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Rights Part 3: Crusoe Economics… kinda sorta…

In this 3rd installment of my series on my personal view on what I find to be the most solid defense of rights and why we should hold them as superior to all other concerns and claims, I’m going to get into some very basic economic concepts by loosely discussing a bit of what economists call (sometimes pejoratively) “Crusoe Economics”, based on a novel about a dude who, unfortunately, has to spend a lot of time on an island with no hula dancers. This may seem odd… what do economics have to do with rights? … and it may take a couple of posts to get to where I’m going with this not-entirely-original-by-any-stretch concept, but I swear by the powers of Darth Vader, I AM going somewhere with all of this!

MILTON CRUSOE

To truly understand what rights are and why we need them, we must first peal away all of the complexities of the world and look at a man alone in a state of nature, and, in this case, on an island.  With no hula dancers.

Let’s call this man…. Milton.

Milton is hanging out alone on an island.  Never mind how he got there.  Let’s just say he was on a 3 hour tour… a 3 hour tour…..  Anyway, Milton, alone on this island, has absolutely no need for rights.  They are of no use to him.  Declaring them would be pointless.  Nature would not respect whatever rights he claimed to have, because much like the honey badger, nature don’t give a damn.  Try to convince nature you have a right to not be aggressed against and it’ll send a hurricane to destroy your house just to screw with you.

As is the case with every other human being, Milton has wants, needs, desires, dreams, beliefs, outlook, values, virtues, knowledge, experiences, and abilities.  Each of these is not only 100% subjective (though aspects of his knowledge might not be), but also in a virtually constant state of flux given he lives in a dynamic world where changing circumstances in the facts about the world around him, and his relationship to those facts, can cause a change in any one (or more) of these, and possibly have a chain effect on one (or more) of the others.

The multitude of ends he wishes to achieve, whether more long term (like getting off of the island) or short term (building shelter) can only be achieved by forgoing, at least for the time being, the next most important end he wishes to achieve (in economic terms, this list of ends is called his ‘value scale’). For example, Milton may want both shelter and food.  Instead of starting to walk around picking up branches to start building a hut, he begins to walk down to the water to try to catch some fishies.  We can assume by his action that, in the present moment, Milton values the fishies over the chance to start building shelter.  What this means is that the amount of shelter Milton would have built during the time it took him to catch some fishies is the true cost of the fishies (in economic terms, this is called ‘opportunity cost’).

While Milton’s choice to catch fishies instead of beginning work on a hut is ultimately subjective, and while it reveals his preference in the present for fishies over beginning work on a hut (an individual’s preferences are revealed by their actions) this decision will be influenced by ‘marginal utility’ (another economic term). In other words, if Milton has no fishies, he may value catching fishies over starting work on the hut, whereas had he already had some fishies left over from fishing for fishies the previous day, he may value starting work on the hut now as opposed to catching more fishies. If he only had one fishy… he may again lean towards catching more… and if he had 10 fishies, he would be a good deal more inclined to forgo catching more and instead begin work on the hut.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS…

Now, to further the example, let’s say Milton chose to catch the fishies.  On his way down to the water, he may notice that clouds seem to be gathering in the distance.  This is a change in the facts of the dynamic world around Milton, and everything else comes into play which will now effect his actions. Maybe he has past experience with seeing these particular cloud formations at that distance and surmises it is not likely a storm will hit, and therefore, he will continue to fish. For fishies.  Or, perhaps he recognizes that this means there is a probability there will be a storm that night.  This may completely change his value scale.  Depending again upon his subjective wants, needs, desires, dreams, beliefs, outlook, values, virtues, knowledge, experiences, abilities, relative to the new information he has been confronted with, he may decide that now starting work on a hut is of greater value to him than catching fishies. Even if it means he will go hungry for the night.

As a complete digression: the fishies are rooting for that choice.

However, he may not decide this.  He may decide not having shelter is a risk he believes is worth taking.  He may decide being hungry is a greater hardship than being wet and windblown, much to the dismay of the fishies.  He may simply decide that there is a strong possibility this storm could be bad enough to kill him, and he rather enjoys fishing and would rather spend his final day alive doing that and enjoying a good meal than building a hut that most likely won’t do him any good anyway.

