Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | November 1, 2015

Musing On Rights

I don’t regard rights. By that I in no way mean that intend to or in fact violate rights, but rather that I think talking about human affairs in terms of rights is an inferior way to deal with human relations.

First, rights presume that resistance already exists to our desires, which we codify into rights, otherwise we wouldn’t need to establish rights at all. The sequence is:

  1. People do awful shit to other people.
  2. So, we establish rights to give us a basis from which to argue and/or force those people to stop.

So existentially and logically, rights are the consequences of violations. I think that’s backwards.

Second, Instead of eliminating violations, which would obviate the need for any rights at all, we chose to establish rights, which signals our expectation that violations will continue unless they’re checked, creating the need for rights to check them, which is a backhanded way of resigning ourselves to tolerating violations over the long term. I think that’s defeatist and a cop-out — as if there’s nothing we can do to eliminate violations, so the best we can expect to do is mitigation and damage control.

This article thinks through a bit of the fact that establishing rights is a diversionary move, a kind of misdirect not unlike the fiery visage of the Wizard on the grand stage of Oz projected there because no one would listen to the little guy if he came out from behind the curtain. The real people are us. The projection is our rights. This is a weak posture from which to deal with other people, primarily because it is illusionary, and so it’s largely false.

When someone decides to take authority, they do it without right. Being assigned derivative authority is something else, but somewhere up the chain of hand-me-down authority, people took authority on themselves. They made it up out of nothing. And their right to make authority up in the first place was also made up out of nothing. Therefore, they had no right to make it up and they had no right to what they made up. It’s all just blind-assed ipse dixit, it’s-what-I-say-because-I-said-it bullshit: a nonsense, baseless claim to the right to claim whatever they claimed simply because they claimed it.

This sky-hooked authority is the basis for rights, because unless authorities recognize rights, rights are impotent. If a person is already inclined to comply with what you want without the need for authoritative back-up, you don’t need a right. Rights are needed when people are not inclined to comply and need a reason to do so. Typically, that requires authorities who confer rights — dispensing them as creators. Occasionally people make good cases for rights, so authorities don’t technically create and confer those rights, but the rights have no force until authorities recognize them as having force.

So rights are ultimately and crucially contingent on authorities for their existence and efficacy. And, just like authority is created out of nothing, so rights are created from nothing. A wish or a desire on its own is not a right. What makes a right is the declaration that it is a right, not just a wish or a desire. So, the difference between the will of a person and the right of a person is authoritative declaration, which creates a right by ipse dixit, just like the authority to make declarations was created by ipse dixit.

Acquiring approval or support for a right from others does not change the fact that rights depend on authority and authority created them from nothing just as it was itself created ipse dixit from nothing. Popular approval or support only multiplies the something from nothing baselessness, amplifying it, giving it the appearance of something substantial. An entire population that agrees that something is a right is just an entire population that has decided or agreed with the decision to make up the right and the authority it depends on out of nothing with no basis and for no justifiable reason that wasn’t already good reason (if any) to comply with it as a wish or a desire — aka, as mere will.

Imagine two people. The people are real. The people are thinking. Their thoughts are real, but their thoughts don’t necessarily refer to things that are real. They can conceive of abstractions that refer to real things or refer to other abstractions or concepts, but the abstractions are not the things they refer to. Concrete things are real. Abstractions by virtue of being abstract are unreal — unreality is part of what it means to be abstract. A concept’s reality consists not of being a thing, but by being thought — something done rather than something that exists. That is, the thought that comprises the abstraction is a real thought, and the abstraction itself is a real abstraction, (so to speak, in the same way that an imagination is a “real” imagination,) but it is different than the thing it refers to — the thing it is an abstraction of — because it exists only as a function of thinking (an action, a doing,) about that thing. In other words, abstractions are only in our minds. There are people who have claimed that abstractions exist independently of our minds, but they made that claim without any demonstrable basis in fact, although you can believe they used a shitload of writing to hide the lack of fact.

