"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
I Don't Have Rights; Nor Do I Want Any
Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
Ever since I can remember, I have questioned. I suppose I am a contrarian. Whenever a herd of people goes off in one direction, that is prima facie evidence that the direction they are going needs to be questioned even more. “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect,” as Mark Twain nicely put it.
I gave up on the One True Church (hardly narrows it down, eh?) by the time I was 12 or so. Questioning is what (finally) got me into anarchy and panarchy.
I don’t only question what other people think. I particularly question my own opinions. What good is having a wrong opinion? There is little utility in it.
After reading an interview of Jeff Snyder (esp. the last four paragraphs) some years back, it got me questioning rights. “Hmmm, looks like more dogma. Time to drag it out and give it a real looking at.”
What are rights?
The first complication we run into is that the word used has multiple definitions--and that’s an understatement. “He did the right thing,” is using the word “right” to mean good or proper, but that has nothing to do with what this article is about. Yet people frequently do confuse or conjoin these two different meanings. It’s like the confusion that exists around the word “anarchy,” because one (government-approved) definition of anarchy is chaos--yet most of us here realize that we are not advocating chaos. But many people, particularly those who get their ideas from the Ministry of Propaganda, actually believe we do advocate chaos. This confusion serves the rulers.
Too bad those who first thought up the notion of rights did not coin a unique word for it, like “inherentgoods,” thus avoiding all the confusion. But maybe they did it purposely, because it is a lot easier to make a sale when you pick a pleasant label for what you are selling--like late 19th Century American fascists who called their ideas “progressivism.”
The online Merriam Webster has the “right” that I am talking about way down in the 13th definition; none of the previous definitions have anything to do with it. Amusingly, that 13th definition is circular. Not much help there.
The online Dictionary.com has the appropriate definitions down at numbers 18, 19, 20 and 22.
Number 18 is "a just claim or title, whether legal, prescriptive, or moral.” Let’s see, who gets to decide if the claim is just? The government, of course. Hmmm.
Number 19 is “that which is due to anyone by just claim, legal guarantees, moral principles, etc.” Again, we have the little problem with who gets to decide what is a just claim. Legal guarantees also implies government is part of the picture: our friendly rights cop. And the word “claim” is a little worrisome, because a person needs only to claim something and it is his. And the word “due” is problematical, as when something is due to X, it usually first has to be taken from Y. Their example of “women’s rights” does not inspire confidence.
Number 20 is "adherence or obedience to moral and legal principles and authority.” Whose morals would those be? And those legal principles--there we are, back in the government courts. And “authority”!
Number 22 is “a moral, ethical, or legal principle considered as an underlying cause of truth, justice, morality, or ethics.” Well, I sure would like to get a handle on truth here. Think we can do it in this discussion without resorting to ad hominems? This definition sounds pretty impressive, without actually telling you much.
Now, I suppose that last definition is talking about some right or other as being axiomatic. Once the axiom is accepted, certain other things follow from that. All well and good, but at some point we have to make a connection to reality. If the connection cannot be made, then the axiom chosen was wrong. And that describes what has happened with rights. For example, the right to life--is there anything more expendable on this earth than human life? I guess that means there is no right to life!
There is a reason for all the circular definitions and beating around the bush. It’s because rights are a religious idea. Rights don’t exist, other than as a poorly-defined meme with little connection to reality. An 18th century fad, that has been thoroughly co-opted and turned around by the ruling class--to serve them, not us.
Do I have a right to free speech? Or instead, do I say and write what I please? There is a difference between these two statements. The first ties my speech to a government-adjudicated fairy-tale (thanks, US Supreme Court, for those free speech zones). The second describes my actions without reference to any government.
Also notice that the second is a far stronger way of putting it. It’s no surprise that government prefers the weaker language of rights. Weak language leads to weak--or no--action.
Which is the stronger statement:
1) “I have a right to bear arms,” or (my preference) “I won’t be disarmed”?
2) “I have a right to travel,” or “I go where I please”?
3) “I have a right to be secure in my papers and possessions,” or “Back off!”
It’s been a while since I started questioning rights. My third article on STR was about that. In that time, I have noticed people here and there arguing for rights and getting all balled up logically, just as one would expect when discussing a religious notion where everybody has their own opinion of it. Around and around in circles they go. Meanwhile, the rulers chuckle. “See ya in court!”
Sometimes these arguments can be untangled simply by recasting them in plain language, without referring to rights. Kinda de-obfuscates things. Try it yourself, next time you run into an argument about rights (you won’t have far to go, to find one). Plain language often clears things up.
Just as an example, it’s Twilight Zone time when folks get to talking about how Congress tramples rights. Rights are supposed to be this thing that everybody is inherently born with that can never be taken away (for example, people take great pains to point out that the Constitution did not create the right to bear arms, but only recognized a pre-existing right). But these people will wail when proposals are floated in Congress to register guns. If such a vote goes through, it never occurs to them to conclude that maybe the right was just a figment of their imagination. No, instead the “right has been violated.” Well if that vote was all it took to knock it out, then it’s not worth much, is it? If it pre-existed the Constitution, how could a body created by that Constitution so easily dispense with it? None of this makes any sense.
Recasting this in plain language, it looks much simpler: Rulers hate armed peons, because they are harder to order around, and may even be dangerous to order around. Rulers, just like the rest of us, look out for their own interests, so their constant attempts to disarm us are perfectly understandable. The instant they think they can disarm us with little risk, or nibble us to death making arms-bearing intolerable, they will do it--2nd Amendment be damned, and Constitution be damned. The only thing stopping them is that they think the risk to their own hides is too high. Or maybe they worry they will be kicked out of office. If the peons are smart, they will encourage those opinions among the rulers.
See? No need to talk about rights. Everything becomes clear.
Why should I care if people have religious notions like this in their heads? Mostly, I don’t. Religion is a lot more widespread than most people realize. It’s just how humans interact with a barely-comprehensible world; we can’t all be Einsteins. Those who pick the wrong memes will pay a price some day, but there is nothing I can do about it.
I hasten to add that I have no ill will toward those who believe in rights, any more than I have to those who believe in a god. It’s all opinion, and I’ve been wrong plenty of times before. No reason to let it get in the way of a friendship.
The title of this article merely reflects that I feel better off without government-approved fantasies in my head. It also makes me feel less dependent on the ruling class, to think in these terms. The world looks a lot different, and in my eyes much better, without filtering it through these fantasies.