The IMPORTANT POINT, is that any of these choices is, ultimately, 100% subjective.  There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  There is no objective way of determining, especially ahead of time, whether Milton took the ‘right’ amount of risk for the potential reward. There is no objective way of measuring whether Milton should choose an option which will extend his life the longest (even of truly knowing what that will be), or an option that may lead him to an earlier death, but in his view, a happier life. Further, Milton can never be completely sure that he has made the ‘right’ choice because he can never go back in time and make the other choice, and he has no idea how those choices will truly effect him in the future, or how his views about those choices will change.

RESOURCES, YO

But what about how this all relates to the world in which Milton lives?  As Milton takes purposeful action to achieve his ends he will need to make use of whatever resources are available to him at the time. He will need land on which to pursue his chosen end, a technical idea (a recipe, so to speak) about how to pursue the end, a body with which to labor in pursuit of the end, and time in which to labor in his pursuit of the end. The material resources (his body, the trees, rocks, fish, etc) are scarce in that in any given place and time, he has a finite amount at his disposal.  For example, while there are maybe hundreds if not thousands of fallen branches to build his hut with, there are only so many in the vicinity in which he has time (which is also scarce) to collect them if he is going to be able to finish his hut before the storm arrives.

However, some of these resources are not scarce and are, instead, infinitely reproducible. For example, once he has figured out an effective and satisfactory way of securing branches together, he can produce this result by utilizing this recipe as many times as he needs to so long as he has enough scarce, physical resources at his disposal.

IN CONCLUSION

These are some of the basic economic truths we know about human beings, and therefore, Milton, and their efforts to pursue their desired ends.  In my next post, we will add another man to the island, introducing the potential for violent conflict in their individual efforts to utilize these scarce resources for their separate ends.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in RIGHTS

 

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Murray Rothbard: Troublingly Wrong on Milton Friedman

I actually had another post, the 3rd part of my series on rights, set to put out today, but after having yet another ridiculous debate last night with people making absurd statements about Milton Friedman, I felt I should post this one instead.

Before I was swayed through well reasoned logical arguments to become a free market anarchist (libertarian anarchist, anarcho capitalist, voluntaryist, whateveryouwannacallit), I was a limited-government libertarian (a minarchist).  While I was first introduced to the general realm of libertarianism via “Atlas Shrugged” (how original), it was F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman who, in my early years, really became my intellectual teachers of economics and the philosophy of liberty, so to speak.  And of the two, I became most obsessed with Friedman.

I read “Free to Choose” and “Capitalism and Freedom”, I purchased the 1980 PBS “Free To Choose” series on DVD, and a 15 DVD set of his lectures and watched them over and over, sometimes having friends over to watch them and discuss them afterwards.  I watched countless hours of his debates, interviews, and lectures online.  It was not just the substance of his arguments (great as I found them), but his clear, concise, RESPECTFUL style of debate.  He had a unique mixture of extreme confidence, humility, and openness which I have never seen before or since.

ENTER ROTHBARD

At some point along the line, I began engaging in debate on line. It wasn’t long before I was confronted with a situation that I have, sadly, been confronted with all too many times since.  During a debate, I quoted the late, great, Milton Friedman, to which someone replied “He was a statist!”.  Another replied “He was a Keynesian and a big supporter of the Fed!”.  I was completely taken aback!  Friedman was a minarchist, that much was true, but a STATIST?  That is a term that should surely be reserved for those who see a state solution for virtually every societal ill, or cry for state intervention at every sign of societal imperfection, real or perceived. And to say he was a supporter of the Fed…. where did they get this misinformation from, I inquired?  Why, the late, great, Murray Rothbard, of course!

At this point, I had never heard of Rothbard.  So, someone provided me with a couple of links, and I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes.  I could not believe the level of intellectual dishonesty that followed.

