today, not ever. Not on our watch.  As much as possible. Day by day.  One person, one interaction, one conversation at a time.

Questions for Reflection

We are building this work together.  Your lived experience is needed and valued.  It is essential to building our shared knowledge and expertise as a movement.  Please comment on any or all of these questions or in any way that speaks to you personally.

1. How do you relate to this principle?
2.  How do you see it applying you life?
3. Have you ever been unfree when others around you were free?  
4. How did you want them as people of conscience to respond to the gap between your rights and theirs...?

Semptember 24, 2016:  Conference on Principle 24

We will talk about Principle 24, including your responses, on September 24 from 9-11  PM EST.  Call-in details to be announced soon. 

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