Great Expectations

February 11th, 2009

band on the run

I went to the ‘Taking Liberties’ exhibition at the British Library recently and it largely covered what I had imagined what I would see – Magna Carta, Bill of Rghts, American Declaration of Independence, suffragettes and so on.

However there is a nagging problem with exhibition and that is despite the revolutions and uprisings shown, the narrative of the exhibition is not so much the rights people have taken for themeselves but those rights granted by the State (albeit sometimes under great pressure or by changes in the structure of the State) – even if a state restricts freedoms or is overthrown it is still ‘the state’ which is the arbiter of new rights, this is not interrogated in the exhibition.

This biases the exhibition to some degree and arguably is the only explanation of why there is a section on the rights enshrined by the welfare state. How so? If you don’t take it for granted that the state is the granter of freedoms and rights (poor phrasing there!) and instead individuals and groups of people can set out and guarantee their own rights you begin to get a better exhibition about ‘liberties’ and less about legislation. Back to the welfare state section, there are displays of friendly society notices and philanthropy in the form of the northern mill towns and garden cities, but these are all seen as precursors of the welfare state when finally ‘the right to a healthy life’ is recognised. Now look at it from the opposite perspective – certain people recognise that the ‘right to a healthy life’ is not enjoyed by their peers, or workers, and with their autonomy from the state (through money from subscriptions or ‘dark satanic’ exploitation) they provide the ability to enjoy this right which is finally picked up by the state and made ‘universal’ and some of the failings improved.

In terms of people recognisimg their rights hopefully the latter should seem like the correct explanation of events. The question of the what happens next (i.e. welfare state good/bad/bloated?) is not relevant to the argument above.

There are other failings in the exhibition, all interesting snippets to do with contemporary debates are on monitor/headphones which invariably break (2 when i went) and of course the interactive element where you ‘multiple choice’ vote on issues that are presented with a substantial bias towards BBC/Guardian society section thinking (to do this you use your ‘citizen number’ wrist band – above – which thankfully noone seemed to be putting on their wrist, the implications are clear).

Only two weeks left now if you want to see the show.

2 Responses to “Great Expectations”

  1. irdial Says:

    Firstly, it is perfectly Kafkaesque that an exhibition about ‘taking liberties’ is held in a building built and maintained by stolen money; money stolen from the very people who come and visit the exhibition about their rights.

    Secondly, someone has to say plainly what rights really are.

    Rights are a natural property. A natural property of water is that it is wet. A natural property of fire is that it is hot. A natural property of Man is that he has rights.

    Your rights are born with you, and are a property of your being alive. You own yourself, and you own what you make. You have property rights over yourself, and what you make; in fact, every true right flows from these property rights.


  2. BLOGDIAL » Blog Archive » Would You Adam and Eve It? Says:

    […] Expectationsirdial: Firstly, it is perfectly Kafkaesque that an exhibition about […]

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