Brief report of the Café which took place on 13 April 2019
Salisbury Democracy Café on Saturday 13 April was packed with new participants as well as many who come every month.
The first question posed was: Are human rights
absolute or relative? That generated a fascinating deliberation that touched on
the wider question of the nature of ethics in general.
Arguments ranged from those who believed that
human rights had to be absolute and unchanging to participants who claimed that
because ethical mores shifted over the centuries human rights had to be
relative as well.
The idea that moral laws are out there waiting
for us to be discovered has a long and distinguished philosophical history, but
questions were raised about how they got there in the first place. Divine
action was one possible answer but if that failed then one has to ask why a
non-divine, materialistic world would begin with immaterial ethical codes
waiting for us to discover them. Nevertheless, proponents of absolute human
rights were concerned that if they were not absolute, how could they be
protected from arbitrary alteration by the rich and powerful?
However, the dialogue took an interesting turn
when it was suggested that the use of the words ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’ did
not accurately reflect the nature of human rights. The Universal Declaration of
Human Rights does not necessarily make claim to the absolute but nor are they
quite openly relative. Universal simply means that they apply to everyone and
the declaration crystalizes them in a way that prevents easy manipulation while
allowing justified changes. A point was made about a phenomenon known as
Conquest by Declaration in the same way that Google declared, without
challenge, that it had the right to plunder our experiences for its own
enrichment. It was also pointed out that it was possible to define certain
moral positions, like altruism, in terms of necessary and sufficient
conditions, making them objective but neither absolute nor universal.
It was an intriguing dialogue, which got us all
thinking about things and asking ourselves more questions in a way the
democracy café has unique ability to do.
The second question was: Should Julian Assange
by extradited to the USA following his forcible removal from the Ecuadorian
Embassy? This was a much more confined deliberation, although it did raise
questions about the fairness of the justice systems in the UK and the USA.
Nobody challenged the justification of extradition in general but concerns were
raised about whether or not Assange would get a fair trial in the USA.
Once again the participants in the democracy café proved their ability and willingness to tackle difficult questions in what has become an ‘oasis of reasonableness in a desert of rising intolerance and polarization’.
want to have pop-up cafés in other part of the city in order to give as many
people as possible the chance to experience deliberative democracy – so if you
know of an organisation that would be open to this please let us know.
aim of the new Salisbury Democracy Alliance – which is advised by Prof
Graham Smith and backed by the RSA (Royal Society for the
encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), Wessex
Community Action, deliberative democracy experts Talk Shop
and Salisbury Democracy Café – is to create Salisbury’s first Citizens’