I made a post a while back about whether or not you have the right to (government subsidized) healthcare. Thinking back on it now, I made a lot of mistakes in the post and didn’t quite word the post the way that I really needed to in order to convey the correct meaning of what I truly think rights are and how they operate. Some people might go back to the original post and issue a correction. I won’t do that for a few reasons. First, the post is hella old and no one will really read it so making a new post gives me an excuse to get one more blog post on my site. Second (and possibly more importantly), I believe that correcting or clarifying mistakes makes more sense if the original material is still intact. You can think of this like one of your homework problems. You learn less from a sheet full of correct answers than you do from a sheet full of corrected answers. Mistakes are a necessity to helping others avoid pitfalls, so let’s keep them up, eh?
So two of my favourite YouTube content creators (better pad that word length) are Sargon of Akkad and Vee. Sargon was my introduction to what some might call the “Rational YouTube Community” (even though some members often lumped into that group don’t like that term). I use the term because it’s what people are familiar with. Sargon’s British accent bass tones are very soothing to listen to, and were often more interesting that various “nyahhh” that I might hear when playing a game. So I’d run his videos in the background and get a little bit of content while I gamed. Vee is Sargon’s friend, and I find Vee to be far more entertaining as a content creator than Sargon. Vee’s accent and snarky sense of humour are delightful and I legitimately enjoy Vee’s videos more than Sargon’s probably because of the character. I bring them up because Vee recently debated (or rather, had a discussion) with a white nationalist. About halfway through, Sargon joins the chat. The topic that had come up was one of rights and the concept of ‘Inherent Rights’. Vee and Sargon often call themselves classical liberals and Cole(?) (the white nationalist) wanted to bring up something about inherent rights and use classical liberalism as a common starting ground. However, it seems that he was unaware that Vee and Sargon both diverge from classical liberalism in practice on the issue of rights.
In classical liberalism there exists the concept of ‘Inherent Rights’. I’ve brought this up (implicitly) in a prior post about the 2nd Amendment. Simply put, an ‘Inherent Right’ is a right you get just for being alive. This is different from a right granted to you by the government, such as your right to a court-appointed attorney should you be unable to afford one yourself. Some libertarians may disagree with such a right as being inherent because it forces someone else to provide their services. Vee explicitly states that there’s no such thing as an inherent right because without someone to enforce the right (government) you may as well not have it. A few times Sargon said that he agrees that the right exists but that without someone enforcing it, it may as well not exist.
While I agree with Sargon, I think his statement has too much concession in it. I believe that someone always has their inherent rights, even if they go to prison or get killed for it. And that while it may be futile for these rights to be exercised, we should still think of them as existing. A person that breaks the law exercising an inherent right is often a catalyst for turning it into a government-enforced right. Think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today we agree that the rights he fought for were inherent rights and that him breaking the law to achieve them can be forgiven, because he wasn’t doing anything “wrong”. Does this mean that if enough people fight for a right that it becomes an inherent right? No. Because there are certain criterion that a right should fit for it to be considered an inherent right. So let’s try to figure out what makes something a candidate for an inherent right. Let me just preface this next section by saying that this is all my opinion and I in no way speak for anyone other than myself. I present this purely for the purposes of thought.
So an inherent right should be tied to the individual. To be redundant, an inherent right should not require any part by another party. Freedom of speech is a good example of this. You do not require someone else around to exercise your freedom of speech. Although if there’s no one around to hear your speech, is it really speech? (#ShowerThoughts)
An inherent right should not be selective in who it applies to. So there are no inherent rights that only blacks may exercise (unless you want to walk into a subset of inherent rights we might call ‘Inherent Rights for Blacks’). There are no inherent rights that only transexuals may exercise. Inherent rights apply to all people.
An inherent right should be voluntary in application. And this is where I tend to side with the libertarians in viewing the optimal society as one devoid of forced interactions. This is part of why I oppose minimum wage laws. They stifle voluntary interactions between two parties. And the most important part of this is that the voluntary interaction should not be one taken under duress. While ‘gun to your head’ decisions are ‘technically’ voluntary, they’re not voluntary on the interaction taking place. But in looking at this criteria, we also need to look at the flip side. While exercising this right should be voluntary, not exercising this right should also be voluntary. In the United States, if you’re over the age of 18 and you’re a U.S. citizen and not a felon (some restrictions apply) then you have the right to vote in your local elections. However, you also have the right to choose not to vote.
A right is not an inherent right unless it conforms to all of these criterion. And this is why the way
Democrat Independent Senator Bernard Sanders is mistaken in the way he presents (and probably thinks) about healthcare as a human right. While I don’t think anyone would disagree that everyone has a right to seek health care, I believe quite a few people would disagree that everyone has a right to demand a doctor’s service (I believe even Dr. Vee would agree to that). This is the argument often made by proponents of abortion rights. That the fetus has no right to demand the mother’s body (and this is where I criticize the left for inconsistent application of logic).
So when Senator Sanders says that everyone has an inherent right to health care and college education, he’s wrong. Health care and education require two parties and if these two parties are not making a voluntary interaction (without being under duress), then another right must be violated in order to enforce this right. One of which being one’s right to one’s own labor. Which means at least one of the two rights being applied is not an inherent right. Whichever right ‘wins’ would be a better candidate for an inherent right, but in these two cases, the right being overridden (there’s a reference for ya) is the right to one’s own labor. So if we allow that right to be overridden, we are actually saying that it is not an inherent right. Which means that it is then a government owned right. This could get hairy because if your body and labor belongs to the state, then are you really living in a liberal society? I leave that question up to the reader to answer for themselves. On the other hand, if we allow your right to a doctor’s services to be overridden, well then I guess there’s no problem because it didn’t conform to all three criterion necessary to be an inherent right.
Now what Vee and Sargon are saying is absolutely true in that if no one will recognize your right and enforce your right, then you may as well not have it in practice. And in principle, they are correct. If we look at the definition of ‘right’ in this context:
Right: a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way. – Google Search
So in the broad sense, a right is only useful if someone is willing to enforce it. But just because a right is not enforced, it does not mean that one should not attempt to exercise it. But here’s my sticky point. Let’s return again to the example above of rights overriding other rights. If a right can be overridden by another right, it’s not a right anymore. You can call it a right if you add some asterisks to it to make an exception. The problem this could lead to is a situation in which rights have several asterisks interplaying with each other. At some point we have to ask ourselves if these rights have all of these troublesome exceptions, can we really call them rights?
When this happens in the field of science with models that require asterisks upon asterisks (the Ptolemaic model of our Solar System comes to mind) we usually evaluate the model and see if it might be simpler than we’re making it out to be. Why are we not then applying it to rights? The answer I came up with is that we accept the government-enforced rights model, which could lend itself to these asterisk situations. Or an inherent rights model, in which inherent rights exist, but may or may not be enforced by a government. While they may not be useful for those that would wish to exercise them, they do exist. But again, a question for the reader to answer for themselves.
At any rate, I think I’ve said all that I want to say on the topic at hand. Feel free to let me know what you think. As always, thank you for reading.