JS-Kit/Echo comments for article at http://smallestminority.blogspot.com/2006/04/contracts-and-absolutes.html (15 comments)

  Tentative mapping of comments to original article, corrections solicited.

jsid-1145647210-359161  Tom at Fri, 21 Apr 2006 19:20:10 +0000

I must disagree with this statement:

"Rights are, by Publicola's definition and mine only claimable against other people - that is, your society."

If that were true then I would not be justified in shooting a charging bear. I have a right to defend my life against anything, living, dead, or inanimate. If the threat of death comes knocking I have the right to defend myself whether it is borne on two legs or four.

So, I tend to think that Rights are somehow inherent in my being a human, rather than strictly in the context of a society.

jsid-1145650778-359168  Kevin Baker at Fri, 21 Apr 2006 20:19:38 +0000

"If that were true then I would not be justified in shooting a charging bear. I have a right to defend my life against anything, living, dead, or inanimate. If the threat of death comes knocking I have the right to defend myself whether it is borne on two legs or four."

You misunderstand. If the bear kills you, as Publicola points out, that's just your bad luck. Certainly you can do your damnedest to kill the bear FIRST, thus protecting your life, but you have no claim against the bear for its attempt to kill you - where you would have a claim against a human who tried to kill you.

Of course, these days your "right" to kill a charging bear is in question, since a significant number of your neighbors don't think you ought to have it. After all, you're disarmed by federal law in national parks, and by state law on many state lands.

jsid-1145674469-359199  Deamon at Sat, 22 Apr 2006 02:54:29 +0000

Ok,I tried posting this on Publicola's site as well because somehow you both have missed the forest for the trees.

Rights, as enumerated from the Declaration of Independence, to the Constitution, to the Bill of Rights, to today, exist not on their own as independented entities (Natural Rights). They exist only with respect to how a group of people should govern themselves, and on how that Government should act with respect to its citizenry.

Thusly, one cannot express ones unalienable right to life against drowning in the Ocean, the Declaration of Independence does not, and is not intended to, describe or govern your realtionship with the natural world, it exists to describe the bounds of the relationship between Citizens and their Government. Trying to extend the definition beyond those paramenters will needlessly muddy the waters. So I would deny in the idea of natural rights, entities existing on their own in any meaningful way. I will go so far as to say that the base concept of rights is meaningless without a vehicle to express them. This is not to say that rights a bestowed by the state, but that with out a social contract (Formal or Informal), Rights are a moot point. To Wit, the rights of Robinson Crusoe are largely acedemic. No one exists to infringe upon them but cruel fate, to whom Robinson has no mechanism to seek redress.

(Sidebar: For all its poetry, using the "rights" proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence as a case study is somewhat irresponsible. We all (should?) accept that those rights are NOT Inalienable, and that through due process the governement, appropriately, can infringe or even Quash Life (Capital Punishment), Liberty (Imprisionment), The Pursuit of Happiness (Taxes, a number of other Laws), and Property (Taxes, Eminent Domain).Ignoring this adds additional imprecision to the discussion.)

I'm left trying to determine the realtionship between the people, the government, and Rights as constructs to make better (limited!) government, but this is long and I'm still thinking about it!

jsid-1145679936-359206  Deamon at Sat, 22 Apr 2006 04:25:36 +0000

Blast! Kevin, I tried posting on Publicolas Site! Curse my typing!

Fixed. No worries.

Edited By Siteowner

jsid-1145878550-359372  Tom at Mon, 24 Apr 2006 11:35:50 +0000

Two things.

First, I still think the bear example holds unless you assume that my Right to Life should, in terms of a social contract, act as a 'prior restrain' upon another person and stop him from trying to kill me. Otherwise, the bear is no different than the human in terms of taking my life. When a bear kills a person, park rangers either kill the bear or relocate it away from people. When a person kills a person, we either kill him or relocate him away from other people. In neither case does my Right to Life preclude another's action from taking my life. I.e., the only thing a social contract (laws) can do is provide punishment for an action. I understand the a bear is not morally responsible for its actions like a human is, but I’m talking strictly in terms of how I respond to a threat against one of my (inalienable) rights.

Second, I think that in declaring that "inalienable rights" exist, Jefferson et al. were providing rational for revolution. If you define those rights as being dependent upon a social contract, one that can be changed to redefine or even eliminate those rights, then upon what grounds do you resist? Kevin, what is the proper response when (as happened in NYC) 'they' pass a law and then come to your house (armed) and demand you hand over your guns? What do you do? Can you rightly resist and demand that they pry your weapons from you cold dead fingers? Maybe I'm missing something in your thinking, but it seems that if rights are dependent on a social contract for their very existence then you would be morally powerless to resist.

