Lions and Tigers and Rights, Oh My.

LionThumbby Brad Nelson
I was thinking more about inalienable rights last night….while watching a nature show. I love watching nature shows, and it doesn’t take long to be astonished (and repulsed) by the reality of “nature, red in tooth and claw.” Things kill and eat each other whenever they can. We are meat-on-the-hoof to lions, for instance. And so we are to rapists, murderers, or belligerent foreign countries or factions who would make war on us. For many, another human being is little more than a material resource to be used as their power and ruthlessness allow.

How many times have you gotten that feeling from a tele-marketer? Yikes. It’s a palpable feeling. You are just an object to be manipulated. But at least in the free market one has the power to say “No thank you.” (Although, with all the crap and schemes some people fall for, you sometimes wonder if some do indeed have free will.) But government is not so easy to say “no thank you” to, and the bureaucratic version of tele-marketers currently infest our politics, although they probably always have to some extent.

The tele-marketing-minded politician or bureaucrat tends to hide his or her claws. And although the political arena is not quite the jungle, the same general state of affairs can exist. Politically and socially you may mean no more to others than a vote. Many in government see people as little more than the means for their social, quasi-religious, or political ends. You are a vote-on-the-hoof. The sanctity of the man or woman underneath may perhaps be given lip service, but only to keep you confused or in the dark about their true motives.

Those who see people as mere objects that can be manipulated, as if they were mere pieces on a chessboard, tend to see rights as things granted by an earthly authority (themselves, of course), not as rights existing by right of birth. They see government condescending to give what rights it sees fit to people — but not too much lest the “great unwashed” become uncontrollable. They do not see rights as god-given (or by-the-fact-of-existence-given). But even then, the fact of existence (remember…nature, red in tooth and claw) is ample enough evidence for many that it is right and proper to treat people as mere inanimate material objects. They may well look out at nature and see how normal and common it is for might to make right.

But there is another level of existence beyond tooth-and-claw. One needn’t <em?necessarily be a deeply religious person to see other human beings (and certainly other parts of nature as well) as more than just mere material objects. But it is a quite large philosophical, religious, spiritual, and/or moral shift to do so, to see the value of people merely in existing. Existence itself is a dimension added to the mix of the value of human beings, not just someone’s immediate usefulness.

There are plenty of wolves among us, and we all probably act a bit wolfish from time to time. But I think any conception of inalienable rights inevitably intersects with a quite religious or philosophical conception of human beings that is a level above “nature, red in tooth and claw.” It’s what we humans tend to call “civilization” or “higher morality.” For rights to be inalienable they must be based in something higher than narrow self-interest or human caprice. Some say that these rights stem from God; some say they stem from the best and highest thoughts of man. It could be both, but it certainly is.

The story goes that, while at some kind of exhibition in Paris where a hot air balloon was on display, someone asked Benjamin Franklin “What possible use are balloons?” Franklin answers “What use is a newborn baby?” To envision rights as intrinsically belonging to people — not because of their usefulness, not because of the class they are born into, and not because of their sex or any other superficial attribute — is the fundamental leap. It is a higher morality, and one that I would say intersects with an inherent spiritual or metaphysical idea of value beyond the material. It is therefore no coincidence that it is typically Christians in this country who oppose abortion, for instance. And a word can be said in favor as well for those non-radical environmentalists who value other life forms for their own sake (most conservatives do…the root of that word is “conserve”) and wish to reasonably (the key word) be good stewards of the earth.

But to say that we have rights that exist prior to the dictates of government bureaucrats is often an uncomfortable topic. That often brings “god” into the picture, and not everyone believes in god or has the same conception of god. And because a good case for inalienable rights is rarely made distinct from religion, far too many people wander over to the statists, “Progressives,” and tyrants of government who they see as giving and securing their rights. But “rights” that can be granted by government can just as easily be taken away. A report a while ago stated that the FDA wants to further micro-manage our lives by restricting how much salt we can eat. Salt, for god’s sake.

It really does matter what our conception is of the source of our rights. Who will say to the bully bureaucrat “No you don’t!” if the only grounding for our rights is whatever laws the control-freak bureaucrats make up? And we will be especially vulnerable if we start seeing politicians and bureaucrats as some kind of benefactor. We will begin to give them undue deference. Who will have the courage and gumption to stand up to political bullies if these same people, via no more than their whim, can give or take away your rights?

However we ground these inalienable rights, we do need to do so. We can ground them in a Creator or ground them in the idea that we agree it is better to aspire to being more than a wolf. We can ground them in the idea that mankind is capable of large and noble ideals. But we dare not ground them in the nincompoops who typically inhabit government. • (941 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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5 Responses to Lions and Tigers and Rights, Oh My.

