Human rights? Really?

Many of us here in the West tend to think of our nation-states as “civilized”, “enlightened”, “protectors of human rights”; but the obscene thing about human rights is that all too often we are guaranteed these rights not on the basis of our humanity, but whether or not we fit within a certain normative framework. This is a very sad video. It shows how Spain beats, has killed, and illegally (according to EU law) pushes back migrants, regularly. Something is seriously wrong when your humanity– worthy as it is of basic rights– is guaranteed only on the basis of papers. It’s as if our humanity is, as Raoul Vaneigem says, in reference to Albert Liberdad, “reduced to a number, duly filed in the statistic state inventories.” [1]

As Slavoj Žižek says, the obscenity about human rights, is that it is only as subjects recognizable within a certain symbolic order that we become bearers of these rights. For Žižek, it is the person that is stripped down, reduced to what is bare, with nothing to show but their very humanity, who most perfectly represents a bearer of human rights; yet it is she, dead to the symbolic order, unplugged from the grid, so to speak, who is made unrecognizable as that which they most rightfully are– a human, in their naked state, deserving of rights.

In Welcome to the Desert of the Real! Zizek raises the question:

“What if the true problem is not the fragile status of the excluded but, rather, the fact that, on the most elementary level, we are all ‘excluded’ in the sense that our most elementary, ‘zero’ position is that of an object of biopolitics*, and that possible political and citizenship rights are given to us as a secondary gesture, in accordance with biopolitical strategic considerations?”[2]


* Žižek’s here referring to the politics of life’s governance/regulation. And, of course, this is a politics that excludes those who don’t fit within the normative framework of a life that is deemed governable.


[1] Raoul Vaneigem, “No borders no papers”,, web,

[2] Zizek, S., Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, London: Verso, 2002, pg. 95


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