Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rights, Guns, and Freedom

I won't be blogging for a bit as I travel eastward (weather permitting -- there's a pretty good blizzard outside as I write this).  Before I hit the road, here's a quick note on rights and why the battle over gun control is so important.

One of the fundamental differences dividing the country at present is the nature of rights: there are two competing and incompatible conceptions of rights: individual rights and human rights.  Individual rights are based on the principle that every individual has self-ownership.  Each of us is sovereign, we have a claim to control over ourselves that is superior to any other claims.  Individual rights are the corollary principles implied by this principle.  The rights to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and ownership of justly acquired property are all implied, so too the right of self defense.  These rights are unalienable, that is, they are inherent in us and stem from our fundamental self ownership.  They do not go away simply because someone (a government, say) doesn't recognize them.  These rights are imprescriptable: it is not that some authority thinks them up and prescribes them (and maybe later unprescribes them).  These rights also circumscribe our behavior; they restrict us from interfering with others' individual rights.  This should sound familiar, because it is the position of the likes of John Locke and  the American revolutionaries, and is the philosophical and legal basis for the United States.

The alternative conception of rights is that of human rights.  Human rights, in modern thinking, are social constructs.  They are arbitrary, in the mathematical sense, i.e. different "societies" might "choose" different rights.  There's no objective or external standard other than that "society" has "chosen" or constructed these rights, hence extreme multiculturalism makes sense in this conception.  [N.B. "Society" as a single mind that "chooses" something is a very misleading and harmful metaphor; social choice processes are not even vaguely analogous to individual choice.] These "rights" are prescriptable and certainly are not unalienable.  Imagine, for example, the supposed right to health care.  Such a right cannot exist except in a society sufficiently advanced to have health care.  Guaranteed incomes, rights to education, housing etc. all require a sufficiently wealthy someone who is willing, or more likely compelled, to pay for them.  Such "human rights" are actually entitlements, with the title granted by the grace of those in power, should they decide to prescribe it.  There is no such thing as "society choosing," and this tends to be a euphemism for those in government granting privileges to the governed.

I've had a couple of discussions of late in which someone has expressed astonishment that being able to own firearms and exercise self defense could in any way be a right.  To anyone who understands the concept of individual rights, the rights of self defense and to keep and bear arms are obvious.  And it is understandable that those who are only familiar with modern human rights would be utterly unable to understand what we're talking about.

At heart, the two views of rights mirror two views of government.  The first view holds that government is only a servant, and properly exists only so long as it protects individual rights.  The second sees government as the master, granting rights (perhaps on behalf of an even higher entity, some collective such as society, or the proletariat, or the Volk, etc.)

Most people no doubt hold mixed or confused views of rights that mingle (or mangle) the two views in various ways.  But if you understand and accept the first view, that of individual rights, you can understand why the question of gun control is such a fundamentally important issue.  It's not about guns themselves, it's about whether we are free individuals or subjects of a master who will decide what "human rights" to grant us, and what to withhold.

To understand just how serious the current situation is, I highly recommend you read former SEAL Matt Bracken's "Dear Mr. Security Agent" or at least Sipsey Street's presentation of the conclusion.  The Yellow Line and the Red Line are already proposed by Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Diane Feinstein.  If they persist, how far are we from the Dead Line?

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