The Smallest Minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. - Ayn Rand
I think I have my post intro already: "Kevin does it again in a long worded but good post on Rights." ;)
Kevin, I believe you read my essay Rights, Penumbras, and Emanations" ?
At least I thought you commented on it, but it may have been someone else.
Last night. And, if you'll note, I used part of it in Part II.
I did in fact note that, and was gratified in seeing it.
They are two different things. Your correspondent asks:
"1. 'Is it wrong for a thug to do whatever he (or she) wants to me or anyone else if he (or again, she) can back their actions up with force?'
"2. 'Are (or were) the governments of communist China, North Korea,Soviet Russia, or Nazi Germany wrong in controlling all aspects of their subjects lives?'
"3. 'Was (or is, as the case may be) slavery (or murder, or the forcible confiscation of an individuals property by a government) wrong?'
"...[I]f we view a true right as being only what can be defended or somehow tied to what a society in general believes or accepts, we are forced to accept the following answers:
"1. 'No, it is not wrong. Unless you can defend yourself, you deserve what you get.'"
Okay, I'll break in here. Our society at large believes that mugging someone (or whatever) is wrong. Thus by Kevin's standard the thug does NOT in fact have the right to do what he does in our society.
"2. 'No they are not wrong. (At least in the case of China and North Korea; perhaps they are wrong in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, but only after the fact.)'"
Again, confusing the belief of those in power with the belief of the majority of society.
If I were to somehow travel back in time to the height of Aztec power in what is now Central America, I would find a society that practically revered their king as a god. I would NOT have the right to speak out against that king. Today, in America, I do have the right to speak out against our President (or Congress, or whomever).
3. "No, the people of the time believed it was OK, and so it was OK for them."
He confuses the distinction between "right" as in "inalienable rights" and "right" as in "right and wrong". Was it morally wrong? I sure as hell think so. But did those slaves have a Right to be free? Not in the south. Not until society was willing to fight a war over it.
However, I do not believe that medieval feudalism was wrong. It was a necessary step in the development of modern society. Attempts to create a modern democracy in a society at that level of technological and philosophical (and educational) development would have been absurd, and would have failed.
Interesting comments. I'm not sure whether I should respond to you or just wait until I respond to Kevin. I'm going to err on the side of the latter, except for a few notes. I really don't have enough time to respond to as many of these things as I would like. I suspect that at a certain point, a lot of my responses will sort of fall outside what this webpage is intended for.
"However, I do not believe that medieval feudalism was wrong. It was a necessary step in the development of modern society. Attempts to create a modern democracy in a society at that level of technological and philosophical (and educational) development would have been absurd, and would have failed."
You're committing the stanadrd historicist flaw here. Though the past is indeed set, that is not to say that there is (or could have been) only one way to attain certain desired ends. Further, though feudalism did eventually lead to modern republics, Athenian democracy certainly preceded it; whatever the merits and flaws of ancient Athens, it's hard to regard feudalism as a government as anything but a backslide from Athenian democracy.
You also write: "He confuses the distinction between "right" as in "inalienable rights" and "right" as in "right and wrong". Was it morally wrong? I sure as hell think so. But did those slaves have a Right to be free? Not in the south. Not until society was willing to fight a war over it."
"Again, confusing the belief of those in power with the belief of the majority of society."
Aside from verbal quibbling (it isn't really possible for a group to think or believe anything), the confusion here is yours. The problem with examining the question of "inalienable rights" is a mistake in the understanding of them. All "rights" of this sort ARE in the end are statements of what is morally right or wrong. If one expects them to "exist" in the same way as do oranges for example, one is bound to be disappointed. If one even expects them to be the same as laws of physics, they will be just as stymied.
"Rights" exist, in whatever way they do, in the realm of morality, not the realm of matter. You could say that there is no morality (as some have and as Kevin has at least tiptoed near), but the arguments I've heard for it are riddled with logical flaws. These are usually arguments denying anything outside of natural science. There are ways to deny morality that don't necessarily make themselves amenable to disproof, but these usually stay pretty far from argument or logic themselves. However, even these statements usually run counter to the way we (or at least I) think and understand the world.
Sorry, have to go.
Title: My take on Terri Schiavo
Excerpt: ... in which I argue that rights originate with the ability to claim those rights to others when they are violated. They pre-exist any social consensus.
Blog name: TriggerFinger
Just because you're denied your rights, doesn't mean they (rights) don't exist. The people of China have a right to pursue their beliefs of religion, however, they are denied this right. This doesn't mean their right doesn't exist. Whomever, believes that slavery was rightfully justified because the majority thought so, should look to the fact that we built a republic that is designed to protect individual rights not collective rights(no such thing). Albeit, there may have to be bloodshed or debate in order exercise these rights against the majority -- doesn't mean that these rights are granted by privilege of the majority. It just means the majority is denying the minority their rights.
Al, READ THE WHOLE EXCHANGE.
Or just read the last post, The United Federation of Planets.
THEN maybe we can discuss the existence of rights.
You have created a great dissertation on the subject of "What is a right". Enough so, that I couldn't possibly disagree with your statement that "A "right" is what the majority of a society believes it is." However, it is my understanding that your whole premise for your essay, as you have stated in the beginning is that, "If you want to keep your rights, it is up to YOU to fight for them. Liberty is NEVER unalienable. You must always fight for it." I couldn't agree more, but I have used the suggestion of a right as unalienable on many occasion to convince others that regardless of law, majority ruling, and the current political climate, that they should stand up and fight for their rights. Many have given up (particularly in the area of self defense) because of their supposed belief that majority and law as made the determination that firearms are for law enforcement and military only, and citizens have no right to them. One of my arguments have been, that "If government or the majority were to shred the Bill of Rights, specifically the 2nd Amendment, my right to self defense with the most efficient means available would not vanish." - At least not in my mind. Whether philisophical or reality based I know what works for me - and have used the fact that rights are inalienable to convince others of the same - thereby, attempting to achieve the same goal as you would have me pursue, based on your writings. So, I have concluded it would be rather foolish for me to debate an issue of which would bring us to the same goal.
"One of my arguments have been, that "If government or the majority were to shred the Bill of Rights, specifically the 2nd Amendment, my right to self defense with the most efficient means available would not vanish." - At least not in my mind."
Excellently well put. I don't know how much of the exchange you have read, but it goes on for quite a while. If you missed the later parts, I make explicit that I believe (as the common topic for all of these essays) in one, fundamental right that exists for every human being regardless of what political or social system he lives under:
The right to his own life.
Inherent in that is his right to liberty, his right to property, and his right to defend all three.
All other rights are corollaries to this one, fundamental right. The problem societies have is in agreeing on what those corollaries are, or (as happens quite often) protecting that one, fundamental right to begin with.
I have also quoted Science Fiction author Robert Heinlein when he said:"You can never enslave a free man, the most you can do is kill him."
I've also noted that the majority of almost all populations have exhibited a tendency to accept a yoke rather than to risk dying for their freedom.
Thank you for your comment, and I hope this has given you something further to think on.