  1. pst4usa says:

    Brad, why do you insult nincompoops like that? I guess you can just consider me well armed meat. You are right however, all of our rights come from God; governments are established to protect and maintain those rights. Our Bill of rights was put in place to assure the Anti-Federalist that the Federal government would be held in check. The idea was fantastic, but people became fearful of war after the Civil war so they called upon the Federal government to protect us from this from ever happening again. The notion as Jefferson put it that; the tree of liberty needs to be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants, was over ridden by the desire for safety and security.

    As soon as anyone looks for government to give them a rights or to keep them safe from all potential harms, they become the “meat” caught in a trap of the carnivorous do-gooder-crat.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      “Do-gooder-crat.” Ha! I may have to steal that one. Please do note in your User Agreement that you assented to when you registered to this site that I get the rights to all newly-coined words. Sorry, suck-uh. I’m going to start printing the t-shirts now. Okay, okay. I’ll cut you in for a percentage. A very small percentage.

  2. ladykrystyna says:

    “To envision rights as intrinsically belonging to people — not because of their usefulness, not because of the class they are born into, and not because of their sex or any other superficial attribute — is the fundamental leap.”

    Well said! You are so correct. It is an important leap.

    It reminds me of a thought I had not too far into my transformation from squishy middle to “right wing radical”: I remember discussing politics with someone (it may have been my mother), and it was about a specific issue which now escapes me. But I remember saying “the government can’t do that”. And that person looked at me as if I had 2 heads. The idea that the government could not do something was simply not comprehensible. And it was then that I realized that America is, as Mark Steyn puts it, “alone”. Or in a more positive way we could say “unique”.

    [I think I just got another idea for an article!]

    “It really does matter what our conception is of the source of our rights. Who will say to the bully bureaucrat “No you don’t!” if the only grounding for our rights is whatever laws the control-freak bureaucrats make up?”

    This reminds me of a really stupid thread on the Amazon message boards from a couple of years ago (and before I got banned :-D): this guy was trying to get us to prove that our rights come from God. That they were endowed by our Creator. He wanted actual “proof”. Because he said there were plenty of people around the world with no rights.

    My best answer – and I think the only way to answer such a stupid question if you really feel the need to – was that it didn’t really matter if you could prove it or not. What mattered was that you believed it. It was a radical idea. If you didn’t, then, like you said, it meant that gov’t gave you your rights. And then you had no leg to stand on to demand that the gov’t respect your rights. What were you going to argue? Under what principle would you fight for your freedom?

    He never got it. He basically was a troll looking for attention. Probably a philosophy major who thought he discovered something intelligent.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      And that person looked at me as if I had 2 heads. The idea that the government could not do something was simply not comprehensible.

      Getting to the essence of things is what you could say is what we do around here. And there are some people, perhaps through no fault of their own, who are not able to easily comprehend the essence of things.

      And that’s understandable. Even the best philosophers throughout time have struggled with this and often have written entire books that said little, that said nothing that couldn’t be summed up in two sentences. It’s as easy for the clever to miss the essence of something as it is the dull-minded.

      He wanted actual “proof”. Because he said there were plenty of people around the world with no rights.

      The mind created by Marxism/secularism is often a hardened mind. I’m all for being skeptical. Don’t get me wrong. But our Marxist-derived culture is now a wasteland of radical skepticism and just plain foul moods. It’s the realm of simplistic thinking and very often of no thinking at all.

      And that’s understandable to some extent. Political correctness has caused many people to shrink back into their shells and say nothing or very little. People often fall back on what they consider are “safe” soundbytes or cliches. Government schools have done their part in dumbing-down society. And the general entertainment culture does little to ennoble people or smarten their minds.

      This has left many people unable to tackle a somewhat esoteric subject such as unalienable rights. Add the final nail in the thought-coffin is the secular/atheist/socialist prejudice against anything that sounds even remotely religious.

      For people with that kind of mindset, it may be inconceivable to them that there can be any authority over or above government. We really are talking about a people who have been impoverished morally and intellectual. They are not able to talk about these subjects in any depth.

      But there are plenty of unalienable rights that can be derived from reason alone. Everyone has a right to their own life and property. Next time you are talking with to some Left winger about rights, reach into her purse or his wallet (and god forbid that he have a purse) and take some of their money. When they object, ask them if this is because Congress passed some kind of purse-snatching law or if instead there was some principle of possession that came before the establishment of government.

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