Reading between the lines: Rights

OK, that’s it, the language of rights has officially got ridiculous!

Yesterday I saw a report on the BBC News website that someone has hired a lawyer to try to convince Renault to refrain from naming their new model of car Zoe.  The client’s name?  Zoe Renault.

Fair enough, one can see that Zoe might become the butt of some teasing and annoying jokes if this new car name is adopted, so writing a polite letter to the company might have been reasonable.  But hiring a lawyer?

I could just about bear to let that wash over me, too, till I saw this paragraph:

Her lawyer David Koubbi, who specialises in the protection of first names and is representing other Zoes, said he had sent a letter to Renault’s chief executive arguing that the plans were an attack on the rights of his clients.

What??!?!?!!

Where, in any conception of morality, virtue, human flourishing or general common sense is there a right to not have your name be used as a product name?

And how, in any rational universe could a few advertising executives sitting round thinking up a name for their new environmentally-friendly car and hitting on Zoe – the Greek word for ‘life’ and also conveniently suggestive of their ‘zero emissions’ strapline – be considered to be launching an attack on anything or anyone?

What does it say about us that we give parents the right to call their children Moxie CrimeFighter, Jazz Domino, Audio Science or Fifi Trixibell, but a car company can’t use a perfectly reasonable name for its product?

What it says is that we have become overly focussed on ourselves. Parents who give their children bizarre names focus on their own interests and predilections, without giving a thought to the burden they are placing on the child’s life. People who think their name cannot be used by anyone else without their prior approval focus on their own ease and comfort and value it more highly than the desires and ideas of others.

I’m sure that many of those who have fought and argued for human rights in the past have done it because they’ve seen oppression and injustice and sought to quantify the standards by which human beings should be treated.

Instead of inspiring everyone to take responsibility for their treatment of others, though, and establishing standards of behaviour for the powerful to live by, they put the onus on the victims to defend themselves, and thus paved the way for anyone who felt victimised, oppressed or vaguely disgruntled to frame their protest in the language of rights and thus paint themselves in the role of victim.

They established a right to life, and now people with terminal, painful, debilitating illnesses seek the right to die (on their own terms).  They established a right to freedom of speech, but forgot to hammer out how that would intersect with, say, the right to be free from discrimination, so someone saying politely and respectfully, in a private conversation, that he doesn’t agree with the homosexual lifestyle can be disciplined by his employers for discrimination.

They have created, in short, a world in which everyone is a victim and has to fight for the space to live in the way in which he (or she) wants, with very few absolute boundaries over which he cannot argue his way.

It sounds great to say we care about the rights of the oppressed, until you realise that everyone now can discover he’s oppressed.

In case you can’t tell, this one really winds me up.  Yes, I think oppression and injustice are wrong.  Yes, I think we should work to combat those injustices and to treat all human beings as God’s precious creation – as, of course, they are. But no, I don’t think the language of rights is the best – or even a viable – way of going about this.

I hope the judges see sense and the case of Zoe Renault v The Renault Zoe becomes a byword for frivolous lawsuits which are thrown out before anyone’s money is wasted on them.

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