so I’ll just come out and say it. it still bewilders me that in our long history, we are still fighting for rights. it’s absurd. but what’s more absurd than the fight for rights is fighting for one right that inevitably ends up cancelling out the right of another.
in very wealthy, high-tech Singapore, we are still fighting for a disturbingly overwhelming amount of things. we find ourselves needing to fight for free speech, performance spaces, the right to our savings, the right to medical care, the right to retire, support for the arts, transparent press, privacy, racial equality, gender equality, proper punishment for animal cruelty, the truth, minimum wage, understanding, sex between two consenting adult males, and more more more.
I’m a musician and a writer. I’m not just a performer, I consider myself an artist. I do my own fighting for my rights and the rights of my fellowpeople through my music, my poetry, my writing. to me, rights are what they are: the right to be who you are, whatever gender, nationality, race, species you identify with, and to live exactly that way without apology. but what is the point of exercising that right if it limits someone else’s right in the process? I’ll give you an example.
a musician genuinely wants to push his career. he understands how the industry works and he knows its tendencies to exploit people in the process of making people stars and making everybody money. but he considers this his right to his “art” and to his potential musical legacy. so he decides to produce a video that enlists consenting women who are not opposed to be shot in outfits that can be interpreted as exploitative, knowing this will give him the hits and fame he desires. all parties were participating within their rights and it doesn’t seem like anyone got hurt.
however, the rights of women all over the world are continuing to be bashed by incidents like this because it’s hard to explain to your children why it is counter-productive to behave in a way that is being glorified by their music and film idols. and it’s hard to make the distinction between sex offenders and gangsta rappers who fondle women in their laps.
I’ll give you another example.
a well-intentioned group exercises their right to spend their money as they see fit and organise a music festival/art exhibition/fundraising endeavour. again it is within their right to set it up as they see fit, bring in whichever artists they want and fund whomever they want. it’s also the right of every participating artist to go in guns blazing and get what they need from it. but when people play favourites (because it’s their right to do so) and the same artists get all the press and all the funding and the less-celebrated art-makers have to deal with the scraps, it doesn’t seem like a fair system. and my question is, whose right is THAT to come in and mess that up?
these issues are not new. but that’s precisely the point. why are they still here? why are they still in our faces? why is it still okay? why, despite our heavy histories of prejudice and slaughter and war and persecution is it still acceptable to exploit women and minorities and jungles we have no claim over and animals who can’t fight against our guns? why is it still acceptable to deny people education and standards of living and water and ownership over their own bodies? why is it still acceptable to destroy one’s reputation and one’s self-esteem and one’s rice bowl and one’s passions?
one right does not have dominion over another. the right to one’s art or one’s wealth or one’s health cannot exploit another’s right. and here’s what this is really leading to. we live in this shithole because we confuse brattish entitlement with rights. we are not fighting for our rights, we are fighting for power over each other. so let’s call it what it is. no one has the right to be an asshole, no one has the right to exploit someone else even if that other person doesn’t know any better and is allowing it. no one has the right to take away someone else’s integrity. if you are behaving in a way that does these things, it is not your RIGHT. you may be feeling entitled but you’re WRONG.