The Question of Rights
When it comes to the question of rights, it seems that there are a variety of diversed opinions on the matter. As you go from social issue to social issue, encompassing the political and ethical implications, one will find that there are different dispositions, each holding to the idea that their idea of rights is the correct one. For example, in the case of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice, on the issue of abortion. Pro-Life believes that the unborn fetus has the right to life, whereas Pro-Choice believes that the woman has the right to choose. In some cases of the Pro-Choice movement, there are those who believe in limited rights of women to abortion.
They believe that a woman has the right to abortion only in cases of incest and rape, or that a woman has the right to abortion only up to the late second trimester. When understanding the ideology of Conservative and Liberal political parties, we find that the former more strongly believe in the right to private property than the others. Conservatives are opposed to welfare and social programs, in that these are supported by taxation, which appropriates some of the wealth of everyone, and they oppose these programs because it violates what they believe is the right to property. Liberals, on the other hand, are supportive of such wealth appropriation, because they believe that every person who labors is entitled to some of the profits of the land. In these examples, as many others, we find that it is the question of rights that the parties are arguing over. It is in this piece that I will delve deeper into this question.
When looking at rights, there is an infinite plethora of them that we could apply. We could argue that people have the right to dress like the other sex, to make sexual advances towards anyone at any time, to poke others, to borrow without paying for something (steal), among many other things. Of course, this short list of rights I provided was absurd and ridiculous. It's mostly because when we think of rights, we tend to think of the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of religion, right to elect our own government officials and expel them upon misconduct, among many other rights. The right to political and labor association. These are all rights that we commonly think about when we think of rights, or they are rights we appeal to when arguing for or against a certain issue. Someone may oppose the government supplying tax fund to churches because it violates the freedom of religion; another person may oppose the government censoring books on sexuality because it violates the right to freedom of speech. So we find, that these smaller issues, these matters that are brought to us today, are opposed or supported based on what we believe the rights of the people are. However, when comparing these often thought about rights, such as freedom of speech, with those absurd rights that I mentioned, such as the right to poke anyone at any time, one may try to find a fundamental difference, to justify one and villify the other. Of course, there is no difference, except the foundation or justification beneath whatever right it is.
So, if someone were to support the cause for war, they may argue that it is because a nation's people have the right to own the property of the other nation; if someone were to oppose the cause for war, they may argue that it is because a nation's people have the right to security and their own homeland. We see then that the current issue is decided upon based primarily on the idea of preconceived rights. What, then are the reasons that justify or villify a right?
To answer this question, I am going to draw a scenario, by which we can judge why we believe that one party has the rights or the other party has the rights. Then, once we decide which party has the rights, we can poke and prod our own lifestyles and philosophies until we find some sort of balance in consistency. Consider the situation of a Nudist and a non-Nudist. The first believes that if he or anyone else must cover up their bodies, that he will suffer and be in misery. The second believes the opposite, that if he or anyone else has their bodies not covered up, that he will suffer and be in misery. We have an opposition of interests in this situation. Who's right prevails? That of the Nudist or that of the non-Nudist? If we recognize the right of the Nudist, then the non-Nudist suffers; if we accept the right of the non-Nudist, then the Nudist suffers. Of course, this example is perhaps the most believable, because any cultured person understands that Nudists generally feel trapped when forced to wear clothes, and feel the same for others -- and, as the common meme of the Western Civilization goes, not wearing clothing in public is considered taboo, if not outrightly illegal. Consider another example, using the absurd rights that I talked about before. What if someone felt a great misery, a great suffering and pain in their heart, if they couldn't punch everyone they met? It seems absurd and ridiculous, considering that human nature has never demonstrated this before in history, but consider that in one human they did manifest this. Now, this person and a normal person. In the same scenario, one feels the need to punch the other, otherwise they suffer; the other feels the right not to be punched, otherwise they suffer.
