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(and feel free to comment! My older posts are certainly no less relevant to the burning concerns of the day.)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Rights, Laws: Fictions, Reality.

"Rights" are a fiction.

So are laws. They exist in books - on paper, online. Words on a page or a screen. Wholly invented: a fiction. What goose could say laws exist, but rights don't exist? Neither exists any more than the other does: they both exist in the same way. They are both real: because we enact them.

These fictions are a script. More pedantically, you might say they are script direction. We recognize them as useful fictions: to live our lives within them makes a better play. Our rights and our laws bound the narrative of our lives. Our observance makes them real; the fact we enforce them for others makes them very real.

So what makes our so-called "Rights" - illustrated and enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and elsewhere - distinct? One: they're inherent in us. Two: they're self-evident. They're based just on what's in us all, the needs and capacities we have by our very nature, such that all can see: these things are necessary to ordinary human happiness. No just government can exist which disregards these things. They must be guaranteed.

Easy! Easy because self-evident. Easy because these rights embody only prohibitions. No one gives them to us. All we have to do is make sure government is never permitted to take them away. For that reason, crucially important to recognize, important to remain vigilant in defense of, but ultimately: fairly straightforward to accomplish.

Other social goods are not so straightforward. Everything that requires positive action, to create something that didn't already exist - that's far more complicated. If we're serious about social goods, we don't just lazily assert them as rights we already have. We take steps to create the good we demand. Just as with rights, we enact them. But the process involves more. Rights must be recognized, declared, respected. Other social goods, that won't cut it. Those take doing.

So we lay obligations out. We decide who must bear them, and we compel them to be borne. We censure those who refuse their obligations. We the people can do that, for the greater good. We make laws: government acts of prohibition. Of compulsion. Of confiscation. Of confinement. Every one of these acts is an act "against the people," in a very real sense! We accept and recognize that our liberty is not unlimited: it is limited by the legitimate rights of others, and it is bound in common obligation. It is the sole responsibility of the people to be vigilant that government makes no act of prohibition, compulsion, confiscation or confinement whose necessity is not evident and compelling, to our satisfaction. The consent of the governed is everything we allow.

At the foundation of all this, our rights exist to remind us of the greatest good, which no greater good can abridge. The greatest good is always the inalienable human rights of the individual. It is the greatest good, because we are all that.

It is because we recognize that we are all that, that our rights exist. Because they exist, because we enact them and for no other reason, we are in fact: all that and a bag of chips. The chips have been magically produced from thin air by declaring we have a right to them. See how that works? Just kidding; it doesn't. We are all that. The bag of chips is simply what we've additionally declared we deserve, so we take steps to lay obligations that secure it for all. Even though it isn't a right, we still get the bag of chips!

It's crucial that we recognize the difference, because you can't get a bag of chips just be declaring it's your right, and everyone sees and agrees. The bag of chips must still be secured by some means. Not so, the rights which are really yours. To secure these takes only recognition, declaration, and agreement. Whoso disagrees, and violates your real rights, we have the gears and teeth of law to catch and rend them. Rights are very real: because we enact them.

Our rights are that for which law is made (plus whatever bags of chips and services we can demand for the money we pay). Our rights are that against which law is continually checked, and by which unjust law is rejected. Together, these fictions - rights and laws - have real existence. They make a real foundation for the stories we enact as our lives.

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