If, on the other hand, Rights exist independently, then the simple fact that the government infringes upon them makes the government in the wrong and me in the right.

jsid-1145894066-359399  Walter at Mon, 24 Apr 2006 15:54:26 +0000

I'm confused. Kevin, you seem to be arguing for both side of this issue, saying rights aren't absolute except when they are. So I'll just disagree with you where your meaning is clear to me. You wrote,

"...the right to one's own life, is understood only if there is sufficient freedom both of time and thought to allow reflection on the topic. It's "self-evident" only if you have the time and the freedom to consider the question.

For millennia, that was not the case. People lived ferally at the whim of nature, then in strict hierarchies and at the whim of their social superiors. The fruit of their production was not theirs. It belonged to clan and tribe and then king. Their lives were not their own."

But from earliest times people had a sense of justice. Although the idea of rights may not have been codified, it was known that things like theft and murder were inherently wrong. That comes from some sense of the dignity and autonomy of the individual, the idea of absolute rights. (That these rights were and are routinely violated doesn't negate their existence.)

Let's see if we can use a real life example to clarify each of our positions. In China, like other represive regimes, dissidents are often jailed for exercising what we westerners would think of as protected expression. The Chinese have no clear consensus that freedom of speech is a human right.

I would say this is an injustice, and the Chinese authorities are in the wrong for doing as they do. I reach this conclusion based on respecting the absolute right of the dissidents to speak. If I understand your argument Chinese people have no right to dissent, and there's no injustice in jailing dissidents, since there's no consensus in their society allowing free speech.

I don't think that's what you really mean, so perhaps you could clarify.

jsid-1145897547-359410  Kevin Baker at Mon, 24 Apr 2006 16:52:27 +0000

Walter, to clarify I suggest you read the pieces on the left sidebar under "The Rights Discussion." You can skip the first piece, but read the other six. If that doesn't help, drop me another note.

jsid-1146086552-359716  Walter at Wed, 26 Apr 2006 21:22:32 +0000

I have read them. I'm on Dr. Cline on most everything he wrote. (Although I do think our rights are self-evident, even if they haven't been recognized until recent times. The heliocentric model of the solar system is also self-evident, even if most of humanity failed to recognize it until relatively recently.)

To flesh out my earlier question, would a totalitarian regime's morality be proved right if that regime became dominant, or even took over the whole planet? China's rulers might indeed think they need represive laws in order to perpetuate their national power.

I argue that morality and rights are absolute because they are instructive. We can denounce China no matter how successful they are.

jsid-1146095128-359739  Kevin Baker at Wed, 26 Apr 2006 23:45:28 +0000

"We can denounce China no matter how successful they are."

Not if they conquer us and kill all dissidents we can't.

Looks like I need to write Part VIII.

jsid-1146098658-359746  Walter at Thu, 27 Apr 2006 00:44:18 +0000

I think I understand, I just disagree.

But since I think that more moral countries, that is, more free, are more successful, I don't think survival and morality are at cross purposes. We'll beat China and other future adversaries because of our respect for rights.

Of course if we lose that respect all bets are off.

jsid-1146148187-359796  Tom at Thu, 27 Apr 2006 14:29:47 +0000

"Not if they conquer us and kill all dissidents we can't."

Well, not those dissidents, of course. But would the act of killing all current dissidents eliminate some yet-to-be-born dissident's right to fight for his/her freedom?

jsid-1146151559-359805  Kevin Baker at Thu, 27 Apr 2006 15:25:59 +0000

But don't the Chinese have the right to suppress any dissident who disturbs social harmony?

jsid-1146230820-359909  Tom at Fri, 28 Apr 2006 13:27:00 +0000

No, I do not believe that they do. I do not believe that there is a right to "social harmony". Plus, I do not believe that "the Chinese" (by which I assume you mean "the Chinese Government") can rightly be said to possess any rights at all. Only individuals have rights, while a (legitimate) government has powers delegated to it be The People.

The other example that hit me this morning was Orwell’s 1984. Do you think that Winston Smith had any inherent right to the freedom he longed for? Or did the government have the right to dominate him in order to maintain “social harmony”?

jsid-1146240363-359926  Kevin Baker at Fri, 28 Apr 2006 16:06:03 +0000

I AM going to have to write Part VIII (or is it IX?).

jsid-1146329910-360007  Tom at Sat, 29 Apr 2006 16:58:30 +0000

I await it eagerly =).

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