The Fundamental Right To Health, Happiness And Beauty

Beauty and happiness may be in the eye of the beholder. But they're also fundamental components of a healthy society, writes Colombian novelist William Ospina.

Happy on the streets of Buenos Aires
Happy on the streets of Buenos Aires
William Ospina


BOGOTÁ — It's been remarked that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed, they forgot to include people's rights to beauty and happiness. Both were considered superfluous, no doubt. Too distant from humanity's basic needs.

The rights to life, property, freedom, free speech, shelter, food and work were more urgent matters. Also, neither beauty nor happiness is easily defined. They depend, it seems, on personal inclinations and tastes. Indeed, Socrates concluded in one of his Platonic dialogues that, "what is beautiful is difficult." And with regards to happiness, arguably the most sensible observation came from the French lady who said, "I am not happy. I am content."

But as modern society sinks further into the abysses of ugliness, urban chaos, pollution and trash, the question of beauty returns, if only as a reminder of civilization's loftiest promises. As for happiness, let us remember the words of Jorge Luis Borges: "I have committed the worst sin of all. That a man can commit. I have not been. Happy."

Early in the 19th century, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer suggested that we not see happiness as a permanent state or destination, where all was plenitude and satisfaction, but as a continuous possibility that depends on our ability to enjoy it. That may be why he said, "happiness is health."

I believe that is true: that the good health of the body and mind — and the health of society and nature — are the best possible conditions for happiness. But we have strayed so far that in our time, health systems only focus on medical attention, pharmaceutical dispensation and surgery. Preventive health, the most important kind, tends to be forgotten.

If governments were really interested in the well-being of communities, their main priorities would be to provide drinking water and assure hygiene; ensure production of safe, nutritious foods; educate people to live together; defend nature; generate social revenues, recreation and work opportunities; protect the family and encourage solidarity, trust and cheerfulness.

I am certain a good many visits to emergency wards are due to anxiety, economic uncertainty, tensions in human relations, bad nutrition, stress, helplessness and loneliness. If society dealt with such urgent needs, sickness levels would descend to their real proportion and we would not be dumping onto doctors and hospitals the entire burden of our social disorder.

It cannot reside today in a future that you seek.

We could reduce violence too by addressing its multiple causes: desperation, uncertainty, tensions in cities, lack of opportunities, and a society that does not encourage in its members serenity or pride in having a function, recognition and a destiny. It is easier to prevent an illness that cure it. And in our country, it seems to me that preventing violence would be much more effective than fighting it with a nightmarish combination of military operations and hellish jails.

Only sick societies equate health with medicines and surgeries, and justice with police and prisons.

I think today that human happiness depends above all on art, thought and politics. By art I mean the possibility that every human being can pursue his or her real vocation, and realize as fully as possible his or her creative adventure and personal destiny. By thought I mean science, technical reflections, philosophy, social dialogue and debate, and common sense — as a bulwark against the manipulations of power and the confusions and vagaries of mass opinion. And by politics I mean humanity's ability to recover its active role in ordering the world, and to stop the devolution of all historical responsibilities to experts, bureaucrats and corruption.

We have never been as far as we are from a state of equilibrium, nor needed it as much as we do now. Happiness cannot reside today in a future that you seek, but in the present moment of its quest. And it is something humanity will seek out with its own, inner strength. That's because while states, academies and churches would have us forget, institutions didn't invent languages, perfect professions and discover the arts. People did. And was in doing so that they found their gods.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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