CHARACTER ASSASSINATION DISGUISED AS TRUTH

Rothbard’s attacks on Friedman essentially boiled down to this: Friedman was not worthy of being held up as the leader (or one of the leaders) of the libertarian movement because, in Rothbard’s words “…it is pretty clear that Friedman is a statist.”.  What evidence was there that Friedman was a statist?  According to Rothbard, his legislative proposals such as school vouchers and the negative income tax, as well as his 3% monetary growth rule for the Fed were all damning evidence of Friedman’s support of the state.

Could it be possible that Rothbard was taking his proposals out of context?  According to Rothbard, it did not matter.  He flat out said he did not know, and did not care to know, the context.  In his opinion, all one needed to do was know that Friedman was making these proposals to justify the charge that he was a statist.

CONTEXT IS KING

The problem with Rothbard’s reasoning here is pretty simple: context does matter.  A lot. At least it does to anyone wishing to be intellectually honest with their charges.  In every area Friedman made a legislative proposal that I can find, he made a very clear (and extremely relevant to Rothbard’s charge) caveat: ideally, he wanted government out of it entirely. He was very clear that ideally government should not be involved in education. Ideally, there should be no welfare state to speak of. Ideally, the Federal Reserve should be abolished. However, he considered all of these ends (and more) to be currently highly improbable to achieve, if not impossible, given the current political climate both at the time of the proposals, and in the foreseeable future.

His legislative proposals, by his own words, were clearly made because he saw people suffering under the weight of a highly dysfunctional bloated bureaucratic state and truly believed his proposals, though far from the ideal he wanted as a libertarian, would do far less harm to people than the status quo, and, in his opinion, be a step, however small, in the direction of liberty.

One does not have to believe that these proposals would have yielded less painful results, nor does one have to agree that this is a good way to move from a suffocating state to more liberty (personally, I think the evidence now shows it is most likely not for reasons beyond the scope of this post), to understand how, provided this context, the charges that Friedman was a statist are grossly unjustified.

YAY! A SLAVERY ANALOGY!!!

Everyone loves a good slavery analogy, so, to get a clearer view, let’s say it is 1825. Slavery in the U.S. is still going strong and any real chance of emancipation is highly improbable politically for the foreseeable future. Does that mean that those who oppose slavery shouldn’t continue with their valiant efforts to make the case for emancipation? Of course not.

But what if one of these folks, recognizing that the improbability of emancipation in the current political climate meant that many slaves would continue to suffer incredibly cruel and painful fates for many years to come, made proposals to slave owners as to different ways they could treat their slaves that would be less brutal.  Ways that would allow the slaves to possibly live somewhat more comfortable, less painful lives. Would it be justifiable to claim this person was a supporter of slavery?

Of course not.

For another example: What if one man, a very small man, witnessed a robbery.  The rather large, muscular man doing the robbing (who is holding a gun with one bullet) was about to shoot the victim in the head in order to prevent him from following, or identifying him.  The witness, horrified by the entire ordeal but acutely aware there was nothing he could do to completely save the victim from harm, decides to speak up.  He persuades the robber that he should shoot the victim in the leg instead.  That way, the victim won’t be able to follow him, but at least the robber won’t be charged with murder if he is caught.  The robber agrees, shoots the victim in the leg, and takes off.  The victim is shot.  And he is robbed.  But he is alive, which would not have been the case had the witness not made an alternative proposal to the robber.

Would it be justified to claim the witness is a supporter of robbery?  What about of shooting people?  Is this a “compromise of principle!” that should lead an intellectually honest thinker to claim “He’s a thief like all the others! He compromised with thieves!”?

Of course not.

THE NEGATIVE IMPACT ON LIBERTARIANISM

While Rothbard has no doubt contributed a great deal to libertarianism on many fronts (even in my personal growth I’ve come to be far more in line with him in many areas both philosophically and economically), I find this attempt to go beyond economic disagreement and into the realm of attempted character assassination to be very troubling for libertarianism for the very reason laid out in the anecdote of how I came across it.  From what I have witnessed then and many, many times since, there appears to be a good amount of libertarians who came to the movement through Rothbard who were presented with his attacks on Friedman and simply adopted his “statist!” conclusion without ever exploring the depths and nuances of Friedman’s work for themselves to find out if this charge was justified.  This is unfortunate not only because it prevents them from exploring a body of work that has a great deal to offer anyone interested in liberty, but also because they seem to have adopted this crass form of engaging their opponents.  Of crying “statist!” at every slight disagreement with even the most limited government minarchists, over arguing in respectful, good faith, debate… which if nothing else, they could have learned a great deal about by exploring Friedman on their own.