So, when the two people think of abstractions, they are creating a kind of quasi-real things, imaginary things. Rights are abstractions. Ownership is an abstraction. Freedom is an abstraction. Just because we think about them doesn’t necessarily constitute them in reality, no more than thinking about unicorns constitutes unicorns in reality. Someone might claim that the abstraction “freedom” does in fact refer to a concretely real set of conditions and events that involve lack of compulsion, lack of limitation, and opportunity for movement. Those conditions and events and the things they involve might be real, but calling them “freedom” does not necessarily mean they constitute freedom as something real, much like the abstract/imaginary unicorn I’m thinking about now could refer to real things — like a drawing or statue of a unicorn — but the fact that real-world phenomena can be characterized as such does not make the characterization itself into a real-world phenomenon. In other words, merely characterizing something does not make the characterization anything more real than an abstraction, and imagination, let alone make it accurate when applied to something that actually is real, concrete, and non-imaginary. Thinking of an abstraction does not mean we’re thinking about something real, but by definition makes it something that has no reality apart from our thinking it.

When one person tries to influence another person by leveraging an abstraction called “rights”, they are dishonestly imposing their will on the other person by means of the abstraction. It’s dishonest in three ways.

First, they pretend that the abstraction called “rights” wasn’t just made up out of nothing, which is flatly a lie.

Second, they pretend that the reason the other person should submit to their will in respect of or compliance to the right is because the right requires it. That’s bullshit, because a right is an abstraction and they created the abstraction to serve their will in the first place, so the abstraction doesn’t require anything — since it’s not real enough to capable of requiring anything. No, the imposer requires it but misattributes the requirement for compliance to the abstraction he calls a “right”. This is precisely why advocates are usually more successful at imposing a person’s will than the person himself. It’s why lawyers and promoters and mediators achieve more successful results: They help sell the subterfuge that the abstraction isn’t just made up from nothing.

Third, will-imposers pretend that the abstraction is more real than either them or the person they’re imposing their will on, such as “freedom” or “the greater good”. This reinforces its authoritative character and is also blatant bullshit.

So, since this con job would be obviously stupid if they admitted that a right is an abstraction, they must reify the abstraction, pretending it is somehow concrete, making it appear to be more real than it is. Since it’s an abstraction, it’s not possible to attribute concreteness to it in a way that is open to verification, because the abstraction was made up in their heads, since that is exactly what an abstraction is, so they ipse dixit concreteness to it, which is precisely what reification is an example of. This explains dogma.

So the imposition of will by means of the abstraction known as “rights” is essentially a lie to mask the fact that one person is imposing his will on another without regard to the true reasons for the imposition or lack thereof. It is an act of subordinating real things (persons in this case) to abstractions. This essentially means that one person has set up his own will like a god, created an idol to represent that will under a more compelling guise — an authority — and then imposed that will on others in the name of an abstraction he conceived, in this case, a right. It could also be conceived as the will of a literal god/idol, but these days, rights more often serve the role.

Why would someone need to do this? Why not eliminate the abstraction as a leverage tool and just deal with the real impetuses: one person wants one thing and the other person doesn’t? The obvious answer is that people invoking abstractions like rights or “God’s will” doesn’t believe they will prevail without third-party help. One way to get third-party help is to involve a third party person. That’s expensive and just complicates the situation with a third will. If that will bolsters the imposer’s will, it’s helpful, but there’s no guarantee it will sufficiently bolster it or that it won’t change. So, abstractions are easier, cheaper, simpler, more controllable, and more reliable.

In other words, people resort to abstractions when they feel inadequate to get what they want simply by being honest about it. Out of nothing they create a third party perspective in the form of a reason or a god or a right or some other authoritative entity in order to bolster their case. We learned this behavior in childhood, when we were in fact inadequate. Unfortunately, we barely grow out of it.

Of course, this couches the entire situation as a case. This, too, we learned in childhood when we would resort to Mommy or Daddy to make our case to settle disputes with siblings. And again, that was only necessary if we were unable to personally influence or force the sibling to comply with our will. So the resort itself admits a significant level of powerlessness — significant enough to warrant the cost and exposure of handing the matter over for judgment to someone else.

We use abstractions in deference to a perceived need to obtain some form and degree of assent or approval from others before we act. That necessarily implies that we recognize some level and degree of power to interfere or prevent us from getting what we want on the part of other people. If they didn’t pose an inhibitory prospect, it would be simpler, easier, less costly, and far more effective to simply say, “This is what I want,” or just take what we wanted, because they either would allow it without helping us or they might even help us get it.

We resort to rights only when faced by anticipated or expressed resistance to what we want. So, resorting to rights implicitly affirms the significance of the very resistance we wish to eliminate, and that’s patently counter-productive.


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