Dan Sohege on the universal nature of human rights, why it is logical, and why no one should be able to switch off from it.
First published in September 2020.
There is a lot that people don’t understand about autism – I am autistic and there is a lot I don’t understand. I was recently asked by someone, “Why would an autistic individual focus on human rights?”, and it has been bugging me.
It is a really odd question, but this wasn’t the first time it has cropped up. I often say I don’t like people and that can be taken as a joke. Thing is, it isn’t. I like individuals, but I find people on the whole to be frustrating, tiring, and generally unlikable.
So, why would I work in human rights? Let’s cover some basics, and as per usual this is only my personal reflection.
Autistic individuals may feel things a lot more intensely than neurotypical individuals. This can make dealing with some aspects of human rights quite hard.
When I see people suffering I feel it. I mean really feel it. I just saw a tweet showing someone’s lost book where they had been learning English at the side of the road near Moria Camp and the thought of what they are going through physically hurts.
You may have also come across the idea that those on the spectrum can become intensely focused on “special interests”. Here is where I cocked up, I somehow ended up with an intense focus on human rights. It is a bugger, but I can’t shake it – hence the amount of tweets, to be honest.
It is probably a good time to mention, aside from the whole “Why do you focus on human rights?” bit, that apparently a common aspect of my “level” of autism is a focus on the self. I talk about myself, a lot. I mainly do it though to help others relate to a situation.
Here is the thing though. I like logic. One of the reasons I like economics is because – okay I thought when studying it – it provided a clear and logical way of looking at the world, and human rights is the very essence of logic to me.
We know without question what happens when human rights are violated. We know that violating one person’s rights inevitably leads to violating more people’s. It is pure logic that if you want your rights defended you have to defend other people’s.
People exhaust me. They are irrational, insincere, cruel, etc. but they all deserve to be fundamentally respected as human beings. Their rights deserve to be fundamentally respected. It’s not about personal preferences, likes or dislikes.
Another reason I am so focused on human rights is because of the emotional response which other people’s pain causes me. Effectively – and I appreciate this may sound cold – trying to do something is a coping mechanism. Not doing so leaves those emotions to fester and burn.
What I am getting at here is, there are two distinct answers to what I still maintain is a really weird question.
Firstly, autistic individuals aren’t robots. Chances are we are feeling what is happening in the world very strongly in ways we can’t always explain. I think some people believe that being autistic makes you a robot. So many people seem to think it means you cannot do all sorts of things or understand anyone else. It is really weird.
Secondly, and crucially for everyone, human rights are logical. You start deciding they don’t apply to everyone and at some point you risk them not applying to you. I have seen people across political spectrum defend abuses, never questioning what if it was happening to them.
I am a bit stuck as I can’t switch off from it. My poor wife has to deal with me on this a lot. Thing is, no-one should be switching off from it. Political affiliations should be irrelevant here, and personal animosities shelved.
There are reports that in America ICE is carrying out forced hysterectomies on detained migrants. In China, Uighur Muslims are locked in concentration camps. In the EU, asylum seekers are attacked by the police. In the UK, the PM has suggested opting out of some human rights. Rohingya still face extreme abuses while the world watches, and so it goes on in damn near every country.
In some cases, it is people you dislike being persecuted, in others it is people you probably support. People of all religions are persecuted and abused somewhere for example.
When we start saying though that we don’t like this particular group’s human rights being defended – e.g. by “Activist Lawyers” – how do we call out the abuses happening to the groups we do support elsewhere?
How do we stop our human rights being abused in the future?
There is a logic to the world when you actually look at it. It is something which transcends political ideology and personal animosity.
It is that if you honestly think that you deserve rights yourself, then you must, MUST defend them for everyone else.🔷
Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional, and Director of Stand For All.