This disturbs me because many of these people are going out and debating and engaging in this manner on the side of libertarianism, and unfortunately, I think it hurts the movement.  As libertarians, we, of all people, should be extremely diligent in ensuring that we are not misrepresenting the positions of others.  That we are engaging in good faith, intellectually honest discourse with others.  And that we are not simply aping the views of others, but rather have a deeper understanding of the positions, and the people, we criticize.

Criticize, yes.  But do it on the grounds that those people have actually argued their positions from.

I’m all the more baffled by this being as, much like Friedman himself, Rothbard was, by all accounts I’ve read, a kind, lovable, approachable, friendly man, and no doubt a brilliant one.  But due to this, I can not take Rothbard seriously for historical accounts.  Economic fundamentals, yes.  Philosophical ideas, sure. Historical accuracy?  No.  Friggin.  Way.

NOTE: I am not saying this is true of all libertarians who have come to the movement via Rothbard. But they are out there, and from what I can tell, there are a lot of them.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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New Logical Fallacy Proposal: The Tin Man Argument

Recently on a Facebook thread I made a joke that along with the other logical fallacies out there, libertarians should add another that we are uniquely confronted with over and over again: the Tin Man fallacy. Now, originally I was joking… but I’m kinda serious, actually.

It’s sort of a take on the ‘straw man fallacy’ in which a person attempts to debate not the actual arguments their opponents are making, but rather an easy to defeat caricature.  The debater first builds the straw man, for instance, by saying a libertarian is against education, when the actual libertarian is simply against state funding of education.  The debater then knocks down this fictitious ‘anti-education’ libertarian straw man by making easy arguments against this mischaracterized position and everyone who’s not really interested in debating the nuances and complexities that most libertarians derive their actual position from goes “Yeah! What fools those libertarians are! What type of sick person could be against education?”.

THE TIN MAN FALLACY

To my mind, ‘straw man’ = ‘scarecrow’ and ‘scarecrow’ = ‘Wizard of Oz’, so I thought, “Hey, the Tin Man should get a fallacy, too!“.

The ‘Tin Man Fallacy’ is rooted in the assumption that one’s opponent, often a libertarian, has no heart. Unlike the straw man fallacy, in which the debater needs to mischaracterize their opponent’s position, the tin man fallacy allows the debater to build a sturdy looking, if hollow, general facsimile of their opponent’s position (“You are against state mandated universal health care?”), but not give him a heart (“Then you don’t care about poor people who don’t have access to affordable, quality insurance, or people with pre-existing conditions!! You heartless monster! WHY DO YOU HATE THE POOR?!”).

Anyway… that’s it.  Much like the favored short hand of ‘you’re arguing against a straw man’, libertarians everyone can now enjoy the short hand of stating ‘you’re arguing against a tin man!’, when confronted with these outrageously inaccurate and offensive accounts of libertarianism. From places like, ya know, Salon.com.

Now if only the 4 or 5 people who actually read my blog start using it, we’ll be all set! :)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Logical Fallacies

 

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Video

This is my new Halloween video for my song “One Last Lullaby”

This is my new scaaaary Halloween video I animated for my song “One Last Lullaby”. Enjoy

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in VIDEOS

 

My takedown (er… rebuttal) of Russell Brand’s ‘Revolution’ video…

I’m going to take a break from my series on rights to briefly address the Russell Brand video that has been shared around the interwebs quite heavily lately. I’m doing so because I’m seeing friends cheering it on… good hearted, well meaning, empathetic friends… and given the overall thrust of what Brand says, I find this disheartening and disconcerting.