It may very well be true that in this case, there is no justification for one person's right, or the other person's right -- at least, no justification that we can find. In the normal political turmoil, between the rights that one group asserts we have and those of another group, there is usually some reason, if not absolute, that would allow us to stray towards supporting one right over another. Revisiting the case of abortion, one may argue that an unborn infant has no right to life, since it is not conscious -- but when it does become conscious, it gains that right to life. In the question of tax-funded welfare and social programs, one may make a case for them in arguing that the common people are responsible for producing all the wealth of society, and therefore are entitled to part of the dividend. When supporting such broad and basic freedoms, such as that of religion or speech or life, it seems that there needs to be no argument, in that the greater part of the population desires these freedoms, and even those who don't support these rights, they have some desire of a limited freedom for them. We can reason, in some way or regard, to support one right over another, when they contradict each other. Revisiting the scenario of the Nudist again, one may argue that all animals are born nude, and therefore, the Nudist shouldn't be blamed for what his natural disposition is. But, what makes this scenario so perfect for our observation, is that no matter what arguments we present, both side will suffer some pain unless their right is recognized. We can reason to the non-Nudist all that we like that it is natural to be nude, or we can reason to the Nudist all that we like that it is part of the non-Nudist's culture. We can expend all the words of human language, use every argument known to man, but no matter what we reason, they will still suffer unless their right (and not the other right) to be is recognized. This is the one fact that nothing can override, except possibly a deeper explanation to the justification of rights.
To anyone who have studied the depths of the field of ethics, they will know that there are other approaches to this subject. For example, the Utilitarians argue that there are, in fact, no such things as right, but that an act is judged as moral or immoral based on how much happiness or misery it creates; though, I find certain flaws in such a system. Particularly, I find that there are particular inductive reasoning falacies in the philosophers of this system. For example, it may very well be a good act to save a child's life, but I cannot conceive of any reasoning that would render someone immoral for not doing so. Or, for example, if one man is killed, and his organs save the lives of ten people, does that mean the murder was just? According to a Utilitarian, yes, but as I argued before, I do not believe that there is any reason to believe that a person is immoral to not sacrificing to the greater good. I believe in a system of rights.
There are other systems which deal with morality and explaining right from wrong acts, or differentiating them. The idea of karma, for example, disables people from the ability to change anything, and renders them subject to a system of justice incorporated into the natural world. It argues that good things happen to good people and that bad things happen to bad people. Thus, if a man is going to have surgery, the doctor's ability means nothing -- since the man will survive if he is good, but will die if he is bad. That would be an entire violation of the mechanics of the natural; besides, there are few who argue that good things don't happen to bad people -- at least, in the world in which we live in.
Or, instead of a non-rights based systems of ethics, there are those systems which are based on rights, but presents a method in deciding what those rights are. The most common of these ethical systems are those of religion. The Bible, for example, denies people the right to murder, to covet, among other things, which we can be found in the Ten Commandments. The ethics of Buddhism deny a person the right to use drugs or alcohol. Islam denies the right to eating pork but allows them the right to have many wives. All in all, the religious systems of ethics are unfounded, in that there has yet to be an iota of evidence on behalf of any spiritual beings. Even so, if a spiritual being were to declare the validity of one right, is that even an authority? There is no reason to believe that it is more of an authority than any mortal man. Besides, if a god had argued for man's right to rape women, would it be just? Or what of the right to theft and murder? What if there were two gods with contradictory moral systems? Whatever the case may be there, there is no evidence for god, and furthermore, religious ethical systems are dictated without the slightest bit of authority or proof.
There is, plainly, no answer to who has a justified right. In either case, someone suffers. Unfortunately, I have not been able to, in all my theorizing and research, been able to come up with a justifiable reason why one's right is more just than the other. One may argue that the person who deserves the right is the one who would suffer more, but in that case, the rights to life, property, and the various liberties all are able to be faultered, once society has been convinced that it wants something more than another thing. It may very well be true that there is no just answer to this dilemma, and our thinking on the issue needs to expand to more open-minded thinking when compromising. Whatever the case, I have written out what I have discovered thus far on the question of rights.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Punkerslut (or Andy Carloff) has been writing essays and poetry on social issues which have caught his attention for several years. His website www.punkerslut.com provides a complete list of all of these writings. His life experience includes homelessness, squating in New Orleans and LA, dropping out of high school, getting expelled from college for "subversive activities," and a myriad of other revolutionary actions.