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As George Carlin said; your rights can be taken away whenever convenient. Thus, they are not really rights at all, but temporary privileges.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=m9-R8T1SuG4




Some rights are inalienable, so they cannot be taken away, just violated. The right to justice is one of those. The right to life. The right to free expression.

It's pretty obvious that they exist, otherwise nobody would really care about murder, rape, theft, fraud, lying, etc. So the burden of proof is on those that want to limit or deny inalienable rights.

George Carlin is hilarious (at least in general), but ironically gives abusers a lot of ammunition with this argument.


I think his intention wasn't so much to say this is a positive thing but rather to cynically (and humorously) point out that "rights" are a human construct and susceptible to all of the associated weaknesses in practice.

You can claim a right to something and if you can get enough people to agree with you, you can enforce someone's claim on the right to something. But it's not like there's a natural force that ensures, compels, or mandates these rights.

I guess my point is that taken less cynically, rights (as we understand them) only exist in practice as long as you can demand them and have sufficient power (whether through numbers or threat of force) to keep them. The sad reality is that without the continual effort to maintain these rights, they can and will be taken away.


> But it's not like there's a natural force that ensures, compels, or mandates these rights.

A lot of really well regarded philosophers throughout the ages have disagreed with that.

> I guess my point is that taken less cynically, rights... only exist [with] sufficient power

If I follow that line of thinking, justice is only an extension of power. I don't think people agree with that.

I don't believe you think that. Perhaps it's just a matter of phrasing; surely we both agree that it's important to recognize that people should never murder people. We use the word "right" because it's important to be absolute in this rule.

It's worth distinguishing between:

  * life is not a right
  * we don't have enough power to enforce murder laws
...the second case is preferable, even if it may be hard to distinguish between the two looking down the barrel of a gun. If you believe in a deity, the could be justice in the afterlife. If you don't, one can be justified in history, if nothing else. For example, we don't say it was OK for Thomas Jefferson to own slaves because the U.S. didn't have the votes to ban the practice altogether. We say the slaves had their rights violated, not that they didn't deserve freedom and dignity because nobody could guarantee it.

tl;dr To say there are no absolute rights is to say there are no absolute wrongs.


> To say there are no absolute rights is to say there are no absolute wrongs

There aren't any absolute rights or wrongs, there aren't any absolute morals at all; right and wrong is always a point of view and no one can lay claim to having the absolute and only correct ones.


> we don't say it was OK for Thomas Jefferson to own slaves (...) We say the slaves had their rights violated

You are confusing legality with morality. There isn't necessarily any connection.


I am speaking strictly morally (or ethically if you prefer). Jefferson obviously had the legal right to own slaves. The fact that the laws themselves were unjust is my point.


They are unjust by modern morality, morality changes over time, it is not absolute.


It's more like morality is unchanged (Justify something other than: 'do unto others', without falling back on an obviously illogical subjective value system) but society's dirty excuses for immorality change.


> Some rights are inalienable, so they cannot be taken away, just violated.

Perhaps meaningful in the abstract, but a meaningless distinction in practice.

> It's pretty obvious that they exist, otherwise nobody would really care about murder, rape, theft, fraud, lying, etc.

That does not follow. There are in fact people who don't care about those things; that some people do does not mean inalienable rights somehow exist as anything more than social norms.

> So the burden of proof is on those that want to limit or deny inalienable rights.

No, the burden of proof of any claim of existence is always on the one claiming something does exist; proving something doesn't exist is not logically possible as there's always somewhere you can't look (the universe is big) and thus an invalid statement not subject to the burden of proof because it's wrong to claim at all.


> Some rights are inalienable, so they cannot be taken away, just violated.

The concept of inalienable rights is a moral axiom accepted by some (sort of like the existence of a God with certain preferences, in fact, many conceptions of inalienable rights are specifically beliefs about the existence of a God with specific preferences); its not a material fact or a supportable conclusion.

And, of course, people who agree that inalienable rights exist disagree on what those rights are (even those that agree on the names of inalienable rights disagree on the definitions of the rights that those name attach to.)

> It's pretty obvious that they exist, otherwise nobody would really care about murder, rape, theft, fraud, lying, etc.

The fact that some people care about these things establishes that those people have certain moral preferences; it doesn't establish the existence of inalienable rights (in fact, many of the people who do care about these things do so based on justifications other than inalienable rights.)


> its not a material fact or a supportable conclusion

Of course, the same argument apply to the axiom that the rights don't exist.

However, there is a lot of weight to the argument that there is a common list of universally reprehensible wrongs (murder, rape, etc.). Inferring rights from those wrongs is reasonable and doesn't require much in way of explaining where they come from.

I'm not sure why people are so eager to disprove the existence of rights, to be honest. The wholesale embrace of moral nihilism seems empirically worse. Or at least, more conservatively, empirically untested and therefore risky.


> Of course, the same argument apply to the axiom that the rights don't exist

Rights aren't material things, they don't exist in any external sense in any case. A "right" (in the moral, rather than legal, sense), inalienable or otherwise, is a just a statement of someone's moral preference. Clearly, these moral preferences exist in people, and, equally clearly, they differ between people.

> However, there is a lot of weight to the argument that there is a common list of universally reprehensible wrongs (murder, rape, etc.).

No, there's not. Well, I mean, sure, its tautologically true (and unsurprisingly widely accepted) that murder, in the sense of wrongful killing, is wrong.

OTOH, when you try to look for some common universal definition of when killing is wrongful, there's a lot less agreement. (The same is true of the other examples you've named, in the parent on great-grandparent posts.)

So, you've got some vague agreement that there are common names from wrongs, but the actual definitions of the wrongs with those names is different. That doesn't really support all that much of a common idea of wrongs implying a common idea of rights.

> I'm not sure why people are so eager to disprove the existence of rights, to be honest.

I'm not so interested in disproving the existence of rights as in getting people to understand that invoking the idea of "inalienable rights" doesn't really, outside of providing a rhetorical flourish, accomplish anything. Because the existence, and even moreso the definition, of those rights is not universally shared, what the invocation invariably amounts to is a circular argument where the supposedly inalienable right in question is defined in precisely the way needed to support the position the person is arguing for.

Which is perfectly convincing if you already agreed with the conclusion, but entirely unconvincing, if you did not.

"Why should we do (or refrain from doing) X? Because Y is an inalienable right and includes within its scope a mandate to do (or refrain from doing) X." Is just not a meaningful argument.

Unless the discussion is among people who have already agreed to the definition of Y being used.


The thing is, saying "X is inalienable" doesn't help anything either. In fact, I feel it hurts to think of it that way because rights only exist in such a way as we make them exist. Cold objective reality doesn't care, nor does a dictator.

We need to reframe rights as a promise to care and ability to help. As in, you can say you've got a right to free speech all you want but it's not until I stand with you that you're actually safer.

Human rights, if you must, would be the code that the average human would care about enough to fight for.


> Some rights are inalienable

He addresses that. A right has to be granted by someone. Who grants these inalienable rights? If you answer is "God", or "they just are", your thinking is circular.

If your answer is "the government/state", you are wrong. The government/state grants you this "right", and takes it away as it pleases, so it is actually not inalienable.

TLDR; An inalienable right that is systematically violated is not very inalienable, is it?




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