I’ve just read a piece of writing that I can only begin to describe by saying that there is so much wrong with it that I hardly even know where, indeed, to begin. Why don’t you, Dear Reader, start by giving it a thorough look yourself, then please come on back here.
I suppose it behooves to draw attention from the outset to Jim Davies’ continuing assertion that fellow Root Striker Paul Bonneau is a “suspected government plant” before then repairing to his assertion that certain views of both Bonneau and myself are “nonsense” and that – as a result of STR having published our respective thoughts – it has become, in his vaunted opinion (and I have much more to say on opinions in a moment), “an unreliable source of understanding about freedom.”
Davies then goes on to state that I “follow” Bonneau (though I’m not clear whether he means that in a sequential or Pied Piper sense), and that “it's sad to see him lose track of rationality in such a way.”
I might have a word or two right here about the rationality and maybe even neurological status of the person whose thoughts I just described above, but perhaps that’s best done by simply addressing the rest of what Davies has to say.
The first point he seems to want to drive home is the idea that, although various functions of the mind (the examples he cites are imagining, writing, languages, and mathematics) are not tangible, they still “exist,” per se.
Without nitpicking the electrochemical processes that enable thought within the brain itself to begin with, in truth, the only outward means by which cerebral functions can be said to “exist” at all are by the actions they may produce. If I sit and dream of a landscape, all well and fine, but it remains a mere apparition. Even if I tell you about it, you have only my word to go on that it “exists.” I could even be lying, for all you know or can tell. If I take that vision of a landscape and paint a picture of it, that may lend some credence to my tale, but I’ve also just produced a painting – not an actual concept. You can see the end result of that ephemeral concept, the effort that went into attempting to express it in some form, but never the concept itself. Often physical approximations of concepts are possible to create – people have made the world full of them, in fact – but never the raw concept itself, as distinct from its end product.
Be that as it may, however, all of this explanation is in truth unnecessary. This is because Davies’ ultimate focus is on “rights” and not abilities – and there is a glaring difference between the two which he fails to in any way acknowledge.
Abilities tell us what one is capable of doing. “Rights” tell us (or are ostensibly supposed to) what it is permissable to do within and amongst the society of others.
Thus, whether one can or cannot physically write a symphony, sell heroin to a child, build a house, throw rocks at cars, wash the dishes, or kill someone, tells us precisely nothing about what others in society (and in different cultures and time periods, for that matter) may or may not tolerate in terms of activities engaged in. In Davies’ view, presumably, so long as an activity falls within the purview of the non-aggression principle (a viewpoint which, it is worthy of note, is itself subject to contest and arbitration in any number of specific situations), then it constitutes a “right.” And it is by this standard alone that he asserts such as an objective truth that remains unassailable in the face of whatever degree of resistance, no matter that every last other person on Earth should militantly oppose him to the death.
While we might well agree, as libertarians, with Davies definition of a “right” insofar as it happens to conform to our own ideological ideas of justice and ethics, unlike Davies, if we wish to also acknowledge the practical physical realities of existing in a world with other people who – quite often -- have very different ideas than our own, then we need to approach “rights” with the level of humility necessary for both truth, and survival. This is to say that, for all of the heartfelt conviction with which we might assert the libertarian position, we can do no more than try to make a theoretical case for such. We cannot, try as we might, produce uncontestable, hard evidence of our position. (Unlike, say, demonstrating “three.” We might apply an infinite number of labels to “three,” but we can always physically demonstrate that it is a quantity that remains ever constant. Three apples, for instance, remains always and forever just what it is, and nothing besides to the sane.)
As a result, others can, and most certainly do, disagree with us – often quite vehemently -- all the time, as should only be obvious. And not always peacefully, it just so happens. And not just those calling themselves Government, either. Like it or no, we must acknowledge this.
Can a purely objective case be made for “rights,” then, ever? If so, what are they, and who decides? Are the “rights” we allegedly possess at present predicated upon some unimpeachable standard (like, say “three”)? If so, what is it? Where is it? And why do so many people consistently, and with unbending resolve, resist libertarian views if they are so indelibly etched in stone – as Davies would have us believe?
For the record, here was (and is) my take on the entire idea of “rights”:
My contention is that "rights" are in reality little more than opinions. However, they possess two essential characteristics: 1.) They must be something that at least a significant portion of the population recognizes as such, and; 2.) they must be things that you have a reasonable chance of defending or restoring, in the event they are abrogated, by either peaceful and/or violent means.
Think about it: If you were alone in the world, would you have "rights?" The entire concept becomes superfluous. We only entertain the idea of "rights" once other humans come into the picture. This pretty much deep-sixes the idea of stand-alone concrete "rights" that don't depend upon outside human approval. Any contention to the contrary, again, is instantly reduceable to mere opinion.
One can make a theoretical case for “rights” by appealing to the court of public opinion. But then this must come with the understanding that – no matter how sound and indefatigable you believe your own logic to be -- win, lose, or draw, you have to live with (or die by) the end result. Davies rabidly denies this quite simple and obvious reality. It is perhaps little wonder, then, why society by and large chooses to ignore what he, and others like him, have to say.
“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” ~ Voltaire
Rather telling still is Davies’ atheistic view. God is not real and does not exist. Davies is sure of this. So sure, in fact, that he offers as his case only a rejection of all man-made theological texts, as if this is conclusive proof of precisely anything – other than that history has contained a plenitude of theists who were and are every single bit as foolishly presumptuous and self-assured as he is. He dismisses out of hand the possibility of God for having a “lack of supporting evidence,” yet nowhere provides an explanation for what does exist all around us. He evinces the same attitude as might a European of 500 years ago towards the notion of radio waves, then expects to be taken seriously.
But observe the ultimate irony at work here: With respect to his view on “rights,” Davies is carrying out Voltaire’s observation in secular form. Since “rights” don’t really exist – but in his view should (and I must reemphasize here that I am not entirely unsympathetic with that view in principle – the crucial difference being that I know and realize it to be only my opinion; shared by some, even many perhaps, but not and never by all) – then it is necessary to invent some rationale by which they do exist, objectively, outside of the realm of pure theory. Yes, “rights” must exist – according to Davies -- lest the human race die off in a sea of blood. Thus, we must endeavor to make reality conform to our ideas somehow.
Davies then concludes with an utterly incredible statement: “Here's a final example of a concept that is entirely real: conscience.”
It’s hard for me to even imagine the kind of reasoning that produced that level of asininity. Not that it matters, but the example Davies cites is Oskar Schindler. Schindler changed his mind. He changed his opinions. How does that in any way constitute a “real” thing, an objective thing? As above, Schindler’s subsequent actions may have had substance, but the fact that he changed his viewpoint on a subject or two? That produces an objective thing?
There is the world of theory, and then there is the actual world we live in. Some recognize this, and others fail to. I’ll leave you, Dear Reader, to decide which category Davies falls into.
The next time you encounter a “right” on the street, please let me know, I’ll be interested to see it.
Meanwhile, I’ll be right here – breathing normally.