Thursday, April 27, 2006


The Old Switch(eroo)

Continuing the theme from yesterday, I figured we would start off with a very good question posed by Mssr. Student. Here it is:

I've never seen a "right". What do they look like?

Indeed, how do we define a right? What is a right and how do we quantify its existence and its expansive nature of entitlement?

My first attempt to answer this question comes from how we define humanity. It seems that by our very conciousness of our existence, we are aware of certain aspects of nature that are distinctley human, like property and the idea of ownership (this can differ based on interpretation of some territorial animals)

My take is that we wouldn't have property without rights and likewise, we wouldn't have rights without property, so it seems that rights come from the sheer dominion of humanity over himself and his creations -- namely, his life, liberty, and property.

I know that this still doesn't define a right, but I think this is a valuable area of discussion. Much can be gained by delving into this difficult subject.

How would you define rights? What are they? Where do they begin and where do they end?

I'd like to start by suggesting that rights do not come from a government, but exist outside of (and before) any government. The concept of "inalienable rights" assumes just that: rights that exist simply by being, regardless of government.

Rights to life, liberty and property should be ours regardless of under which sovereign we live.
Bastiat wrote:

"It is not because men have passed laws that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property already exist that men make laws."
That's exactly what I was thinking of, but I don't have my book with me. Thanks for putting it in (Bastiat's) words!

Nice topic. Actually been working today so i ain't been able to pitch in.

If rights do exist outside of the social contract, what are they?

What is this "right" to property? Where does it come from? How far does it extend (can I shoot down planes that fly over my property? what about miners underground?)?

And if "property rights" are something ingrained in human nature, how do you explain the fact that conceptions of property (what can be owned, if anything) differ across cultures???

And how does one settle those differences?? Are cultures that believe you cannot own land just "wrong"? How would you settle a dispute like this?
What cultures believe you can't own land? Native Americans believed they didn't individually own the land, but they were very territorial in the sense that their tribe owned the land.

And I don't like how this has turned into a question about landed property. Bastiat was also quick to define property more broadly than just land, or even physical things.

I maintain that the right to property is a natural right, either inherent in human nature or learned so early in human experience as to be indistinguishable from the former.
I was tuning into to say what Travis has already said.

Many cultures, while not explicitly defining individual ownership in their law, had tribal, societal, or communal ownership. They also had ownership of themselves, while also recognizing their collective interdependence. All human cultures that I am aware of, recognized territories or tribal lands that they may not of had a deed to, but still felt entitled to and used.

The differing interpretations and varying degrees of ownership, give us the differing cultures of which we speak. They still recognized ownership and property and basic dignities of life for their own people.

Just because there are differing opinions, does not take away from their recognition of the existence of life, liberty, and property.
I'm still mulling over Sowell...
Rights are those things we don't want to be flexible, so we make them more rigid by making them categorical rather than incremental in distiction.
You either have a right to my car, or you don't. You don't have a right to half of my car. (Solomon's baby)
We don't want people to have half a right to life, so we make the distiction categorical.
To try to make the distinction incremental would entail costs that are tooo expensive. (I think it should become a convention to write too with an extra o, just to make the point.) It would also provide incentives to take away part of a person's life. But how can that be done?
Now, with property. We want a car to belong to either me, or to you. If we share a car we face a situation similar to a "car"tel (ha ha) where each of us might attempt to cheat the other in terms of paying for gas or maintenance, etc. If we pledge our entire lives to each other, then we might reduce the risk of cheating, but this doesn't even work all the time in marrige relationships. Usually he's got a car (with fast-food trash all over the place, needing to be vacuumed; and she's got a car, with whatever girls have in their cars... there's too much variation there.
So, we want property to be a categorical distinction.
Many of the problems with externalities are clarified if we recognize that they devalue private property. If your car's oil spills over onto my driveway, you have devalued my property, and you have stolen the difference from me. Often the subjective valuation of the lost value emphasizes the categorical nature of property.
Are there other distinctions made categorically? Encroachment and breech of contract in all their forms entail the majority of human experience. I can't think of many more.
Nathan sure has a way of killing a thread.
What's up with that?
Actually, since I actually have a lot to do during the week, I catch up here on Fridays, or when I'm procrastinating. Everybody else blogs while they're at work. I don't have an actual job. So I kill all the treads on Friday night after everyone has gone home, and they don't come back until the next Monday, after which Chris has read three or four more books and has something new to talk about.
I'd like to thing that a dead thread is one where everyone else thinks I'm right, but that's unlikely.
Just call me the "Thread Killer"
P.S., I've gone anonymous b/c I can't remember by password. What a loser.

Hippies seem to believe you can't "own" anything. That's what some of them say, anyways. But that's beside the question. If one did believe you couldn't own aything, how would you settle the dispute.

And if it's a matter of human nature, Define human nature and explain how "property" is an essential piece of that nature.


Are you suggesting that ALL cultures ACROSS TIME believed in the basic rights articulated by Western Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke?
I just had a whole lot written out and lost it.

My answer to you is yes.

Althought it was accepted in varying degrees, I think all cultures from all periods of time acknowledge the rights of humanity, to include the rights of life, liberty, and property.
This would be an excellent time to paste pictures of slaves, untouchables in India, oppressed women under the Taliban, peasents being oppressed by various kings through out history.

All governments for all of time have sought to be exempt from the rule, "Do not encroach on others or their property." Hence, slaves, untouchables, etc. Do the people believe in property? Most of them. Some of them believe their rulers are gods, and are afraid to question their authority.
How do you convince a hippie of this? 1) Take away his girlfriend.
2) Cut his hair. 3) Send him to war.
"You're old enough to fight, but not for votin', don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin?" - Barry McGuire
4) Take away his intern...
This would be an excellent time to paste pictures of slaves, untouchables in India, oppressed women under the Taliban, peasents being oppressed by various kings through out history.

Even in these incidences, there is an accepted level of rights given to each of these individuals.

Slaves were entitled to life and liberties, as dictated by their masters. They were considered the "property" of others, so self-ownership was transferable. If someone else tried to encroach on these rights, then they were prohibited by law and governmental force to do so.

Personally, I do not know enough about "untouchables" to make the argument, but imagine it is much the same.

Different societies accepted these rights at differing levels, but I think all of them acknowledge their existence and try to uphold them on those societally defined levels.
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