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.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


WorBlux's picture

"Number 18 is ..."

Can't anyone decide? Often the government does decide, but the definition here does not limit itself to a particular legal system.

"Number 19 is..."

Here claim is limited to just claim. We might disagree about what that means but that doesn't make the idea fictional. The idea can point to a specific legal system, or can point to a broader conception of jusice.

"Number 20 is..."

Not what people mean when the say having a right. It's what they mean when they say "I'm in the right" or "I want to do right by him".

"Number 22..."
This I think is the only one of the definitions you've included that shows religious thinking if the rights asserted are free-floating or axiomatic.

That rights can be violated is no evidence they are fantasy. Going back to #19 rights are that which is due, as distinct from something that is automatic or given. Rights can still describe something actually about humans and thier relationships, just as saying a knife is something that cuts things is descriptive and valid, even though we can find examples of knives that have never cut anything.

The hinge of the issue is wether or not there really is such a thing as natural law distinct from the particular positive legal system. Roderick Long makes a good argument in his article "The Nature of Law"

Whether argueing from rights is effective is another issue.

I like your plain language clause "Rulers hate armed peons..." but you're describing the interaction through a sort of game theory lens. It's interesting, yet you've lost some of the meaning that was in the previous normative appeal of rights language.

Paul's picture

Worblux, thank you very much for that reference to Long's article. I have started to dig through it, and it is very well done (he has an excellent facility to instruct people). However I skipped forward to the bit about rights:
...and I already have some disagreements.

1) I like his breakdown into 3 types of rights, "normative", "legal" and "de facto". This seems a very clear way of looking at it. However we should not be too impressed that he can make it clear, because virtually everybody else makes a hash of it, usually confusing normative, legal and defacto, not to mention throwing in some of the other umpteen definitions of the word "right". Much of my criticism of the concept of rights is linguistic: Language is not imposed or static but is always changing according to the habits of those who use it. It is no use insisting on a concept that 99% of people use incorrectly (and that percentage is an understatement). You might as well heave the concept, or at least, find a better word for it.

2) Having done so, we are not left unable to describe reality. We can still say, "Anyone, including Chinese, should be able to say what they please," - what he has been calling a normative right. We can still say, "According to their law, Chinese can say what they please." We can still say, "Chinese should be able to say what they please, but if they do they may get in trouble with the rulers." And other varieties of the same thing. When we do, those who listen to us are not confused. But they will be if we bring in "rights".

He argues against Rollins by saying "natural law can sometimes protect", suggesting that some Jews managed to escape the Holocaust. I think he is missing something. The Jews themselves were misled by the concept of rights. Their belief that they have a right to life is the very thing that led them into the gas chambers. You can argue they got the distinction between normative and defacto wrong, but that is not very consoling for 6 million dead. In the cases when the Jews gave up on rights and simply acted as if someone was attempting to kill them all - the Warsaw ghetto - they did amazingly well. If all Jews had acted like this, killing the Gestapo right at the point they were first attacked, I am certain far more of them would have survived - and even if for some reason they still did not, as Lloyd Cohen put it, "Dying even futilely defending yourself, your family, and your group has an honor and a dignity to it that is not vouchsafed by being helplessly slaughtered. Thus even if none had escaped from the Warsaw or Vilna Ghettos or the Sobibor extermination camp, those who took vengeance there honored themselves, their families, and their people."

I have still to dig through this but I haven't changed my mind yet.

Paul's picture

Just to comment on my own comment, I want to make it clear that I have no problem with the notion of something being "normative". I am perfectly at ease with the statement, "People should not kill others for no good reason." I do think there are oughts and ought nots, and the reason for these is cultural and even possibly genetic: in our tribal period, those tribes who practiced certain oughts and ought nots thrived better than tribes that chose the wrong ones. In other words, it is tied to survival. Culturally, it's a matter of personal preference: it's just easier and more pleasant to live in a society where people aren't killed willy-nilly, so people select for that by moving from less pleasant places to more pleasant.

My problem is again with the use of language. The word "ought" implies it doesn't happen that way all the time. Thus, it is an accurate description of reality, and allows people to take into account not only the norm, but also the exceptions to the norm. The language of rights and of "Natural Law" (usually capitalized, as if law were something more than the pile of crap it usually is), on the other hand, discounts or completely ignores the exceptions - and thus is ill-chosen for survival purposes.

Thunderbolt's picture

Nice one, Paul. I am clearly able to relate to your thinking on this subject. I like "mind your own business", and "I will not be disarmed." " I will go where I please" is delightful. Your underlying premise is essentially "to hell with what the government thinks or says." I wish I had thought of that.

Samarami's picture

As I see it, this is one of your best. The idea of "rights" is indeed religious in nature, depending upon a "Rights-Giver" of some sort. The late Delmar England put it thus:

    I have lived too long and seen too much to imagine that self ownership and freedom is ever going to happen on a large scale, and very few small ones either. For sure, as long as governmentalist and “anarchists” remain stuck in “government think” and insist on bringing in concepts of government and calling them non-government, things are going nowhere.
    Speaking of commonalities under different labels, but in the same vein of thought, a common claim among “anarchists” is the concept, “right of self ownership.” “Right”? What is a “right”? Entitlement? Allocated “privilege”? By whom or what? By what rationale? Based on what premise?
    The reality is that any human individual can believe whatever he/she wishes and take any action within his/her capacity. “Right”? Permission? With permission comes command. With command is the external ownership premise. “Rights” are a contradiction of individual identity, hence, anti-individual and anti-freedom. This is why in practice, “rights” (a version of “God intended”) become “bestowed privilege” at the point of a gun.
    The idea of self ownership is not a “bestowed right.” It is a matter of personal choice. The natural law of individual volition validates this. The premise of self ownership is my personal choice, but not necessarily the choice of another, others, or all. I wish it were, but my wishes do not create reality. “If” self ownership is the agreed-upon operative social premise, subordination to anyone or anything is logically excluded. That is really all there is to it. The fact that most choose anti-self existence does not change the principle and derivatives of the self ownership concept.


Paul's picture

[“If” self ownership is the agreed-upon operative social premise, subordination to anyone or anything is logically excluded. That is really all there is to it.]

Thanks Sam. That's just the way I look at it, short and sweet. Freedom does not require a law degree to understand.

Although, in fairness, saying anti-self existence is something that most choose is probably stretching things. There is nothing in the way of informed consent there; the indoctrination is designed to yield uninformed consent. It's more like most people are not even aware they could own themselves.