[extropy-chat] What the #$?! are rights anyway?

Jack Parkinson isthatyoujack at gmail.com
Fri Jun 16 12:33:10 UTC 2006

 The Avantguardian <avantguardian2020 at yahoo.com> wrote:
Subject: [extropy-chat] What the #$?! are rights anyway?

Stuart: These debates have left me very pensive with a sense
of deep disquiet. This unease stems from the fact that
although I believe in rights, jealously guard mine,
and support the rights of other as well, I no longer
really know why I believe in them. So when people
started complaining that discussing the rights of
women versus those of fetuses is not a suitable topic
for a transhuman list, I found it necessary to ask the
lot of you to tell me what rights are, where they come
from, and why they are in any sense "real"?

I know these may seem like naive questions but as
Frank Forman pointed out, the transhuman community
really does need to come up with a rational theory of
rights. I will try to explain why this is necessary in
a historical context:

Divine right, ca. the Middle Ages:
"By the grace of God, I am your king. That means I am
the boss of you so give me your money, till my fields,
and go and fight those guys over that hill for me."

Natural rights, ca. the Enlightenment:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among
these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Human rights, ca. the Present:
"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of
the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the
human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and
peace in the world..."

So what's the problem you ask....? SNIP)

*****The problem is that there are actually no human rights whatsoever - and nor have there ever been in the history of humanity. 
Documents such as the UN Charter, the US constitution et al are simply beacons in the darkness. These show us what is possible and what might be in the future. 
But the truth is that those few human rights which have been granted in the past and codified into law - have only ever been granted to limited populations for limited periods of time (extremely limited periods of time given the scale of human history.. )

*******What is more, wherever human rights ARE being granted at any time, they are always under threat and subject to political or commercial interpretation by those who can bring a great deal of expertise and ingenuity to bear on defeating the moral intent of the code. One COULD try to explain that in so doing, these people are adopting an inferior and essentially self-defeating course - but one could also try to teach a dog to play chess...

*********Human rights are grounded in personal autonomy and personal responsibility - as such there is a fundamental opposition between this set of rights and governmental authority which seeks to limit the autonomy of the individual and exercise a proxy for the good of the group.
**********Governments will always therefore seek to limit human rights - to do otherwise is to abdicate their own power. Some do it by heavy-handed authoritarian displays of power. Others persuade their citizens to give up their rights voluntarily in the face of some trumped up external threat... any bells ringing?

************I would say there is a snowball's chance in hell of a coherent system of global human rights anytime soon - at least as applied at government level. BUT - all is not lost - the grass roots equivalent is a here and now thing. Since human rights are personal, we can apply the rules right now in our relations with everyone else in the world. All we have to do is BEHAVE as though the UN Charter was law - and for all intents and purposes - it is. To this extent, I believe that human rights are mine to seize. It is all a question of giving - and receiving - due respect and recognition. No rocket science needed!
Jack Parkinson
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