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What are Rights?

Written by jayson. 3 comments Posted in: Ethics, Philosophy

To reify abstractions, to ascribe to them infinite value and immunize them from change, is a powerful need. There are few such abstractions more powerful in this regard than the concept of rights.

The notion of a right comes in many forms; natural rights, human rights, God-given rights, etc. They all imply something that cannot be taken away and must be respected at all costs.

It is this “all costs” concept that is the segue from my discussion of wealth yesterday. The idea that anything should be done “at all costs” flies in the face of reality and is dangerous to true wealth as defined here.

So what are rights, really?

A Right is an abstraction used to describe a system of respect that one person grants to another. They are not bound in nature, they are not intrinsic to being human, and they do not come from a divine source. They are granted by people to other people because it is more valuable to them to do so than to not do so. In the world of pragmatic truth, rights end when it is no longer feasible to respect them.

If rights were granted by God or nature, then an external force would step in to stop their infringement. It would be impossible to violate them if they were truly sourced in this way. If rights were given by God, lightning would come down and zap me before I shot or enslaved you. If rights were found in nature, a bear or the ebola virus would be unable to kill me if I asked them not to.

Rights are agreements, implicit forms of respect that persons grant to each other because doing so creates more wealth (remember: wealth is a measure of the ability to engage the Process of satisfaction of individual and infinitely subjective desires). That’s right, they are granted by people to other people. When that respect goes away, so do the rights. When it becomes no longer pragmatic to respect them, they will fail. They do not exist beyond this.

When we say that others are defending our rights, what we are saying is that they are defending our ability to respect each other in the manner that we have agreed upon.

This makes the notion of rights limited by what is practically possible. Most of the time, rights are practically possible when they are bound to negative things (that is, prescriptions on what you can’t do to another), versus positive things (prescriptions on what you must do for another). It is this latter kind, such as the right to health care or education, that is the most dangerous to the creation of wealth, as it implies that force must be used when they are not satisfied. If I have a right to health care, what happens if no one wants to be a doctor? Must I then enslave some doctors? What about teachers? What about… soldiers?

Positive rights lead to war. War is the destruction of wealth, as we will see next.

3 Responses

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  1. Jim Powers

    I do see where you’re coming from, but I disagree wholeheartedly on your definition and description of the manner of rights.

    When we join a collective – any collective, be it a democratic republic or a communist dictatorship, we make a contract with that collective through which some of our total independence and total self-reliance are traded in exchange for the ability to participate in the systems of economy and protection as well as whatever other amenities are offered by that collective.

    Rights define what we retain and what is out of bounds for the collective to demand of us. These are not granted to us by the collective. In our natural state we have the right to do anything, limited only by our natural ability to perform the action in question.

    Protected Rights are the limitations placed upon the social construct by those who create and sustain it.

    The concept of government granting rights, rather than individuals already having them is a collectivist ideal – that we cannot function without being told how to function, and without those telling us how to function turning a tidy profit.

    Whenever individual rights are infringed upon to “grant” rights to other individuals, the system becomes moral but unjust – which is where we stand now. You can see this moreso in more collectivist countries (like China) where everyone is given the right of “ownership of everything” but in fact no one outside the oligarchy has any rights whatsoever.

    In the chinese example, people are born into the construct/contract and are prevented from leaving through the use of force. In the united states, there is nothing keeping you here except the chance for prosperity granted by the contract (and the fact that this prosperity blows away anything any other collective can offer in terms of personal wealth generation).

    We are the first country to have built a constitution around the premise that we as individuals have all the rights and the monster we birth by creating a collective has none save those we choose to grant it. If you read Jefferson, Monroe, or Franklin you can see clearly that this was their intent.

    Nearly every politician since 1913 has continually tried to twist the constitution into a document that empowers government rather than one that limits it. FDR is a perfect example here – every other president had served for 8 or fewer years out of respect for Washington’s presidential precedent. FDR served into his 4th term. Why? Because the constitution didn’t say he couldn’t. Immediately after he died, the amendment was added to prevent another disrespectful a-hole would-be-king from doing the same.

    As soon as we forget that our rights are ours by the virtue that the individual has ultimate and total liberty, we become just another collectivist euro-state.

    As soon as we forget that government exists because we choose it to, and not the other way around, liberty dies.

    As soon as we allow ourselves to live at the pleasure of government, rather than government living for our pleasure, we are no different from china.

    May 31, 2011 at 4:35 am
    • jayson

      I completely agree with you; but notice that I never mentioned governments.

      Governments do not grant rights – people grant rights. People even grant rights to governments, not the other way around. These rights are ONLY an abstraction of the implicit agreement to respect certain actions. That works for people granting rights to institutions as well; either you respect the institution’s actions, and play along, or you don’t and rebel. The effect is the same. So you’re right, they’re not granted to us by the collective. The granting of rights is temporal, and contextual, and exists only in the moment of the interaction. That is – they don’t exist until they need to (or, when they matter), and they only exist for the duration of that. Outside of that, they’re irrelevant.

      May 31, 2011 at 7:04 am
  2. Jim Powers

    In the establishment of long-term contexts (ie, collectives) those rights become something more than temporal and contextual, and that sense of permanence becomes more apparent as more control over the self is surrendered to the many. This touches on your statement that rights don’t exist until they need to. The purpose of formalizing government (government being the leadership of any collective from a family to a multi-nation treaty) is to freeze that context in time.

    I use the term “permanence” loosely as eventually all conventions of government change to the point where they are no longer recognizable or are removed by the people.

    I understand that you are looking at this from a wholly individual consciousness point of view, but I do not think that you can discuss the actualities of rights without discussing government. Government cannot exist without the sanction of the goverened (the turning over of individual rights to create a collective). Similarly the concept of rights in a wholly individualistic sense has no meaning unless there is a need to interact with others. In this sort of hypothetical interaction, I agree with you that the context of rights exists only in the moment of transaction.

    To view the systems we’ve created from the perspective of transactional relevance addresses only the concept of rights versus what rights actually are in the absolute definition that we use and practice every day – which is the only definition that has a tangible impact on life within our social construct.

    The obfuscation of the concept of sanction of the governed is essentially why I vehemently oppose government funded education. But that’s another story for another article.

    May 31, 2011 at 8:17 am

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