More wisdom from le maître Doctorow:
Human rights is a term of great currency in our political language. When introduced, it tended to refer to a person’s right to speak freely or to hold any political opinion of his choosing or to be tried swiftly and under due process of law in the event he was accused of a crime — in general, to any of the collective rights of Americans under the Constitution. But under pressure of worldwide practices, the term has taken on a humbler meaning. Now human rights refers to standards of treatment that you hope to expect of your oppressor after he has taken all your rights away.
He should not pack you away in an isolation cell while denying publicly that you’re under detention; he should not salt you away in a labor camp after a sentence by a kangaroo court; he should not on a whim machinegun you in the street or hack you to death in your bed or with relish take you to a ditch and break every bone in your body before killing you. If you’re an infant, you have the right not to have your skull smashed against a wall; if a nursing mother, not to have your breasts sliced off; if a nun, not to be raped and disemboweled; if an old man, not to be made to defecate in front of a crowd and eat your own excrement; if a boy or a young man, not to be castrated and have your severed organs stuffed into your mouth. The right not to have those things done to you — the right not to be tortured, mutilated, enslaved, or injudiciously murdered — is what we’ve come to mean by the term human rights.
Excerpted from the essay “Orwell’s 1984,” which is reprinted in “Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution: Selected Essays, 1977-1992”