Sunday, March 5, 2006

Debunking statist arguments - Against rights

In my long and, I hope, enlightening debunking of Steve Kangas' "Liberalism Resurgent FAQ", I now continue on the topic of some of the statist arguments that Kangas presents in his FAQ. In this entry, I want to examine the statist misconceptions about rights, presented in "Rights are natural, inalienable, God-given and self-evident" (a position which he, of course, argues against).

The notion of whether rights are natural or not, or whether they are self-evident or not, is, I grant you, rather theoretical, and seems of little practical interest. Isn't the only important thing that we all fight for our rights ? Yes, of course, but one way for statists to defeat this desire is to argue that rights don't really exist, are only preferences, or are inter-subjective, cultural constructs, or are divine constructs subject to the caveats of a particular religion. Then impositions for the "common good" make perfect logical sense, because after all rights are not agreed upon to be subject to that "common good".

So it must be made clear, when arguing the topic against statists, that rights are not cultural preferences : they are natural facts. They are the product of causality applied to human society, just like values are the product of causality applied to human action, and laws of physics are the product of causality applied to particles or groups of particles. Rights are nothing more, nothing less than principles of individual freedom to be discovered by rationality and science.

Does Kangas have an argument against rights ? In fact, he has many. Let's start with the first :

Liberals believe that rights are social constructs, defended by force and open to change and improvement.

We open right away on the assertion that rights are social constructs. So what we have here is pure inter-subjectivism : somehow "society" can model reality according to its whims and wishes, and create rights out of thin air. This is quite a magical world that statists live in !

Even more astonishing is the revelation that rights must be "defended by force" and "open to change". True, our understanding of rights must be open to change, but rights themselves are no more "open to change" than the law of gravity or the theory of evolution. Natural law cannot be "open to change" - it is what it is, and our role is to discover its intricacies.

And truth certainly does not need to be "defended by force", although statists always love to use force, even to defend the most ethereal of concepts, so this is not completely surprising. Why would one need to use force to defend a truth ? To do this is a contradiction : truth can only be attained by cooperation, not by force. Only lies need to be defended by force, because they do not have the power to persuade, and rely on the power of authority to propagate. Faith and force are corollaries.

Anyway, let's continue :

Rights cannot be natural, like laws of nature, because nature enforces its laws absolutely, whereas rights are frequently broken.

This is an equally preposterous statement. Rights cannot be "broken". A criminal may be able to kill another human being, but he cannot change the fact that all human beings have the right of life. The fact that globalized murder would be extremely hurtful to any society - which is a practical unpacking of the right of life - is not changed by the crime at all.

Rights cannot be inalienable, because governments frequently revoke rights.

Now this is interesting. What Kangas is saying here, is that rights can be taken away by government, and that this is perfectly in accordance with the nature of rights. So, if you accept this premise, there is no reason to complain if you lose an important right. After all, that is how rights work ! By that token, anyone who is recognized in history as "fighting for civil rights" is a sham, because they are going against the very notion of rights, at least as presented by Kangas. This is a rather offensive view, to say the least !

Once again, as I said for the previous point, no one can "take away rights". That is a physical impossibility. The closest one could come to that would be to wipe out all of mankind.

They cannot be God-given, because God originally blessed the rights of monarchy, genocide, polygamy, parental killing of disrespectful children, and other rights no one seriously defends today.

This is the only true sentence in his entire summary.

Rights cannot be self-evident, because philosophers have been vigorously arguing over them for thousands of years.

This fallacy is in fact the opposite of the argument from popularity : we can call it an "argument from dissent". While not widely discussed, it is a common anti-materialist argument, by which someone points to popular dissent on a topic - evolution and morality being the typical examples - and conclude that the whole field must be subjective and a question of personal taste. This, of course, is complete nonsense : the fact that there is dissent on an issue does not mean that there is no truth that can be found about it. People have dissented for a long time on the fact that the Earth was round, but this in no way indicates that the shape of the Earth is a matter of opinion. Likewise, the results of this or that kind of society are measurable, and not a matter of opinion.

The only thing that dissent amongst philosophers on the question of rights proves is that most philosophers, behind their veneer of inter-subjective respectability, are immoral or idiotic - like most priests, politicians and pseudo-science salesmen.