woensdag 4 mei 2016

Naivety was quite common those days

In the fifties of the last century the World Health Organization used the following definition of health: ‘Health is a state of total physical and mental well-being’.

The word ‘total’ in this definition is significant: apparently the ideal of a complete absence of any defect was held high, and the tendency was towards the formulation of absolute requirements and duties when it comes to the protection of health. If to that the faith is linked that all that is realizable, on the scale of the whole world, then that definition gets a little naive.

But such were the times. The horrors of the Second World War were still fresh in memory, and the ubiquitous reaction was: ‘The world must become a better place’. People started to reconstruct their lives, with a strong faith in science and technology and with an amazing optimism about progress. Thereby the leading elite, and therefore the authors of the declaration, was still largely recruited from the Eurocentric upper classes, who from their privileged position were inclined already to think according to strictly rational Kantian patterns and in terms of an undisturbed course of life.

Nowadays health authorities start from the somewhat more manageable concept of ‘positive health’: ie the ability to adapt. With this in mind, you can still be healthy with a chronic disease.

The aforementioned characteristics of the declaration on health, ie the universality of the definition and the totality of the concomitant protection, are also reflected in the declarations of human rights stemming from the same period. As in the UN Refugee Convention of 1951. It states inter alia that anyone who fears violence and persecution can count on protection in another country. By the word ‘anyone’, according to many current interpreters of that Convention, the drafters indeed meant: everyone on earth. And from the wording of such a universal right might very well speak the same naivety as from the idea of overall health.

Because if it comes to the point, according to the Convention, you are obliged to offer the entire population of a region at war the right to asylum. Even if the rest of the world does not participate. Even if would happen what Henri Beunders describes, that the region in war does not include ‘only’ 20 million Syrians, but also 6 to 7 million Eritreans, and another half a billion Africans if the situation explodes in Egypt, Libya and Nigeria.

The latter is not at all inconceivable, but the Convention does not allow to think about the practical managability of the situation we would then arrive at. The absolute terms of the Convention suggest that it really does not matter whether something is conceivable or inconceivable. That’s the way the Convention argues, with Kant and the fifties at its side.

Personally, I am not so sure about that. Theoretically I am, of course, but I mean in practical terms. Because unmanageable situations tend to create their own kinds of socio-political disasters.

Also see Values as natural phenomena and The whole world - or just a small part?