This week, the UN declared clean water a fundamental human right. The U.S. did not vote for the passage of this declaration. The reasons are as clear as the water, the rights to which we do not recognize as fundamental.
Firstly, let us remember that our nation, whose self-interest we do not see as being tied in any way to the interest of humanity in general, is based on certain rights which our basic documents recognize as "inalienable." This is not, of course, to say that they apply to aliens. To those who live within our borders, though, they are seen as inalienable because they are endowed by "our creator." That they are endowed somewhat less if you do not believe in our creator or if you believe in a slightly different creator is another issue for another column.
These inalienable right are, as we all know, Life (no guarantee of quality or length), Liberty (inasmuch as it does not threaten the status quo or impinge on the liberty of those who hold higher class-status) and The Pursuit of Happiness (preferably through the use of patented pharmaceuticals rather than through the presentation of any threat to basic social structures that might be impeding said pursuit). Nowhere within this list of rights, the truth of which we hold to be self-evident, does it say anything about a cool clear glass of non-toxic water.
Apparently rights that are so self-evident as to not need to be mentioned as being self-evident are less fundamental than those that do not go without saying. That certain prerequisites apply before one can begin to enjoy his or her inalienable rights really ought to be taken into account. We accept, for instance, that it is impossible to pursue happiness while being smothered with a pillow, or that one's inalienable right to liberty might be impeded if one were Super Glued to lamp post. I strongly suspect as well that if there were an epidemic of pillow smothering or permanent adhesion of humans to stationary objects it would not take long for everyone to agree that there is a fundamental right to atmospheric access and perambulation. Unless, of course, somebody stood to make a huge profit. Say, for instance, the pillow manufacturers or the holders of the SuperGlue trademark.
You see, everyone in the soft drink industry knows that an increasing market share is determined by the sale of bottled water. Moreover, the petroleum industry, a major contributor to both pollution and political campaigns, provides the materials in which that water is bottled. The U.N., of course, was not thinking about these things when it decided to classify clean water as a basic human right. The U.N. was thinking about poor people in far away places who die of thirst or as a result of drinking from contaminated streams and wells. They failed to take into account the real question that troubles us here in the civilized world: If water comes to be deemed a fundamental human right and comes to be protected as such, how will those important profit margins be maintained?
Since the fall of Soviet-style Socialism we have all come to accept that Capitalism is a wave that cleanses and crushes. Isn't it really time the crazy, tree-hugging environmentalists just learned to go with the flow?
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