Human Rights

I was reading through the “About” section of “A Voice From the Foothills.”  Basically a mission statement, very well stated, thought out and rather impressive.   However, when I hit #2 I verbally sighed:

We Believe in basic human rights that are the right of any individual as a result of being born. These are the right to sufficient nourishing food, clothing, and shelter. People have a right to good education for their children. They have a right to health care of equal quality as of any that can be paid for. We believe in meaningful employment at decent wages and under safe working conditions. People have a right to reasonable time to recreate and rest.

I bump into this concept often enough that I thought it worth a full post rather than just a comment over at Sherry’s place.   So here goes.

I think that a very large number of people confuse “human rights” with “doing the right thing” kinda stuff.  When I mention liberty, individual rights or basic human rights, I’m talking about those concepts that are “endowed” by nature or by God.  Such things as the right of speech, the right to pursue happiness the right to individual property.  These are things that belong to individuals a priori of the concept of government or society.  That is, my right to speech is the same if I am prehistoric man living a life of isolation [speech in this case might be freedom of expression] as it is if I’m a nomadic hunter as it is if I’m a citizen of Rome, Greece or the United States.

That is, the right to these things is not given to me by the state.  Indeed, it is the unfortunate fact that it is often the state that restricts these rights over the history of man.  Further, these rights require nothing else from any other living person.  My right to the pursuit of happiness is mine without assistance from anyone.  In fact, if I did try to claim that another man enable my right to happiness, I am infringing upon HIS right to his happiness.  I have no claim over another individual.

Natural rights aside, there are things that we as moral beings Capital “O” Ought to do.  We Ought look out for each other.  We Ought care for those of us in need.  We Ought say thank you and please.  We Ought do many many things.  But those Oughts are not the same things as Human Rights in the way that I mean them.  They may be things that a decent and caring person does for another, but they do not exist in a manner that one person can claim them of another person.

Finally there are legal rights.  For example, in some nations in Europe, there exists the right to high speed bandwidth.  Here in America there is the legal right to a cell phone.  Again, here in America, I have the legal right to exempt some of my income that is used to pay the mortgage on my home.  These are legislated rights that are neither endowed OR things that would be reasonably considered an Ought.  Legal rights.

I think that if we seriously considered the difference in the three we would be better off.  For example, the most recent and obvious example is healthcare.  When taken in the context of the three examples I’ve described, there is no human right to healthcare.  A living individual has no right of compulsion to force another individual to labor for her health.  And this compulsion can either be the literal forcing of a doctor to perform medical care for the patient or the compulsion of someone to pay the willing doctor to do the same.

Healthcare may be, and I would argue it is, an Ought.  We as a civilized humanity Ought to care for our neighbors, our friends and our citizens.  But we cannot coerce each other in the name of human rights.  The same logic applies to such concepts as food.  As unemployment benefits.  And many of the other things that we want to have other people do for the less fortunate.

So no, I do not accept the concept that healthcare is a human right.  And debate we have after that is going to devolve due to the fact that we’re discussing different things.

2 responses to “Human Rights

  1. All rights are ought statements that people believe. There is only one true natural human right: “We are free to do whatever we want, limited by our circumstances and the consequences of our actions.” Even claims as right to life and liberty are ought statements that can be (and historically have been) rejected and treated as wrong or misguided. If you believe in God and believe God gave you natural rights, that’s your belief. Someone who doesn’t believe in God, and considers humans just creatures in a social darwinist competition might believe that killing another is fine if you can get away with it. There is no way to prove any set of rights “inherent” or “natural,” even if one believes them to be.

    So politically we construct systems of rights. Traditionally rights were constructed by the culture and beliefs of people (often without rights to liberty or property). The Lockean rights you believe in have been a recent construct – if they were truly natural they wouldn’t have come so recently, or been tied to changes in a particular culture (enlightenment Europe). But all rights are meaningless unless there is a system to define and protect them. We can construct a system to protect rights to live, liberty and property. We can add health care if we want. We’re free to do that.

    But in reality – in nature – we simply have the right to do whatever we want, limited by our circumstances and the consequences of our actions.

    • All rights are ought statements that people believe. There is only one true natural human right: “We are free to do whatever we want, limited by our circumstances and the consequences of our actions.”

      Nah, I don’t think that “doing what ya want” is a right. It’s more of a “can.” Whatever that might be.

      Traditionally rights were constructed by the culture and beliefs of people (often without rights to liberty or property).

      Correct. However, virtually every society was ruled over by some form of monarch many of which were “ordained by the deity.” The idea that liberty flows from nature and not from the king is new and modern.

      And more correct.

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