I was watching George Carlin’s stand up special titled “It’s Bad For Ya” on Netflix and at the end of his set he said something I found really interesting and it got the hamster wheel in my head spinning pretty good. He said something to the effect of “you either have unlimited rights or you have no rights.” Then he ends his set saying that he’s leaning towards unlimited rights and that if someone does something you don’t like you shoot them in the face and walk away. What a great way to start talking about rights, am I right?!
(Kinda faded, Huh? Literally and figuratively unfortunately)
Typically when we talk about rights we are referring to a bunch of sentences written on a really old piece of paper that says we are allowed to do certain things. Its a funny thing considering the idea behind the Bill of Rights is that these are endowed by our creator and are naturally occurring, but we had to write them down just in cause we, nature or God forgot about them. Never mind that originally many of these rights didn’t even apply to slaves or women or Native Americans. It’s also important to recognize that the scope of allowable actions listed in the amendments is shrinking. So while the Bill of Rights was a big step forward for the time, it wasn’t exactly complete or even permanent. It appears that even the bedrock rights we value (well, not so much any more) are more of a brilliant list of things made up by a bunch of dudes raging against the British machine.
The jarring reality is that you only have the rights and freedoms that you are able to secure for yourself and I think that’s what George Carlin was getting at. Well, I don’t know if that’s what he meant, but it at least got my mind rolling in this direction. If rights are a natural occurrence then how could any man or government take them from you? I think many people conceptualize human rights as something akin to physics. No matter what we do we can’t break the law of gravity or the speed of light, but your “rights” to free speech, due process and even to travel sure as hell can be.
The other problem with our current concept of “rights” has become extremely subjective. We have such a rich society that there is a growing portion of Americans that now believe that a right can include the a good or service. People like to throw around that health care, housing, education, employment, mobile phones, social security or even internet service are rights. Ideas like this have come to be called a “positive right”. These kinds of rights require the action of another person. In other words, it enslaves some members of society into providing X, Y, or Z to the rest of society. I thought we outlawed slavery!
This is very different from the traditional form of rights like the ones outlined in the Bill of Rights. Rights like freedom of speech, owning firearms, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures are negative rights. This means that they usually don’t require action from other people. These are good, but tend to diminish over time because of power hungry politicians and the apathy of citizens. So basically, anything can be called a “right” nowadays and the ones that actually protect freedom are doomed to die by 1,000 cuts.
Carlin calls the Bill of Rights a bunch of temporary privileges… and he’s right. To protect our rights we have built a power structure with the ability to suspend our rights at will. Surely, we all should be able to see the error and contradiction in that. The greatest threat to our rights is the “protector” of our rights, oops.
When the “protection” of rights is entrusted to a powerful few, even so called “natural rights” can and will be infringed. Then, before you know it, the individual cannot secure those rights himself because the power of the individual and society has been outsourced to the Borg collective. Resistance is futile.
The cold hard truth is that the individual will only have the rights he is able to secure for himself. The default view is that we need to protect the individual’s rights from those around him, but this is not the case. The greatest threat to our rights is the organization that we have granted the power to violate our rights, not the people around us. There are bad people out there for sure, but the majority of people want you to be free because they want to be free. Individuals depend on each other to survive. Some people make cloths, some grow food and some make unicorn stickers and we all need each other. Respecting each other’s freedom is paramount to working together. The safest place for our rights is actually with our fellow human-beings! If someone isn’t respecting your liberty you don’t have to associate with them! Try that with the government!