To start, let me say I have no problem with celebrities expressing their opinions on politics, or whatever. They are in a position where their voices will be heard, and they are utilizing it. Great! However, I DO have a problem with them (or anyone, really) strongly voicing their opinion about something as if they understand the subject they are talking about, while clearly displaying the opposite. Is it their right to do so? Damn straight it is! Should they be called out strongly on trying to pass of their ignorance as enlightened thinking? Damn straight they should!

Side note: this is not to say I agree with the interviewer. He’s a complete knucklehead… or at least he is handling himself as such here… so let’s pay him no mind for now.

A POINT OF AGREEMENT

Now, I also do not have any issue in the slightest with Brand’s stance on not voting. I do not vote any longer either, and I wish a lot of people would actually refrain from doing so for a variety of reasons. I think he gets it mostly right here.. in a very loose way. The idea that your views on political or economic matters is irrelevant because you didn’t vote is complete nonsense. Anyone with the slightest bit of political sophistication should understand that there are many valid objections to voting, not least of which is (and perhaps mostly because of) an understanding, even on a surface level, of public choice economics.  In this area, the interviewer is simply repeating rhetoric that almost all of us have had indoctrinated in us since birth. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

MAJOR DISAGREEMENT (or: HE’S VERY, VERY, VERY WRONG)

“The very concept of profit should be hugely reduced.  David Cameron says profit isn’t a dirty word.  I say profit is a filthy word, because wherever there is profit there is also deficit.”  -  Russell Brand

This is so, so wrong, on so many levels, and so dangerous of an idea for the very people Brand wants to help, that it’s hard to know where to begin and what to address without making this post way overly long.  I’ll start by saying this: Not all profit is equal, and he doesn’t seem to understand the great distinction between profiting via a free market, in which both parties entering into a voluntary exchange have a reasonable assumption that they will be better off than they were before the exchange (ie: they will both profit), versus profiting via rent-seeking, wherein some parties achieve profits at the expense of others by utilizing politically coercive means. The former is defined by positive sum transactions. The later is defined by negative sum transactions (this is where profit for one party would indeed equal a deficit for another).

What’s even more disturbing than the seemingly complete ignorance of this distinction (as is evidenced both by what follows in the rest of this interview, and on his simple labeling of profit as ‘filthy’ in an all encompassing sense) is that the very broad ‘solution’ for these evils (real and perceived) he puts forward is a steroidal version of what has created the massive culture of rent-seeking that we are now suffering under: government intervention in markets via regulations and redistributive schemes. This is where the zero sum game is.  This is what, when taken out of the realm of rhetoric and put into the realm of practice, benefits the few at the expense of the many.

And let’s look at how massively ignorant and irresponsible on its face it is to axiomatically state ‘wherever there is profit there is deficit’.  If this were true, advances in material human welfare would be impossible. It would mean that person A could only ever profit at the EXPENSE of person B, C, or D.  Therefore, if A, B, C, and D each had one unit of a generic economic good, for A to end up with two units, B, C, or D would have to end up with zero. Overall increases in material wealth in this state of affairs.. one in which ‘wherever there is profit there is deficit’… could never happen. That is not a misreading of Brand’s words, it is a matter of drawing the logical conclusion from exactly what he said!  But it doesn’t take a whole lot of mental energy to recognize that the overall capital stock in the world, let alone the U.S., and the overall material well being of human beings not only at the top of the economic ‘food chain’ but especially at the bottom, is almost incomprehensibly greater today than it was 50 years ago, let alone 100 or 200 years ago.  Even 20 and 30 years ago, truth be told, and even with the tremendous barriers governments have increasingly erected in many areas over many years which have slowed this process down (though there are other areas where governments have removed barriers they had once erected, and in doing so have had the exact effect one would think: progress in material well being across the board).

At every step in advancement in material human welfare, in increased living standards for all, there has been capital investment, technological innovation, and… *gasp*… profit!  If we took the profit part out of this equation, material progress would come to a grinding halt, and reverse.  If ‘the very concept of profit’ were ‘hugely reduced’, as Brand advocates, the material well being… especially for those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder…. would be hugely reduced.

OK… WHY?

