As human beings we are, by nature, social creatures. We live in groups, work in groups, and most of us spend our free time in group settings as well. If someone chooses to have less interaction with the society of humans in their day to day lives than most of us do, it is very likely that even they will be forced to have a certain amount of interaction with other human beings. The fact that there are more than six billion of us crowding onto this planet makes that a near certainty.
I do not claim that we are superior to animals in the way that we deal with one another. In many ways, I think we are inferior as we have often made things more complex than they need to be. That is the price we pay for being creatures that have an abundance of adaptation aimed towards decision making, time distinction, and self preservation. In point of fact, it is probable that mice aren’t exactly making plans, which may be the reason why mice aren’t generally killing themselves or having wars with one another.
Human beings have the ability to visualize and conceptualize a number of different future possibilities. This is what has made us such a successful (in terms of dominating our environment) species. It is probably also why we are able to justify the violence that we inflict on the natural world and upon one another. We are a self centered species. In fact, some would argue, that we are the only species with a sense of self. It is the unbridled concern with ourselves that have led us to violence, war, terrorism.
It is easy, as a human, to consider one’s own situation to be more important than the situation of a fellow human being (or fellow living thing for that matter). As an example, white farmers along the East Coast of the United States looked at the successful farms of their Cherokee neighbors and felt that it was more important that they (the white farmers) have the successful farms than their neighbors. The result was genocide and the tragic Trail of Tears as the Cherokee were forced from their fertile land to the dust bowl of Oklahoma.
This is a tragic example of what happens when morality, ethics, and human rights are not considered and the ‘self’ is allowed to run rampant over others. Human rights are a reminder that all humans deserve the same respect and consideration that the self does, whether that self is an individual, a community, an ideology, or a nation. Had the white farmers looked on the Cherokee as their equals, deserving of the same human rights, the Trail of Tears would certainly not have happened. Nor would the Israelis be treating the Palestinians like prisoners, nor would the Chinese be treating the Tibetans like lower than humans, nor would the United States be so quick to drop bombs on areas that non-combatants might be injured in.
Morality and ethics are codes that allow us to consider our actions without regard for the prejudice of the self. It is important that we utilize morality, ethics, and human rights any time that we consider the issues of violence, whether they be in regards to understanding or waging war, the causes and effects of terrorism, or the best ways to approach nonviolence and peace.
Consider peace without regard for human rights, this could easily become nothing more than harsh and dictatorial rule, and thus not be peace at all. Or the use of non-violence in situations where one’s morality and ethics might lead one to abandon this principle for some cause that benefits the greater good.
Morality and ethics are not universal, but human rights should be. If, when we study or engage in any phenomenon, we make our decisions with an eye towards promoting the greatest human rights, then, perhaps, we might become more than we have ever been. The social animal might become a better sort of creature, and perhaps we will even begin to make our decisions with an eye towards creature rights.