From the Forum: What are "personal rights?"
June 24, 2003
OK since you people are far more adept at analyzing and destroying arguments, something which can be done to any argument regardless of its value, I must answer with extreme precision for fear of leaving some loophole that you might jump through to stab me in the back.
At Mason's suggestion, I shall devote some time to "analyzing and destroying" your post. It is appropriate that I begin with this claim, which is both insulting (implying that we are unable to construct arguments) and false to fact (as Wendy's works amply demonstrate, not to mention many constructive posts on this forum). "Stab me in the back" is a further insult. As to the precision of your answer, we shall see.
First let me say that "personal rights" or "individual freedoms" or "liberty" is a concept which is understood by all intellectually honest people and really needs no explicit definition by me.
This statement is simply fallacious, and shows an ignorance of politics, philosophy, and specifically libertarianism. The concepts of "personal rights", "individual freedoms" and "liberty" have been hotly debated for the last 200 years (at least!) and there are no universally accepted definitions. Even among libertarians you will find a spirited debate about what constitute "rights," and whether or not they exist or are necessary. "Freedom" has been widely interpreted to suit a number of agendas; e.g., the difference between "freedom from coercion" and "freedom from want" is neither subtle nor obscure. Likewise, "liberty." Since you evidently do not share the underlying assumptions of libertarianism, it would not be reasonable for us to assume that you share our definitions for these terms; hence to discuss the subject we must agree upon definitions.
In asking what it means, you are asking a question that is as inane as asking "what is the color red". I am sure you'll find something to attack in that claim like that "red isn't objectively the same for everyone" or something else that is completely rediculous.
Again with the insults. As I have pointed out, the question isn't "inane" at all; indeed, it is crucial to an intelligent discussion. But I note that in your quest for "extreme precision" the first step you have taken is to refuse to define your terms.
OK now, without enough thought I will attempt to define "personal rights" for you. How about this, one example in which personal rights are abridged in our society is in the prohibition of the posession and consumption of marijuana.
An example is not a definition; however, it's a step in the right direction. We must now ask, why is this particular example a violation of rights? (Incidentally, I agree that this is a violation of personal rights. Specifically, I view it as violating the fundamental right of self-ownership, but I deduce from your later comments that you don't accept self-ownership as a right, so again our definitions differ and you need to explain your use of the term "rights" and how it is applicable here.)
Libertarians hold the legalization of this activity out like a carrot to lead liberals into voting libertarian.
A blatant falsehood. There may be a few libertarians who support drug legalization for its vote-getting potential, but most libertarians of my acquaintance support drug legalization for reasons of fundamental principle. This includes many who do not use drugs and have no desire to use drugs; who do not run for office and never will. A few support legalization for pragmatic reasons, e.g. decrease of crime or the frightful cost of fighting them, but your accusation of political motives is frankly insulting.
Libertarian politicians are just that, and politicians lie.
Here I'm afraid that there is some evidence for your statement, and I'm not inclined to dispute it. You are wrong, however, in the assumption that libertarians are politicians. There is a significant and vocal faction within the libertarian movement that rejects all political action, again on the basis of deeply held principles. Your statements fail to take such people into account, and are thus fallacious.
My suspicion is that libertarians, once in office, would reveal the true nature of their cause, which is the removal of all constraints which prevent corporations from ammassing power and control over people.
Another insult. While it is no doubt true that you suspect this, your suspicions are unfounded, and you have offered not the slightest evidence for them. Libertarians are in fact remarkably "up front" about their beliefs and aims, and I have never known of any "hidden agendas" such as you describe. You should read either the Libertarian Party platform or other works in the extensive libertarian literature, and, absent other indications, take them at face value. You'll find that libertarians are the true foes of "control over people," however coercively exercised.
They see this cause as a personal rights issue because they believe that a corporation is a person.
Again you display your ignorance of libertarian theory. While there are some libertarians who accept the current implementation of the corporation (as a legal person), this is hotly debated within the libertarian movement, and is certainly not a key principle by any means. A great many libertarians reject the notion of artifical corporate personhood, on the grounds that rights reside with individuals and nowhere else.
Amassing wealth and property and power and control is also the sacred personal right of individuals, according to libertarians.
Here you conflate four concepts, either deliberately to confuse the issue, or in ignorance of libertarian theory. "Wealth" and "property" and "power" and "control" are not identical, nor even similar. (They may be related in a correlational sense, e.g. wealth confers power, but that no more unites the concepts than does the statement that food confers health.) Libertarians in fact support the right to personal property, and this does imply a control over that property, but libertarians adamantly reject control over other human beings. Power over others is likewise anathema. Wealth, as a proxy for property, is every individual's right to hold, but this does not imply that it is an entitlement and need not be earned.