I’m going to put aside the fact that earning whatever profit the market will bare is a fundamental right regardless of the consequences and focus instead solely on the utility aspect for the sake of this post.  In a pure utility sense, prices and profits serve a vital purpose. In a world of millions of people with varying wants, needs, dreams, desires, values, knowledge, perceptions, etc., all trying to utilize whatever means are at their disposal in an effort to achieve their disparate ends in a world of scarce resources (including time), prices and profits serve as a decentralized knowledge base. They transmit vital information and signals to market participants about where precious capital is most valued based not on the projected biases of an ‘overseer’, but through millions upon millions of voluntary exchanges over vast geographical expanses which reveal the preferences of other market participants.  In a free market, rising profit margins in any given area of the market tell market actors where additional resources are desired, and where the expected return on capital outweighs the risk inherent in either moving resources from a less profitable areas of the market to ones with greater profit potential, or bringing new resources into play.  It tells them that the trade off has a high likelihood of resulting in both a bettering of their condition, and the condition of those in the area of the market they hope to serve.

In short, prices and profits paint a picture that helps us identify how best to serve each other in the most peaceful, voluntary, mutually beneficial way possible.  In order to function to its greatest benefit, this picture needs to be as undistorted as is humanly possible.

Admittedly, this is a bit of a clunky description of a complex topic that I’ll probably address and readdress over and over again in the course of coming posts, but hey, I’m trying to work quickly here!

THE BOTTOM LINE

It is for these reasons and more (hey, it’s a blog post, only so much I can cover in such a limited space and time) that it is precisely the areas of the market that we find so essential…. healthcare… housing… wages… food… stuffed bunnies… classic rock t-shirts… that you want prices to flow completely unencumbered and you want people to be as free as possible to seek as much profit as the market will bear so long as rights are respected in doing so.

And again, because it can’t be said enough:  No one benefits from this state of affairs more so than the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us.  Please do not fall prey to demagoguery and rhetoric to the contrary.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Celebrity Rebuttals

 

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Rights, Part 2: The Right, and Wrong, Answers.

What will follow in this post (and pretty much the rest of this blog) is my interpretation of insights I have acquired from exploring the works of such great, late, economists and philosophers as Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Frederic Bastiat, and many others, as well as living economists, philosophers and general thinkers such as David Friedman, Hans Hermann Hoppe, Steve Horwitz, Stephan Kinsella, Sheldon Richman, Jeffery Tucker, and many, many more.  I have arrived at my current points of view (which are always evolving and being refined) by taking a little from some, and a lot from others, while also rejecting a little from some, and a lot from others.

ASK THE WRONG QUESTION, GET THE WRONG ANSWER

When I first started my inquiry into rights, it seemed like the biggest bone of contention being argued about, and what the various theories were built upon, was the question “Where do rights come from?”.  There seem to be 4 answers to this question most theories subscribe to (none of which I find satisfactory). 3 of these answers (humanity, nature, and God) can be seen as related to each other depending on if you’re a religious sort or not.  Here’s a very (very) brief layout of each:

1. Our humanity:  This is not very useful as an appeal to would-be rights violators as to why they should not infringe upon your rights.   JOE: “Please, do not hit me over the head and take my things!”   BOB: “Why shouldn’t I hit you over the head and take your things? I like your things, and I want them.”   JOE: “Because you should yield to my rights.”   BOB: “Why should I do that?”   JOE: “Well, because… my humanity!”.

Good luck with that.

Actually, this is not entirely fair. There are certain aspects of the ‘humanity’ arguments that enter into a consistent and robust theory of rights, but they are not even close to sufficient by themselves as an argument for yielding to them on principle.

2. Nature:  Early on in my exploration I leaned more towards ‘natural rights’ arguments.  They certainly have great rhetorical power.  However, through debate and further reading, I ultimately came to reject this line of thinking, as it doesn’t quite hold up.  For one reason, I don’t find rights to be particularly natural.  If anything, they’re pretty unnatural, and they often act as constraints against generally undesirable behavior which is, unfortunately, quite ‘natural’.  Contrary to popular belief, ‘natural’ does not necessarily equal ‘good’.  It is actually very natural for a stronger person to physically dominate a weaker person, but that tells us nothing about the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of doing so, and why we should or shouldn’t allow for this type of behavior.

