Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whose rights are they anyway?

There are two schools of thought concerning individual rights: one says that rights are granted to the individual by society (or the state, or whatever term fits the issue); the other says that rights reside in the individual, and society must show some compelling interest to restrict them. Conservatives like to say that this is the difference between a liberal and a conservative, but it upon examination, both sides sometimes argue both ways.

This thought struck me while listening to my favorite radio talk show, Abdul in the morning . The discussion was a proposed change in Indiana's liquor laws to allow Sunday sales. Many who would describe themselves as conservative were saying, "Are you incapable of thinking ahead and buying on Saturday? Why should we allow you to buy on Sunday?" But if you believe in the rights of the individual, the question should be, "What is the compelling state interest in restricting the sale of a legal product? Is alcohol more potent on Sunday than Saturday?" The same reversal of burden occurs in the discussion of gay marriage. If you believe in individual rights, the question is not "Why should the state recognize gay marriage?", but "If the state recognizes any marriage, what is the compelling interest preventing the recognition of this one?".

Conservatives are not alone in hypocrisy, of course. If the issue is guns, then the right to own and bear them resides in the state, to be extended to or withdrawn from the individual at the state's pleasure- but if the issue is abortion, then the right resides in the individual, and cannot be withdrawn by the state. The personal right of choice and the principle of competition are so important that there must be a public healthcare option to provide that choice and competition, with the proviso that the public choice must sink or swim on its own merits, so that the competition is genuine. Unless the issue is education, of course, in which case the public option is paramount, regardless of cost, efficiency, or effectiveness.

The lesson is that human nature dictates that the core guiding principle is "Whose ox is being gored?"*
*Do oxen gore each other? I thought bulls were made oxen and stallions were made geldings to calm them down so they wouldn't fight each other.


Strange Attractor said...

I've often thought that both sides are being disingenuous when they say that they want to get the government out of your life, while the other side wants the government in your business.

Liberals want the gov. out of our bedrooms and marriages, but a strong gov. on gun rights, protection for women & minorities, etc. Conservatives see taxes and the EPA as government invasion of individual liberties, but favor abortion and marriage restrictions.

Neither side is being fundamentally honest. Unless you are a libertarian the questions is not if you want the government to run your life, but WHERE do you want it to do so.

ogre said...

Bum steer; oxen may be male (neutered or not) or female. And no, I've no idea what--if any--distinction there is between cattle and oxen, since it appears that oxen are cattle.

Bill Baar said...

Are you saying there is a right to buy liquor on Sunday?

Come to Illinois and Car dealerships are forbidden by law to be open on Sunday.

For many years it was illegal to buy meat on Sunday, or after 6pm least in Chicago and northeastern Illinois.

The Butchers Union got a law passed that stores couldn't seel meat without a butcher on duty, and the Butchers quit a six, and took Sunday off.

Inconvenient, but I don't think there is an inalienable right to shop off hours.

Bill Baar said...

Anti-Abortion Conservatives abortion as an invasion of the unborn's right to life.

Marriage is one issue where Conservatives get restrictive, but then there is Dick Cheney out there to the left of Obama on same-sex marriage.

Over at PJ Media a few months ago, someone did a matrix of Conservative v Liberal and their attitudes towards restrictive government and conservatives really won hands down if you consider Libertarianism winning.

I'll try and track it down.

Both sides are being honest I think, if you read serious people, although I think Liberals have a far tougher sell in a basically libertarian country. So they get wrapped up in vaguer slogans.

You want find Conservatives writing a bool like Cass Sunstein's Nudge.

Or thinks like Sunstein's New Deal for Free Speech.

Read that and you can sort out the Libertarians, Statists, Liberals, and Conservatives pretty fast... dependin on how they react.

Joel Monka said...

Bill- Indiana had all those laws, and sillier... but the question is not "Is there an inalienable right to shop off hours?", the question is "What is the compelling state interest in forbidding shopping off hours? What is the clear and present danger to the public of my opening a can of Iron City on Sunday?"*

*Ok, bad example- I know the dangers of opening a can of Iron City. But you get the idea.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

I think the major reason I'm such a political heretic* is that I don't see things in such "either/or" terms. Rights are more complicated than "what society says you can do" versus "what individuals should be able to do". And what about the balance of rights with responsibilities?

So, on different issues...

Guns ~ If it makes sense to require that prospective drivers show that they know how to drive safely, then why not require that prospective gun owners know about gun safety? Not to mention that, just as there are different rules for different types of motor vehicles, then why not different rules for different types of weapons? (BTW, I'm in favor of lifting my state's prohibition on sword canes.)

