The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an aspirational document formulated in 1948 and often held as the standard for good behaviour – how we should treat each other. Whilst the articles are often cherry-picked to emphasise an individual’s right to self interest, it is rare for anyone to refer to Article 29 which implies responsibility to a community or society at large.

Article 29 states:

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

As the population of the planet approaches 8 billion by 2025, we need to be aware that this document was formulated  when the population was about a quarter of this projection, and the rationale was based to a large extent on the writings of The Enlightenment when the population was well less than 1 billion. Does context have an influence on what might be considered to be right or wrong behaviour?

In democratic societies, if the majority feel significantly disadvantaged while seeing 1% of the people controlling most wealth, power and advantage, then that is surely a recipe for a cultural change in thinking about moral responsibility. Revolutions in the past have happened when ruling groups did not listen to the disquiet of the majority. (cf French revolution, Russian revolution.)

In a globalised world, surely there is a need for a global approach to reducing the exponential growth of population, the plundering of natural resources and a culture of amassing financial fortunes at the expense of others. Rather, we should be building toward sustainable models of economic growth and an international legal framework which, as in Article 29 (2), limits individual rights proportionate to the general welfare of all people on the planet. Yes? No?

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