A Thought Experiment in Rights


Column by Paul Bonneau.

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A thought experiment is a useful device for getting down to the truth of things. For example, Einstein discovered the Special Theory of Relativity through a series of thought experiments; certainly back in those days, there weren’t many trains actually running near the speed of light!

I noticed in another forum, in one of my discussions about rights, that people were getting mixed up about causation. I had claimed that the so-called right to life boiled down to nothing more than “most of the time, most people won’t kill you.” One responded, “Why not? Is it because they believe I have a right to life, they are afraid of the consequences or most likely, they have nothing to gain by my death?”

Of course, my position is that the first is irrelevant, and the rest is all there is. But then it occurred to me, to actually put this to the test. In an experiment, the researcher attempts to remove all the extraneous factors, and isolates the particular factor under test, to see what its true effect is. We can do the same thing with rights, in a thought experiment. The plan here is to eliminate all the factors based on reality, the things that would otherwise deter someone from killing you, leaving only the right to life itself. Then we can see what would happen.

Imagine a SHTF scenario, such as a total collapse in the economy (not that hard to imagine since we seem to be pretty close to that already). You are in your home keeping your head down, along with your wife and two sons. There is craziness in the streets, you hear shots everywhere, and the police are nowhere in sight, taking care of their own families--if not themselves looting, as happened with Hurricane Katrina.

Your door is busted in and four rough men come rushing through. You, like an idiot, still have your gun in a safe rather than carrying in the home--nor are the members of your family armed--so they have you. They drag you all down to the basement. They are guessing you have some coins stashed somewhere, or have some “intel” that you do. First thing they do, to make you understand they are serious, is put a bullet in one son’s head.

Here in the experiment, we have eliminated all reality-based factors that might deter them from killing you and your family. They have something to gain from further killing--first, your cooperation in giving them the safe combination; second, in eliminating all witnesses. They clearly are mentally capable of killing since they have already done it. There is zero risk to them from killing, either from you (already tied up) or from the cops (they are nowhere, and killing outside is rampant anyway--another won’t be noticed). Now, the only thing left protecting your family is the right to life. You remind them of it.

What are your chances to survive? What are the chances for the rest of your family?

If you had daughters instead of sons, they might last a while longer, as they are available for rape. But that is just another factor based on reality, not on any “right.”

What keeps people alive, if anything does, is only factors based on reality. No life was ever protected anywhere by any “right to life.” It’s just a meme, and not a very useful one at that--to the extent it causes you to neglect dealing with reality.

Well then, why does virtually everyone believe this meme, if it is so worthless?

We believe it because it is warm and fuzzy, like magic, friendly unicorns. Who wouldn’t want to believe something like that?

We believe it because it is in the rulers’ interest that we do. This is because it puts them (who else?) in the position to adjudicate the “right”--to decide how far it extends, and what exceptions to it there are. Those exceptions are where the state operates--for example, police killing with impunity. We have already given the rulers sanction for creating those exceptions, when we allowed them to adjudicate that “right.” In fact, we did it by believing it existed in the first place.

Rights also allows the rulers to play us against each other; for example, telling us who we can rent a home to, or bake a cake for; it’s part of “divide and conquer.”

We have been taught from day one about our rights in the government schools and elsewhere. Our acceptance of their meme puts them in the driver’s seat.

Look at the McDonald decision, declaring an individual right to bear arms--accompanied by the inevitable exceptions. They gave away nothing with that, since Americans are heavily armed already. But how many of the 20,000 or more anti-RKBA laws has it overturned? Scant few! Don’t you still need a bureaucrat’s permission to carry a gun? (Assuming one pays attention to law at all....) Haven’t they simply continued their “baloney-slicing” of this “right”? The latest attack is universal gun registration (AKA “background checks”). If that is not a direct attack on RKBA, I don’t know what is. Yet neither the McDonald decision nor the 2nd Amendment will put any roadblocks in the way of it. Reality might, though.

Understand reality. Deal with reality. Prepare for reality. Put the state-friendly memes, that deter and distract you from doing so, out of your head.

Note: see also this and this.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 101


Samarami's picture

I ceased use of the term, "rights" some years ago. I make choices -- some better than others, but they're my choices. I have no rights (I may have "wrongs" :-[).

My primary challenge is the development of skills necessary to circumnavigate the gleefully aligned psychopaths -- all of them quite eager to interfere with choices I make. That keeps me busy enough to not expend angst over their machinations.

I like your bottom line on "reality": I can be free. Today. Where I'm "at".

So can you, if you make that choice. Sam

mjackso6's picture

"Rights" are what you make of them. I believe that I have an inherent "right" to self-defense and the defense of others if necessary, but it's my ~responsibility~ to be prepared and willing to take necessary action. In my mind, I have the "right" to do whatever the hell I please as long as it doesn't trample on someone else's similar "right". As a realist, I'm quite aware that " The Powers-That-Be™" see things a bit differently, so I do my level best to "fly under the radar" and avoid any Waco's or Ruby Ridges.

John deLaubenfels's picture

When I say I have a "right to life", I mean that I have the right to kill anybody who genuinely threatens to kill me, and that my neighbors should not punish me for doing so.

Samarami's picture

My argument (and Paul's) is not that neighbors shouldn't punish me for defending myself. My argument is that they will. Or they'll die trying. It really doesn't matter what they and/or others "should" or "should not" do.

From the article:

    "...Understand reality. Deal with reality. Prepare for reality. Put the state-friendly memes, that deter and distract you from doing so, out of your head..."

'Nuff said. Sam

Alex R. Knight III's picture

My definition of a "right" is that it is an opinion, nothing more, though it bears two distinct characteristics:  1.) It must be something that at least a significant percentage of society recognizes as such, and; 2.) it must be something which -- if abrogated, violated, or eliminated -- the victim(s) of such might reasonably expect to restore by either peaceful or violent means.
Think about it:  If you were alone in the world, would you have "rights?"  They become non-applicable and superfluous in such a scenario. 
I think that pretty much does away pretty handily with the whole "natural rights" argument.  And of course government "rights" (a legal claim to something) is never more than a privilege at best, to begin with anyway.

Samarami's picture

Paul's "thought experiment" illustrates the futility of definition games. I began using the term "choices" in lieu of "rights" mostly due to my exposure to the late Delmar England's work, the overall theme of which is based upon this premise:

    "...most anarchists fail to break free from the government-centered way of thinking with which we are indoctrinated from birth..."

It is not unlikely that many (most?) of us will one day be faced with much the same type of scenario Paul illustrates. If (when) total economic collapse occurs, and there is no means by which we and/or most of our neighbors and friends can procure sustenance from any source whatsoever, will I

    1) be willing to shoot dead intruders in order to protect and feed my family and myself (until ultimate starvation occurs -- one can only stash so much stuff);

    2) share what I (we) have until we all ultimately starve (perhaps engaging in cannibalism toward the macabre end);

    3) develop the means by which to teach the starving hordes how to survive in peace, showing them the Truth: that it is (was) that group of psychopaths -- who from antiquity have hid under the brainless and religious abstraction called "state" and/or "government"; and who have mostly made up that phenomenon we like to call "history" -- who have been to blame for our penury. That, without a state to "protect" us, we can and will survive and prosper in harmony with each other. That this pale blue dot in the incomprehensibly vast universe has Somehow been put into place to sustain and nurture us and our progeny....

There are, I'm sure, multiple other choices between 1 and 3, but you get my point.

And Paul points up my observation: it is how I think that will determine how I will survive and be an instrument in bringing about peace and anarchy to my world -- the world that revolves around my belly-button. Sam