Education ~ Let's look at whether a school is effective, regardless of how it is funded. And if funding is indeed an issue, perhaps we should rethink how we fund public schools based on local property taxes. Not to mention having local boards of education either elected (and subject to the politics of the mob) or appointed by mayors (and subject to political patronage).

Reproductive rights ~ Yes, I'm staunchly pro-choice; I'm also in favor of making it a top priority to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, from the obvious (effective sex education and widespread availability of contraception) to more innovative (making the costs involved in adoption tax deductible, just as they currently are for using reproductive technologies).

For me, it's not just where rights "reside" but the consequences of their being exercised -- or restricted -- and the myriad ways in which they can be.

* On Marshall Fritz's "World's Smallest Quiz" my score puts me right on the three-way intersection of liberal, libertarian and centrist.

Bill Baar said...

When it comes to rights I look at rights defined where an individual is freed from something e.g. free to speak freely without interference, free to practice a faith without interference, versus rights requiring someone else to do something. If I have a right to Health Care, that means someone has to give me care. If I have a right to food, someone has to raise food to feed me. If I have a right to housing, someone has to build me a house.

Talk about those kinds of "rights" and you have to weigh the justice of compelling someone to meet the need versus someone eleses right to have a need met.

You get conservative with age as you find your self ajudicating some of these "rights", and move over to the more conservative notion of sticking with a small set of rights defining what one should be left free to do, versus compelling others to satisfy your "rights".

Chalicechick said...


I'm with you on abortion, though my impression is that your take is not uncommon among pro-life folks.

Also with you on the sword canes.

Who knew a guy in college who bragged and bragged about the sword cane he had ordered. On the day it arrived, with as much fanfare as something so incredibly against school rules could get, a bunch of us watched him unwrap the package in his dorm room.

He pulled out this really impressive cane, hit the little thingy on the hilt and withdrew...

A four-inch "sword" blade. If that.

You can imagine the jokes the guy endured for the rest of his college career.

Desmond Ravenstone said...


Regarding abortion, I think most people rest squarely in the middle, despite the labels of "pro-choice" and "pro-life", and all they supposedly entail. For me and many others, the issue is that restricting or banning abortion has been shown to lead to more misery.

Regarding sword canes...
1) Always do thorough research before buying any product. Sword canes will never be as impressive as Japanese katana, but they can serve their purpose.
2) That purpose is self-defense; some implements are better than others, and all require training with it. A well made sword cane is fairly easy for the average person to handle (and I've even seen sword umbrellas!)



One might also argue a balance of rights, as in that the right to health care, housing and food being balanced with the right to jobs, education and being able to sell the product of your labors.

So the person who needs a job can be given the choice of building houses, growing food, or working in the health care industry.

OTOH, this theory begs the question of who will decide who gets trained to do what kind of work for whom or what.

And all of this raises the question of how each of us perceive the role of government. While libertarians chafe at the thought of what they consider a paternalistic state, those on the left fear that a minimalist state leaves too much of a vacuum for powerful groups to come in and decide things for us without any accountability.

There are strong arguments on both sides, and a case to be made for trying to find a balance where government is more a moderator between potentially conflicting interests. That in turn demands that government and other institutions need to be accountable, and that we be willing and able to hold those institutions accountable.

Bill Baar said...

So the person who needs a job can be given the choice of building houses, growing food, or working in the health care industry.

...or making Trabants. A Car worth less than the parts and labor expended to make it; true negative value.

So who does the giving here? The State? The Community?

Or should a person be free to pursue their own welfare, making from the world what they can?

Cause that central authority making decisions whom gets offered what job can make some tremendously destructive investment decisions.

Giving authority the power to balance rights has costs. We should weigh them every time before we balance.

Chalicechick said...

I totally meant "pro choice" and wrote "pro life" in my comment above.

Thanks to all for not giving me crap about it.


Joel Monka said...

We knew what you meant, CC. My take on abortion is one notch stronger than you or Desmond- I'm "pro-choice" only in that I believe it's not possible to craft legislation that will not be abused by one side or the other. No matter how it's written, either the local prosecutor will twist it such that not even an 11 year old diabetic whose life is in danger because she's carrying an anencephalic baby that was the result of a gangrape at a family reunion can get an abortion, or else a local judge will rule that because she would graduate a semester late and therefore never have a decent job and therefore not be able to buy health insurance, it's a health issue. Abortion is one of those issues that only society can deal with, not law.