by 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. • (984 views)