“I’d probably bear false witness.”

31 Oct

Yesterday, I was questioning how useful the Declaration of Human Rights in the modern world. Today, I wanted to play with this idea further – what if mission statements were law?

I’ve been thinking about this as part of a sci-fi university; it’s a story idea for NaNoWriMo. Imagine that when space exploration was about to expand, a UN commission met to come up with rules for the proper and equitable use of new worlds. On Earth, we’d laugh about it, and do what we’re going to do anyway. But what if the programmers decided to put those UN rules in the software, so that the new colonists, like it or not, would have to follow it or their tech would fail. Not so funny now, huh?

Article 1 of the DoHR

So apart from the UN rules (which are based on the US Northwest Ordinance of 1787), I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to have the Declaration of Human Rights included in the programming as the law of the colony. This instantly got me thinking of a West Wing quote (because the best ideas usually come from there), which goes:

Sam: Leo, did you know that there’s a town in Alabama that wants (to make the Ten Commandments into law)?
Leo: Yes.
Sam: What do you think about that?
Leo: Coveting thy neighbor’s wife is going to cause some problems.
Sam: That’s what I said. Plus, if I were arrested for coveting my neighbor’s wife, when asked about it, I’d probably bear false witness.

The West Wing, Take Out the Trash Day (2000)
Sucks for you, spaceman.

If you actually look past the prologue, some of these could be put into law without too much difficulty. Others, not so much. For example:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 1 of the DoHR

How do you act in a spirit of brotherhood? I’ve seen brothers beat the crap out of each other as well as hug.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 13 of the DoHR

Let’s say that our enlightened settlers don’t believe in the death penalty -and in my universe, there’s no jails – then exile is the highest level of punishment. If you can’t refuse them to return, what’s the point? I guess this is where it runs in conflict with Articles 10 & 11: Public Trials, but you could argue that Article 29 (2) creates a necessary “limitation” on these rights and freedoms.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 25 of DoHR

After a while, children can stop listening to their parents. After all, if Article 12 says “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence,” then a teenager can say, “Screw you, Mom, I’m going out tonight. That’s where the “special care” rule would probably apply, but it does bring up the legal question.

Like I said, this is part of the problem with mission statements – if they aren’t intended to be binding, then what’s the point? It’s great and inspirational, but if someone says, “What about my right to happiness?!” They need to be smart enough to realize that the Declaration of Independence is not a law – it’s a statement of grievances with an action at the end.

I’m going to have a lot of fun with this during NaNoWriMo. But am I missing the point? What do you think about the DoHR? How would you program/sabotage future colonists? Let me know in the comments below!

One Response to ““I’d probably bear false witness.””

  1. Silk Cords October 31, 2020 at 8:33 pm #

    There you go thinking logically again… You’re going to alienate people by messing with their utopian delusions, LOL.

    You didn’t even touch on the contradictions and problems with Article 13, part 1. What do you do when people just don’t want to work? What constitutes an “adequate” standard of living? Nowadays kids think “would you life fries with that” merits $20 per hour, and that all necessities should be free on top of that. At what point does society and government get to step in and say “we can’t afford to pay for your 13th kid”?

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