Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Of Rights and Privileges

Sometimes it becomes necessary to better define words and terms in order to get a clearer understanding of concepts that are often times nebulous at best and misrepresented at worst. This is especially true of words in the English language which have more than one meaning. Often times these same words are converted into a language known as “Legalese” where they are further distorted and perhaps even purposely obfuscated to fool the common folk into believing a paradigm that isn’t necessarily true. The word right is one such word that comes to mind, particularly when talking about natural, individual or human rights or a specific right. An examination of history and a discussion about the nature of the human animal might be in order to clarify exactly what a right is and how it differs from a privilege.

The examination can begin at the dawn of time when humans hadn’t yet risen far above the wild animals that cohabitate our world. At this time, I suppose we were truly free. Although I don’t know what it was like living back then, I can imagine. Even though back then the individual may have been able to do whatever he wanted, or whatever he could get away with in a might makes right type of situation, I would hesitate to say that the individual had the “right” to do some things. This is because it has always been wrong to engage in certain activities. I would conjecture that mankind was aware of this even when he was in a very primitive state of being. In any case, humans can and will defend themselves as best they can when attacked and this can always lead to harm for any party involved in a fray.

Nature provides our beings with certain attributes that are simply natural for us to use. Among these are the abilities to observe and think for ourselves. Humans are inquisitive creatures for the most part and we naturally wish to gather knowledge and gain a better understanding of the world we live in. We are also endowed with the abilities to move about, gather together and communicate with others for our mutual benefit and to help form our own opinions. In addition, human beings have a natural aptitude to create which we have used throughout the millennia to better our circumstances. These facets of human nature are the foundations on which the concepts of natural rights are built.

As time passed man evolved. Agriculture provided the impetus for forming societies based on cultivation and land ownership. Different types of societal systems were tried as mankind discovered that the Earth itself could be tamed and provide for human needs in a more predictable and secure manner. People came together and built cities and great civilizations and gave birth to collectivist ideas. Civilizations mutated into empires as mankind formed factions who fought each other for control of resources to be used for their own collectives. Those who were elevated to high status in these collectives due to some service provided that the populace felt they could not do without were privileged to live in such a manner. It was not their right to live so opulently regardless of what they thought or which family they were born into.

Empires crumbled and emperors died, but the common folk plodded along. The dark ages, as they were called, saw the rise of the feudal system. These were understandably frightening times. It was during these times that kings and other sovereigns laid claim to the lands. They claimed and controlled nearly all the lands of Europe and passed ownership on to their progeny. The people that lived on the lands became known as peasants or serfs and pledged their allegiance to the sovereigns that owned the lands. They surrendered their freedoms in favor of communal security. This was partially because back then there were bands of marauders wandering the countryside making life miserable for everyone. The serfs, who hardly had time to do anything except work the land, would be able to hide behind the king’s thick castle walls when such murderous bands would come round to kill, rape, pillage and burn. They depended on men who trained in the use of swords and other weapons to protect them. In exchange for all this, they provided the soldiers and royalty with food and other products of their labor. This was an arrangement that worked for hundreds of years at a time when life was short and cheap.

It was during these dark times when the common man came to know intimately not only the enemy outside the walls, but the enemy within. Perhaps even way back in those medieval times the controlling elite had learned the value of fear and propaganda when it came to keeping the ordinary working folk in line. Fear of bands of warriors roaming far and wide kept the commoners near the castle walls, fear of the dungeon kept them paying their tribute to the sovereigns that were their masters. It is likely that many who decided to strike out on their own to claim their own land were quickly killed, as likely by soldiers just following a sovereign’s orders to prevent other serfs from getting any ideas as from foreign invaders or local bandits looking to rape, pillage and burn. While ordinary working folk had the right to strike out on their own and seek self sufficiency, the elite had the privilege of being able to violate those rights without fear of retribution.

Despite all this, despite the wars, the diseases, the forced servitude and the entrenchment of a powerful elite, mankind survived the darkest of times and still managed to keep the desire for freedom flickering in its spirit. Humans, after the fall of civilizations, somehow managed to muddle through and maintain a semblance of the technologies of earlier times, thus keeping a better lifestyle than our wild ancestors at the dawn of time. Slowly our numbers began to grow, cities were repopulated, and mankind once again flourished on the earth. Even as the population grew, accepted a harsh reality for what it was and tried to rebuild what had been lost, the spirit of man sought a better way than the oppression suffered under authoritarian systems.

