Human Rights and Genocide – ngrams

Last week I suggested that our passion for human rights might be motivated in very large part by our libido. I investigated some possible alternatives, but nothing jumped out as more strongly correlated than the sexuality explanation.

But, I couldn’t let it sit, so I kept digging. It turns out there is another possible correlation, but I would suggest it is not as strong as the sexuality correlation.

If you don’t know about ngrams, check out the first article in this series for a brief explanation.

It turns out there is a possible correlation between use of the phrase “human rights” and use of the word “genocide” as the following chart shows.

human_rights genocide

At first glance there does appear to be something of a correlation, but some of the exceptions to the correlation are interesting.

Both terms saw an increase in use around 1940. Both terms leveled off in use. Both terms skyrocketed at a later date. Those are the similarities, but what about the differences?

“Genocide” saw a sharp, but temporary, increase in use in the early 1960s. Around 1970 it peaked, and even declined a bit. Around the same time as “genocide” was leveling off, “human rights” began its remarkable climb and never really stopped. Some time after “human rights” really took off, “genocide” once again grew in usage.

So there are similarities, but the differences are noteworthy. Given the much stronger correlation between “human rights” and “sexuality” as I described last week, I think “genocide” may have a peripheral correlation to the increased use of the phrase “human rights” in our language rather than a central correlation.