One of the greatest advances in human history (IMHO) is celebrated today, the 10th December. It is Human Rights Day, celebrating the United Nations adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10th December, 1948.
Please have a read of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Go on, it's not that long. I feel that it is one of the best things that humans have ever done for themselves. The production of the declaration out of the ashes of the Second World War was in part to have nations everywhere declare, "never again" and to specifically set out how the modern human world will interact with itself. This document was a turning point in human history, as stated by Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of our Nature in the chapter on the Rights Revolution. What followed was an acceleration of the decline in violence, and the increase in rights (human, animal, ecological) over the rest of the century. It is a positive document that says how humans have a right to be treated, and how to treat others.
Importantly, it is a secular document - no theology is needed for the clauses to come about. In fact, there is still a struggle even today to have the declaration followed throughout the human world, notably the worst places for human rights are totalitarian dictatorships (such as North Korea) and theocracies such as Iran. Given the complexities of the modern nation-states, with certain countries advocating for blasphemy laws to be exempt from the declaration, sometimes I wonder if such a document could be written today. Still, we have it, and for the last 63 years it has set the benchmark for how we treat each other, and having such a universal benchmark is a remarkable and important thing.
For the past billion years or so, life on this planet has been based on the principle of basic survival and reproduction. Any living thing that could take advantage to promote its survival, or that of its offspring, would take it without any second thought. It is only in the last fraction of a fraction of the time that life has existed here that any life form has declared that a living entity has rights, simply by virtue of being alive, and affirms that all people have the right to pursue their own enlightened self interest, without interference*.
So, Happy Human Rights Day to all!
1) Article 14 clarifies that actions that are unlawful are not granted under this declaration, so it is not a free-for-all.
2) Edited several times as other thoughts arise and for clarity.