Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Law of diminishing human rights

In economics101, students are taught the law of diminishing [marginal] returns, which broadly states that after a possible initial increase in marginal returns, the marginal product of an input will fall as the total amount of the input rises (holding all other inputs constant). Though the "law" is far from universal in its validity, there are many good examples. For instance, if more of a variable input (as opposed to a fixed input), such as labour, is added to the production process, while all other factors are held constant, production reaches a tipping point where the addition to total output per unit of input begins to decline as the units of labour (variable input) increase.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the benefits derived from having human rights [civil liberties] work quite the same way as the production process. How do I mean?

Consider the following example:

At some point in the history of human rights [civil liberty] law, there was an optimum relationship between the restrictions of this law and the social welfare enjoyed by a country’s citizens. By this I mean that for human rights laws to be enforced for the greater good, some humans must have their perceived rights limited by the same law for an outcome that benefits society at large. However, this is only acceptable when it limits the rights of criminals for the benefit of society.

However, in the UK (and other western countries), we are well beyond the optimum relationship between regulation that protects civil liberties and the actual benefit of that regulation that is enjoyed by the UK’s citizens. In fact, the relationship now appears to have adapted an inverse correlation, well beyond the "diminishing returns" relationship. At least with diminishing returns, each additional regulatory and executive action vis-à-vis civil liberties should add to the total social welfare, albeit on a diminishing scale. But, with an inverse correlation, each addition action by the executive to "ensure" civil liberties literally infringes upon the few remaining human rights in any society. A good example is the right to have a beard.

At this juncture, to remove any supposed bias in my commentary, I best state that I am not a Muslim or Indian and do not [currently] spot a beard. But I have noticed that the police (the executive) seem to have a placed a very high "intuitive" correlation between dark-skinned men with beards walking into public transport and terrorists. The literal non-intelligence behind this approach is ludicrously confounding, as it is done against a backdrop of many other men with all sorts of facial hair preference [and personal convictions] moving freely unrestricted, with or without bags.

These days, all you have to do to be suspected and possibly accosted under the terrorism act is forget to shave for a few days and attempt to use the London underground. It appears that as our societies get more advanced, we are regressing in the area of human rights. See the following example from the BBC website.
Travels with my beard
By Rajesh Thind
After the 7 July London bombings could growing a beard completely change the way people treated a British Asian? There was only one way to find out.

It was a week after 7 July and I'd just got on an east London bus. I was on my way to buy razors as I hadn't shaved for days. A couple of stops later a middle-aged Rasta guy got on, sat down next to me and asked:
"So how's it feel brethren?" "Erm, how's what feel?" I replied. "How's it feel now it's your turn to be bottom of the pile?" he said. We had a good chat, we talked about riots and muggers and bombs and beards. We had a right laugh. "Take it easy brother," he said as he stepped off the moving bus.

When I got to Liverpool Street and I went into the station to catch the Tube, I was stopped and searched under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. It had never happened to me before and I had always felt perfectly at ease in the UK, my home. So I decided to find out whether the Rasta was right; had the 7 July bombings - carried out by three British Muslims and a Jamaican-born UK resident who had converted to Islam - changed British society and put me "bottom of the pile"?

If so, what would that mean in my daily life? Was I, a stubbly British Asian, now going to have to deal with some people fearing me for being the enemy within? Would the terrorists succeed in making us a more fearful, intolerant nation?

The only way to find out, I decided, was to grow my first proper beard, and so started my seven-week journey. The results were immediate and very intense. People were moving off Tubes to get away from me; I would sometimes have a whole carriage to myself. I felt under scrutiny. When I travelled to other places in the UK, I found other young British Asians who felt attitudes had also changed towards them.

One young man in Birmingham - a religious Muslim - said he'd been for a job interview and as soon as he walked into the room and the manager saw the colour of his skin and his beard he was told to "forget it" and sent away. But it was people in authority, whose role it was to be alert, who were the most suspicious. It seemed now I had a beard - and for the first time in my life - members of the Metropolitan Police thought I looked dodgy.

I wasn't sure whether the two were connected. So when I was stopped by police outside Downing Street, and searched yet again, I asked one of them the question: "Do I look dodgy?" The answer was a very definite yes.

"Would I look less dodgy without my rucksack?" I asked.
"Dodgy," he replied. "What about if I wore a suit?" "You'd look like a dodgy bloke in a suit," he said. "How about if I shaved my beard?" "Dodgy. Just face it - you look dodgy," came the disconcerting reply.

Over the seven weeks I was stopped and searched three times under the terrorism act. But it seemed absurd to me, I mean what does a terrorist look like? Do they all have beards and rucksacks? Does making sweeping generalisations make us any safer? No, said John O'Connor, who was in charge of the Met police flying squad in the late 1980s when London faced the threat of the IRA. He told me a terrorist will always do the unexpected and we shouldn't fall into the trap of having reassuring stereotypes.

But people were making generalisations and it scared me, especially when the Met introduced a shoot-to-kill policy. If an innocent, beardless, Brazilian man had been killed, was I even more of a target?

As the weeks passed the hostility towards me subsided, people sat next to me on the Tube again. I was grateful as I think what separates the average Briton from a terrorist is tolerance and respect for those who are different from them. I don't want to point the finger of blame at the public for how I was treated during those first few weeks as their fear was real, just like me they were living in a different reality for a time after the bombings.

But I think as a nation we are too practical to become extreme in this way permanently. I have been to different places in my life, but Britain is my home because you can be who you want. That is why I wanted to make my film, to acknowledge that important characteristic. After seven weeks my journey had finished and I shaved my beard off. I wanted to go back to being me. "
I wonder, which way is forward because we [society] seriously need a meaningful and purposeful direction, NOT the utopias in our heads from watching celebrity lifestyles all day or the fears in us caused by pure ignorance.


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