Apart from the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I’ve never known what my human rights are supposed to be. Presumably they include the right to go about my daily business without being attacked, insulted or otherwise abused. But there are many grey areas. Are sudden loud noises or disgusting smells violations of my human rights? And what about the deafening mirthless laughter that I have to endure in British pubs?
Perhaps my human rights are changing with age. Am I, at 76, entitled to expect an offer of a seat on a crowded Tube train? Is it my right that somebody should help me with my suitcase when I am carrying it upstairs? I don’t know. Nor do I care. But some people care very much about the deprivation of rights that they believe to be theirs.
Consider the case of the television presenter Louise Minchin, who has reportedly kicked up a fuss about being made to sit on the left-hand side of her male co-presenter on BBC Breakfast, Dan Walker. The producers tried putting her on his right, but found it ‘didn’t work’. It didn’t work, apparently, because people don’t like to see a man sitting on a sofa on a woman’s left. It feels wrong, just as it would feel wrong for a man to be seen standing on his bride’s left as he takes his wedding vows before an altar.
Nobody seems to have thought much about it before, but that’s the way that couples nearly always appear on screen, in photographs, and on public occasions — woman on left, man on right. But why? Is it, as some have said, because being on the right suggests greater authority? And if so, is it not sexist and discriminatory to make the far more experienced Ms Minchin sit on the left of the new male recruit to the programme, thus implying that he is the more authoritative of the two? Is it not an infringement of Ms Minchin’s human rights?
I wouldn’t have thought so, but then what about Anders Breivik, the Norwegian Nazi who murdered 77 innocent people in a bombing and gun massacre in 2011.