Issues - Rights - Rights an excuse to fight
Two long standing controversies have polarized the La Jolla
community: Should a cross be kept on top of Mount Soledad
and should seals have priority over people at the Scripps'
breakwater and Children's Pool.
On the surface, these issues would appear to be unrelated,
but on closer examination they both reflect one of the most
complex dilemmas in contemporary American culture. This dilemma
is centered in the concept of human "rights."
Human rights were, perhaps, envisioned by the framers of the
Constitution as the cornerstone to a perfect realm of equality
and freedom. Above all, human rights were to be guarded and
protected because our forefather's valued the lives of others
as much as or more than they did their own.
Today, our desire for human rights in America is no longer
motivated by a compassionate concern for others. It appears,
in fact, we are no longer even concerned for the rights of
others. We are only concerned for our own rights.
Rights are no longer an expression of altruism but of selfishness.
Today, rights are used as the ultimate weapon in a free but
progressively factious and splintered society.
It is the perfect weapon, of course, because no matter how
divisive or polarizing any issue may be, no one can attack
anyone else's final cause, claim, demand and assertion for
their own rights. On this, we must agree, because human rights
were, after all, what made America, America.
Whether it is the rights of an atheist who sees a Christian
cross as an offense or a violation of a personal interpretation
of the Constitution, or a group of animal activists who fight
for the rights of those who could not possibly fight for rights
themselves, the cause of rights has become the foundation
for nearly every unresolved social issue in contemporary society.
This increasingly forceful assertion of "my rights"
or "our rights" over "your rights" was
perhaps something the Founding Fathers envisioned. Perhaps
they knew if human rights were actually established, even
this adversarial approach to the use of rights would not undermine
or damage the society for which those rights were created.
But does it? Do we, as a society, suffer from the deeper and
wider battle lines forged in the name of individual rights?
There is no doubt that among these rights-driven issues, there
are highly justified and sincerely felt disagreements. Pro-choice
rights and gay rights in marriage are two that come to mind.
Who is right and who is wrong in these issues is not as important
to me as the fact that they are issues that justify a fight.
Of course, how we fight and what we fight for is as personal
as each human being in our society and as broad as each administration
of our government.
Yet, in another sense, when I relax my efforts at objectivity
even to the smallest degree, I see many of these rights driven
debates as the unnecessary starting point toward a future
of escalating hostility.
The Mount Soledad Cross is a case in point.
As a San Diego native born and raised in Pacific Beach, this
is not a religious object. It is a local landmark. Having
left San Diego for many years and to return five years ago,
few things in my hometown have remained the same over my life
time: Highway 163 through Balboa Park, certain stretches of
101 and the cross on Mount Soledad.
I value these places deeply because, on a very personal level,
they connect me to the city where I was born. They are all
the more important because they are so few.
I am not a Christian, and if the cross on Mount Soledad had
been a Star of David or even Mickey Mouse, it wouldn't have
mattered to me. All that would have mattered would have been
that it was there, in the beginning, my beginning. And if
that cross or star or mouse had still been there when I returned
to my hometown, I would have been just as grateful.
My question now is this: Does an atheist who is offended by
the perceived lack of enforcement of a constitutional law
have any concern for the part in me that appreciates this
cross for precisely the reasons I appreciate it? Probably
The same may be said for the Children's Pool. Whether the
rights of seals actually outweigh children's rights to go
swimming in this location is almost a side issue. That a group
of people could so aggressively argue for seals' rights they
would be willing to violate family tradition and discontinue
the opportunity for future memories represents a kind of hostility
which, to me, is not proportionate to the issue.
This is, for me, the core and crux of the danger we face today.
Our nearly fanatical, ever splintering causes for rights may,
in certain instances, stand in violation of something just
as fundamental as rights themselves, common sense. And even
more, basic compassion for each other.
My hope is to see the cross remain and children once again
swim at the Scripps breakwater, not because seals are unimportant
and not because atheists are unimportant, but because compassion
and tolerance for each other is more important than either.