Yet, much like the ‘humanity’ arguments, we can still see a kernel of truth in the ‘natural rights’ arguments simply by observing the natural way people react to the most direct violations of their rights. Even a person who would claim to not believe in rights will almost certainly respond in a physically defensive manner if someone attempted to initiate physical aggression against their person. However, while this might give us a clue that there is something ‘natural’ about rights and their defense, it is not very useful in telling us what those rights are, and persuading others as to why they should yield to this element of natural behavior, and not the element that provides the instinct to beat someone over the head with a rock and take their things.

3. God:  I’m an atheist, but even if I weren’t, this wouldn’t be a very compelling stand point.  For even if one does believe in God, so long as the person they are trying to persuade to respect their rights doesn’t, no exclamation of “you shouldn’t mug me, because God gave me rights!” is going to suffice to either prevent the present mugging, or reduce the likelihood of future ones.

4. Government:  This is the most logically unsound one.  All one has to do is to ask “Well, if the government gives us rights, and governments are made up of and created by people, then who gave the people in the government the right to give us rights or take them away?”  The argument is on its face circular.

A consistent theory of rights that doesn’t almost immediately start collapsing in on itself shouldn’t be something that simply feels good rhetorically, or speaks to our own personal bias. It should have an objective approach that can hopefully persuade people of differing beliefs and values as to the great many virtues and benefits of respecting them, not only to others, but to themselves.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION, GET THE RIGHT ANSWER

What I discovered was that “Where do rights come from?” is not the right question to start with.  Rather, the right question is actually two-fold: “What are rights, and why do we need them?”.  Here are the answers in brief:

1. WHAT ARE RIGHTS?:  Rights are simply fundamental rules of just (in the sense of ‘justice’, not in the sense of ‘hey, that’s just groovy!’) action between two or more human beings, given the need for such rules.

2. WHY DO WE NEED RIGHTS?:  This is the most important and complex part of the question, and it can not be fully answered without first noting these objective axioms about human beings and the world in which they live:

  1. Humans are imperfect beings. They are almost constantly in a state of dissatisfaction, however small the degree.  If this were untrue, human beings would never need to act, and instead they would simply sit (or stand, or lay) and ‘be’ for eternity (or until, you know, a giant meteor kills everyone).  Every purposeful (as opposed to reflexive) action human beings take is an attempt to better their present condition to some degree from its present unsatisfactory state.  Not only do these actions reveal the unsatisfactory nature of their present condition, but, being as all purposeful action requires a trade off, they also reveal the subjective values of human beings.
  2. Humans live in a world of scarce resources (including time) with which to achieve the ends they choose to pursue in their efforts to better their present condition. The most fundamental of these scarce resources is our own body.  Physical scarce resources (like our body) are rivalrous by nature due to the fact that they hold the potential for physical conflict between two or more human beings for their usage in pursuing our separate, sometimes competing, ends.
  3. All value is completely subjective, and no one knows shit about the future for certain.

Given these axioms, it follows that the answer to the first question of ‘why do we need rights?’ is:  To reduce the potential for violent conflict between human beings as much as is possible in our efforts to use scarce, rivalrous, resources as means to pursue our ends.

  • *NOTE: The ‘as much as is possible’ in the last sentence is extremely important to remember. The fact is, there is no such thing as utopia.  Not all questions are truly answerable, not all problems are truly solvable, and attempts to arrive at such an impossible state have been the source of an unbelievable amount of misery, violence, and death throughout history.

In the next post (whenever that is), I will begin to unpack these ideas further.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in RIGHTS

 

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‘RIGHTS’, Part 1: Preamble

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m going to start this blog with a series laying out the basis  of my views on rights. This is the philosophical foundation for my political and economic views.  I’ll start getting to the nitty gritty, laying out the foundations and working my way up from there, in my upcoming posts. But first, a preamble…

RIGHTS OR WRONGS

Most people (in the ‘western’ world, at least) have been told all of their lives that they have something called ‘rights’ in a very general sense.  Ask almost anyone if they believe in rights, and they will answer yes.  Ask them if the basis of a free society is that rights should be acknowledged and respected, and I bet the vast majority of them will again answer yes.  Ask them what rights are, however, and not only will you get a million different answers from a million different people, but almost without fail, if the conversation continues long enough, you will find that their views on rights are inconsistent and self-contradictory on even the most basic of levels.

