Earlier this week, I posted a blog about Universal Rights. I wanted to continue this idea today, especially since we're heading into the Independence Day celebrations here in the United States. It's always relevant to talk about rights, but it's especially relevant around holidays where we specifically celebrate them!
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So what are rights anyway?
When the founding fathers of the United States were drafting our Declaration of Independence, they had been grappling with this question quite a bit. It was even more important to them because they had been living under the boot of oppression. They were colonists who were being taken advantage of in order for the "homeland" to finance wars, debt, and extravagances. Feeling the burden of injustice, they didn't merely fight back- they thought through their situation and came to a rational conclusion about why they felt slighted.
Most of them didn't want to be a free and independent State.
They merely wanted to be treated fairly and equally.
From their writings and the writings of contemporary philosophers such as Locke, Hobbes, and others, we've now got a rather nice framework from which we can address Universal Human Rights. I'm going to write about them a little differently than these men did, but this blog is entirely based on the principles they laid out- just so you know where I'm getting my ideas.
In order to fully understand Human Rights, it's important to distinguish between three sets. We'll call the first Goods & Services. These are things that people are able to produce or enact. The second category is Legislated Rights. These are entitlements that a particular government or community has given to its citizens. The final category is Universal Rights. These are rights and freedoms that are common to all humans on the basis of their existence rather than their citizenship, beliefs, or purchasing power.
Universal Rights. In order for something to qualify as a legitimate Universal Right, it must fit within the following two criteria:
1. It must be accessible/inherent to all people, in at all times, in all places in the world.
In regard to number one, we must qualify Universal as ALL people. In the future, as technology changes, humanity might come across something that's good and beneficial for the folks living in that time period. But since those of us living today, and everyone who's lived before us were unable to benefit from that advancement, it cannot be a Universal Right. It doesn't meet the qualification of ALL people. So language, computers, cell phones, and the like cannot be rights because they are not common to all people in all time periods.
The same can be true of anything that is contingent upon living in a certain area of the world. We cannot say that anyone has the right to swim. Swimming is something that one can do only if they have access to water. In some areas of the world, there isn't any water readily available for swimming, and so this could not be classified as a Universal Right.
2. It must not be reliant upon another human being's existence, property, or will.
This criteria is a little more tricky, but it's true nonetheless. Basically, it says that we cannot claim as a Universal Right anything that is reliant upon someone else. For example, I cannot claim a Universal Right to Mutual Love. Mutual Love requires that another person exists and that they have the ability and desire to love us back.
In the same way, I can't ever say that I have a Universal Right to someone else's work or their food. This is because a Universal Right wouldn't just mean that I have a right to it, but that all people, in all places, and in all times have a right to this person's work or food. Even if that person agrees that everyone at all times can partake, we cannot say that this is a true Universal Right because it's still contingent upon that person's will- not to mention the fact that food and work are limited resources and therefore CANNOT ever be given to all people.
So, what are some Universal Rights?
Our founding father's decided that Life, Liberty, and Property were some.
Life- each man and woman is entitled to their life. No one should be allowed to take it from them needlessly.
Liberty- each man and woman is entitled to make their own decisions. Although we agree to give up some of our personal liberty in order to respect the "lifes and property" of others, all men are free (yes, was completely hypocritical for the men who owned slaves to write such a thing, but I believe it's true of all time, even if some people throughout history were denied this right)
Property- each man and woman is entitled to the work of their hands. If they make it, grow it, or construct it, they can claim it as their own and should not be required to surrender it against their will.
Legislated Rights. These are rights that are given to us because we live under a certain time period or a certain government or community. Voting is a good example of a legislated right. It cannot be Universal because it requires a Democracy or some other representative form of government, and let's face it, not all people live under a Democracy. Some other examples could include a Trial by Jury, Miranda Rights (the right to remain silent), and Marriage. Legislated Rights can also entail the rights that a person might have to another person's Universal Rights based on fulfillment or violation of contracts- for instance, I might be entitled to another person's property if they have agreed to give it to me for a sum of money or service and I provide that money or service. It could also be said that if an individual violates the Universal Rights of an individual- takes their life, liberty, or property without their consent, the individual who violates those rights may have abandoned their own and be required to give up their life, liberty, or property as a result.
Goods & Services. The are things that are created, designed, grown, or provided by other humans for the benefit of others. These include food, clothing, homes, land, manicures, cell phones, medical care, education, and anything else that is given to us or provided by us.
This is where I'm probably going to get a lot of arguments, but I'm going to say VERY STRONGLY that we cannot EVER claim as a Universal Right anything that requires another person to provide it. Goods and Services cannot EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER be Universal Rights.
Simply stated, if I cannot have a Universal Right to food because that would mean that the farmer who produces it has no property rights or liberty rights. If I have a right to it, I can take it without his consent. In fact, I could force him to grow it for me if it were truly a Universal Right.
Same thing for Education.
I cannot say that all humans are entitled to education because such a claim would first require that there be teachers and professors. Then, it would also mean that my claim to their services trumps any rights they have as to what their services are worth or who they'd like to give their services to.
Same thing for Healthcare.
I cannot say that all humans are entitled to medical care because such a claim would first require that there be doctors, nurses and medicine. But secondly, it would also mean that my right to their services trumps their right to give their services and their right to choose who to give their services to.
The conundrum: Both education (and soon Healthcare if we're not careful) are actually Legislated Rights in a lot of countries (including here in the US). This means that the government has taken the Universal Rights of Liberty and Property away from the individuals in the Education and Heathcare industries and given it to the rest of the citizens.
It may not seem like such a big deal- after all- it seems to benefit everyone, right?
But the problem is this- if you forcibly take away rights from some individuals, you take it away from ALL individuals. This means that claiming a right to Healthcare and Education actually dehumanizes all of us in the process. We all suffer the loss of our Universal Rights when we choose to take them forcibly from someone else.
This isn't to say that Education and Healthcare are unimportant. They are vital. They are almost as vital as food- which is another thing we're not "entitled to." So we need to look for ways to make sure that all people have access to Education, Healthcare, and food.
But the answer isn't redefining these things as Universal Rights or Legislating them. Because when we do, we all lose. The quality of life, liberty, property (and therefore education and Healthcare) all decrease when we try to manipulate the system into something that it's not.
Nathan Key likes to think about faith and philosophy and talk about it with others. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. He doesn't always refer to himself in the third person.