The Renaissance saw a rebirth of free thinking. The powerful elite tried to keep a lid on knowledge which would eventually elevate the ordinary man’s lot in life, but truth is hard to mask, liberty is a powerful idea and tyranny can only be tolerated for so long. From these thinkers European society continued moving toward more freedom and a diversity of ideas as the old establishment found it more difficult to corral and control the common folk who wished nothing more than the ability to determine their own destiny in this world. All this eventually led to the period known as “The Enlightenment” and the creation of a new nation at least partially based on the ideas of natural rights and protection of the individual. For quite some time these ideas worked and helped to create an extremely prosperous nation. Unfortunately the powerful, privileged elite did not simply bow out gracefully and let the common folk continue to prosper, but have consistently tried to find ways to undermine the liberties they were supposed to respect and regain control over the lives and fortunes of the masses. For decades now, mostly via propaganda and indoctrination, we have been moving backward when it comes to the freedom of the individual and his ability to determine his own destiny.

As a child in government school I was taught, as I’m sure many of my peers were, that we lived in the greatest nation in the world because our constitution granted us certain rights. I was taught that the freedoms we enjoyed while other nations languished in tyranny was achieved because of the deeds of a few great men and authoritarian leaders. As I have aged I have come to the conclusion that these stories and historical interpretations are fallacies and half truths.

Governments cannot give or take rights. Constitutions cannot give or take rights. The individuals working within governmental systems can only decide whether or not to honor the rights inherent in human nature. The founders of the United States of America tried to protect the individual from the power of centralized government by codifying the concepts of natural rights in the Bill of Rights. They tried to minimize the likelihood of a tyrannical, authoritarian system taking hold by contriving a system of checks and balances that were supposed to preserve their own separate powers at odds with each other so that too much power could not be concentrated in one branch. In essence, they tried to tame a wild beast by placing a cage of words around it and those words have proven to be a woefully inadequate deterrent to government growth and intrusion. The elite in control of the mechanisms of state continue to ignore the rules codified in the document known as the Constitution of the United States of America using fear, national security and a constant state of emergency as excuses to do so.

But these rights aren’t simply words written on a piece of paper, they are based upon the natural inclinations of the human animal. The first amendment is based on the knowledge that all humans are able to think for themselves and to form their own opinion. It recognizes that human beings have the ability to try to convince other humans that their ideas and opinions have merit. It understands that humans gather together at times simply for the purpose of expressing and exchanging such ideas and opinions. The basic concept that “no law shall be passed abridging the right” is the concept that we should all be respectful of another’s opinion even if that opinion is abhorrent to us. No one should be forced to keep quiet about his ideas or opinions, nor should he be forced to accept someone else’s opinion as truth. Indeed, while vocal and written opposition can be squelched by certain laws being passed and the heavy handed tactics of the police state being enacted, the thoughts, ideas and opinions inside the heads of some people will remain unchanged. It was recognized long ago that those in power will try to silence opposition to their agenda by jailing and even executing dissenters and that is the true reason for any law or regulation against expressing any kind of idea or opinion no matter how unpopular, hateful, or abhorrent.

That a human being will defend itself when threatened is another natural condition. That is the spirit behind the second amendment. Mankind has developed firearms as a means of defense as well as a means to threaten and coerce. Those who seek power over others would love to be in control of all the guns. A populace who is disarmed is also defenseless should those in power decide they wish to abuse their power, or to round up a certain segment of the population, or to just wantonly brutalize for no particular reason. The right to keep and bare arms was recognized as a way to allow the people this check against government abuse and intrusiveness without them having to fear retribution for the simple act of self defense.

Private property rights stem from the natural creativity of the human creature. These rights are addressed in some form or another over the rest of the Bill of Rights. It begins with the acknowledgement that one owns one’s own body. In the natural state of things, a human being is not owned by anyone else, but will work for and with others and will interact with others on a voluntary basis, usually for their mutual benefit. Since one owns one’s self, then one should also own what one has labored to create. What he decides to do with his property, keep it, sell it, throw it away, etc., should be his own business and of that any of those he may choose to involve. Those who wish power over others have no right involving themselves in the business of others when they have not been invited to do so and when no harm is being done to another.

These and other individual rights that were enshrined in the United States Constitution long ago in an effort to keep the government in check are in danger of no longer being honored by that same government. These rights are inherent in all human beings at the time of their birth, not granted by a political elite claiming authority over a certain population. We see more and more often people everywhere who try to exercise these rights are denied that ability by the forces who wish to maintain their power. Even in the United States of America where freedom and liberty are supposed to be the status quo we have seen the growth of the police state and the brazen subordination of the individual to the state and its authorities. Governments do not want people exercising their rights, they want people to obey so that those in power can exercise their privileges just as the feudal kings of old did. They wish the people to remain ignorant and afraid so that they will beg for help and security. It is up to the common man to show that he will not simply sit back and let his rights be violated by those who seek power over him. Only when these natural rights are once again honored and the laws and regulations violating them repealed will we be able to move forward and once again allow everyone to prosper.

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