What they will not admit is that money is an artificial system of power distribution which is inherently flawed ...
This also is fallacious. Money is an artificial representation for property, not for power, and it is one of the most elegant, enduring, and philosophically powerful concepts ever invented by the mind of man. I'd be willing to argue that it, as a manipulable and abstract representation of tangible property, ranks near the invention of writing for its facilitation of the works of man. But as you have offered no support for your "deeply flawed" claim, I'll just let my counter-claim stand in response.
...and which when unregulated by the people's interest spirals recklessly towards exploitative monopolies which reduce the quality of life for citizens until they become drones or robots in a giant prison owned by the few.
Simplistic and fallacious. This scare story is the product of your imagination; you have certainly not offered any support for this far-reaching claim, nor have you described a mechanism by which this transformation will take place. The evidence of human history weighs heavily against it. "Exploitative monopolies" tend not to survive in a free market, and advanced industrial societies tend toward ever greater personal freedom and improved "quality of life" (by most accepted definitions). I look to the world for my examples; where are your counter-examples?
Go watch "the matrix" to see how it will end up if corporations and technology and profits are allowed to grow unabated.
So is it your claim that we will all wind up as living batteries providing power to a vast artifical intelligence, spending our conscious lives in a virtual reality simulation? While you are not asserting this as existing fact, you are clearly offering a rather outré science-fiction work as a serious social prediction. This does not bolster your case.
So, a potential definition of personal rights could be as follows: The rights of individuals to freely participate in whatever natural activities are available to them. and by natural I mean... such activites which have been available to hominids for the majority of their existence on this planet. This excludes all forms of industry, agriculture, economy and state level politics. All of those enterprises must be regulated democratically to ensure they do not cause irreparable damage to the earth or harm the cause of human rights.
So in effect you are saying that humans have only the "right" to exist as Neanderthals did, and that any advancement of the human condition from that point must be approved by the (unspecified) collective? We occasionally get visits from "back-to-nature" enthusiasts on this forum, and from "community control" socialists, but I must say that you have surpassed them all in your primitivism and your all-encompassing totalitarianism. Are you really arguing that if I have a sick child I must seek the collective's approval before giving it antibiotics (or worse, before developing the antibiotics)? How about setting a broken bone? Is cooking food one of your permitted unregulated activities? This is one of the most callous, thoughtless, and cruel visions for a society that I have ever encountered...I'm amazed that people call libertarians "heartless" when such visions exist.
I see that Mason has already pointed out the absurdity of your position that humans have the right to pick berries but not to trade them, so I won't elaborate upon that. I'll simply suggest that a key activity of "hominids" is self-directed behavior, and that human beings therefore have the right to engage in self-directed behavior as suits their individual goals. Of course, for this to be a "right" it must be universalizable, which opens questions such as proper self defense, but here I suspect we have plunged into depths of libertarian theory that you are not yet prepared to discuss.
Your vision is also self-contradictory; you seem to overlook the fact that democracy (and indeed all forms of government) are human inventions and have not been practiced by hominids "for the majority of their existence on this planet." By your logic, then, government is an activity which must not be allowed to happen. While I find this conclusion tempting, I must reject the means by which you reach it. You are left with the interesting bootstrap problem of who shall form the government which authorizes the first government?
You indulge in a further contradiction when you advocate "democratic regulation" just a few short paragraphs after your advocacy of marijuana rights. I presume that marijuana has been outlawed in your local community, and I assume that you live in a democratic country. Therefore your marijuana has been "democratically regulated" and, by your view, it is proper and rightful that you be prohibited from using it.
You might argue that marijuana is a true "human right" that should be protected, not prohibited, by regulation; or that the "democratic regulation" was flawed in its implementation. In which case what you are saying is that, you have the one and only correct view of human rights, "damage to the earth," and democracy, and everyone else is obliged to "democratically" support your view. This bespeaks either a naive simplicity or an astonishing arrogance.
Of course, people will do what they want and some people would rather die than to be parted from their gun/corporation/pesticides so we may just be smart enough to destroy ourselves because we were too stupid to restrain our destructive and short sighted behaiviors as a species who is only technologically adolescent.
Again with the insults. That "people" may do what they want, without harming others, is the main objective of libertarianism. I have a more generous view of my fellow humans than you appear to hold; I think that people are intelligent, not stupid; that self-interested individuals generally act for the best; this this behavior, when extrapolated to society at large, is the most productive of beneficial results; and that technology is a boon and not a curse. Yes, there are short-sighted, "stupid," destructive, and technologically adolescent individuals out there, as you have reminded us. But I remain confident that the rest of us will prevail.
Originally posted on the ifeminists.com discussion forum, June 18, 2003.