About .05% of people will state that rights are the opposites of lefts.  Those people are simply wise asses, and are usually my cousins.  But I digress….

THE BUTCHER, THE HOMOPHOBIC BAKER, AND THE CANDLESTICK MAKER

You will find many people who appeal to rights when they state their view that gay people should not be prevented by law from being married if an institution is willing to marry them.  They are correct.  Having such a law imposed upon gay people would be a violation of their rights.  However, most of those very same people will support laws preventing a wedding photographer or a baker from refusing to take pictures at, or make a cake for, a gay wedding (these are two actual recent cases).  If they truly, consistently, support rights, then they are wrong to support these laws.  These laws would be a violation of the rights of the photographer or the baker to associate or disassociate with whomever they choose.

Consistently defending rights necessarily means defending behaviors that we do not agree with.  It should never be confused with an endorsement of those behaviors.  It’s simply an acknowledgment and understanding of how imperative it is to defend rights in even the most controversial of instances if we are to ensure the maintenance of rights in the ways we wish to exercise them.

WHAT’S YOURS IS NOT MINE

Another glaring inconsistency in the way many people view rights comes in the form of claiming that they have rights to a good or service that requires the labor of others to be brought into existence.  I have found no theory of rights that can be even somewhat consistently applied and still hold this to be true.  So, I will state once again what I stated in the previous post, what I will endeavor to show in subsequent posts, and what can never be stated too often or too strongly: if we want to live in a world where there is as little violent conflict as is humanly possible, we can not live in a world where the basis of social order is physical aggression against peacefully acting individuals.

Example: In a recent Facebook post that a friend made somewhat reluctantly in support of Obamacare, someone brought up in a comment that one of the reasons they oppose it is that it makes something called ‘end of life counseling’ (which they had many reasons for not liking) mandatory.  I don’t have any idea if that’s true or not, but for the sake of argument let’s assume it is true.  My friend, who not too long ago had lost her father, disagreed and said she thought ‘end of life counseling’ was a good thing.  She said that she believes it may have helped her family during the end of her father’s life.  I have no basis for disagreeing with this statement.  I don’t know what is, or would have been, best for her and her family, and I have no reason to oppose them having purchased those services from a willing seller if they so desired.  That would be a peaceful, mutually beneficial, cooperative, rights respecting exchange.  However, if this service was either made mandatory to engage in under the Obamacare legislation, or a new entitlement to be provided and/or paid for at least in part by others, it would be, at it’s absolute fundamental core an act of aggression against peacefully acting individuals, and therefore a violation of rights.

DON’T BE A TOOL

This may be easy to see on one end: if I am old and dying, if I refused to attend ‘end of life counseling’, the law could only truly be upheld by ultimately using physical coercion, or the threat thereof, to get me there.  That’s a pretty obvious rights violation.  What is not so obvious to most people, or what they overlook, is that the other end is completely based in violence as well: What if for whatever reason no one was voluntarily willing or available to provide ‘end of life counseling’? The only way this end of the law could be enforced, and this entitlement provided, would be by taking an individual and using physical coercion, or the threat thereof, to force them to provide this service instead of the peaceful activities that, if left free to choose, they would be engaging in instead.  They would effectively be being treated not as human beings with rights, but simply as tools to be used for the ends of others.

This is not demagoguery.  This is not rhetoric.  It is a statement that does not allow for the complete unwillingness to face and acknowledge the truth of what underlies these situations.  Only in doing so can we begin to grapple with the larger implications that stem from the narrow view of “I believe this good or service may make my life better but I can neither acquire it, nor find someone to provide it, voluntarily. Therefore I am willing to initiate physical aggression against otherwise peacefully acting individuals to obtain it, or turn blind eye to the underlying violence of the system and institutions I support in an effort to obtain it”.

Violence begets violence.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in RIGHTS

 

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