Rights as an Image

“Everyone seeks their look. Since it is no longer possible to base any claim on one’s own existence, there is nothing for it but to perform an appearing act without concerning oneself with being – or even with being seen. So, it is not: I exist, I am here! But rather: I am visible, I am an image – look! look! This is not even narcissism, merely an extraversion without depth, a sort of self-promoting ingenuousness whereby everyone becomes the manager of their own appearance.”

Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil

We are living in the era of images. Images gain such a great power and influence that the real thing represented by the image does not matter any more. The image of a delicious food becomes more important than the food itself; and the image of a politician becomes more influential than the politician himself. Things get attention and earn value not only because they look beautiful, interesting, attractive, cool etc. but also because the image is very easily accessible. When we see the picture of a tropical island, even though we are not there, we tend to feel good as if we are laying on the beach under the sun. When we see the picture of a nice food, we do not care if it tastes really good or not; we just enjoy the fact that it looks good. We are giving more and more value to the images because we do not need to make a huge effort to reach those images, and accordingly, in order to reach the real thing represented by the image, we should do something. We should earn money, save money, work, spare some time to schedule plans, and basically, we should “plan” and “conduct” things to have the real things. Alas, we are so busy. We do not have so much time for recreation. We cannot visit the shopping mall or the movie theater whenever we want. As the civilization and technology advance, these things are certainly getting more accessible; however, at the same time, we also get busier. And because of this, maybe “inevitably”, images are gaining more and more value in the public eye.

This “value crisis” does not apply only to tangible things. Ideas, feelings, concerns, thoughts, ideals, too, are suffering from this value crisis. Among these, of course, the law and the concept of rights are also going through a tremendous change as the image of law has been gaining more importance in recent years.

In this regard, we may assume the image of law, and accordingly rights of people, is going through a tremendous change. Now, let me ask: What do we think about our rights? Do we think that we have rights that are protected by the law, or we have rights that are granted to us by the law? I admit that this questioning will lead to the discussion between the natural law and positive law theories. But without touching that subject, I would like to ask this question in order to see what kind of image our rights have in our minds. Are they something that we deserve, or we already have? For example, when we defend a thought we expressed, we might say “I have the right to speak freely” or “I have the right to think and express myself.” We know and believe that we all have the freedom of speech. But, in fact, the freedom of speech is turning into an image that represents something other than speaking freely. Do we know what freedom of speech really means? Or do we base our ideas about freedom of speech on the image that represents the freedom of speech in our minds? What is the essence of this right?

In order to understand the difference between the rights and the image thereof, we can think about money. Money, as a paper, does not have any value itself. The value of the money comes from the belief that it represents a valuable thing. Money has value, as it is the image of value. If we only think about the paper, without considering the value attributed to it, it will not have any difference than a regular paper. Maybe it will have, as the paper used to produce money might be indeed more valuable than a regular paper.

Now, returning to my questions above, I have a simple answer. As we are getting more visual oriented everyday, we are increasingly paying so much attention to the appearance of things rather than their essence. As we give value to the image of money, which is basically a paper, we are giving value to the image of rights we have. I do not mean that money does not have value; of course, it has a value. But I criticize the fact that we use the same logic that we use for evaluating tangible things about abstract things as well, and accordingly about our rights. We, unfortunately, do not care about the essence of our rights as much as we care about the image of them. Knowing that we have the freedom of speech satisfies us, but we do not try to enjoy this freedom to the fullest. Eventually, we only know that our rights exist somewhere, as an image, untouched.

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