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Government: the social contract market
Posted by: Jon Henke on Monday, January 23, 2006

Max Borders on "natural rights"....
How is it that something that one piece of fibrous paper and another of the exact same shape, size and ink content can be worth $100 and $1 — respectively? Well, currency is a good example of socially constructed reality. Of course, in the days of the gold standard, we might be able to go into a bank and get gold in exchange for our bank notes. But then again gold is subjectively valuable due to its rarity, beauty, or its relative preciousness in the eyes of those who want it. In any case, those subjective forces balance against one another creating what we call a market price in gold. So whether or not currency is ersatz gold, nothing detracts from the primary point: Things are valuable in as much as people agree that they are.

When we leverage the subjective interests of others against our own, some very interesting things start to happen. With luck, we come to a kind of concord. In the case of money, we agree that this piece of paper is worth $100 and this one is worth $1. And we move mountains. No metaphysics necessary.

So in the case of rights, they do exist in the sense that money exists. But they aren’t mysterious essences that, a la Feser, inhere in physical human bodies (any more than the souls that supposedly animate them). Rights are the convenient and rational human artifices that are contrived from mutual agreement among people willing — collectively — to lay down their “absolute right” to harm others in exchange for not being harmed. More or less this is the way social contract thought works — and a whole discipline of Rational Choice was born out of it.
Max's currency analogy of rights is the most incisive I've yet seen. Like currency, the notion of rights exists among man and it's a useful notion. But it's a human construct with only as much value as we mutually assign it.

An interesting consequence of that view of rights shows up when we move outside of the mutually shared social contract...
The foregoing is self-evidently why we don’t, and shouldn’t, give as many rights to criminals, enemies, or terrorists. When we do, we risk disrupting the very edifice that makes up our own socially constructed reality of rights. That is to say, we risk breaking our own social contract by allowing those who would do us harm to free-ride on our rights agreement — thus nullifying it.
[...]
[This] means that the moral status of those outside of our political “rights compact,” is sort of up for grabs. Notions of rights outside of our political regime become a fabrication of foreign policy expedience or PR-speak — and are often necessary and useful ones as in the case of human rights.
So, to review:
  • Your rights and mine are only as objectively valuable as we mutually agree they are.

  • Government exists to safeguard the market values of the social contract.

  • The objective mutual value of rights can and does change depending upon the individuals, cultures and societies involved in any given transaction.

  • Entities outside the social contract safeguarded by our government have value unresolved by our social contract, though it can be guaged or established in various ways.

In the above framework, it's useful to think of government as a market in power. Politicians are social brokers who carry out the transactions in that power market, as society (i.e., the electorate) buys and sells, altering the shape and values of the social contract.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
Are you thus justifying tortures?
 
Written By: Alex Ostrovski
URL: http://
No. My arguments against torture do not rest on some mystical notion of "absolute morality".
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Alex ... go to the search engine. Type in the word "torture". We’re explicitly on record about torture and you don’t have to guess or ask.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
Gee, like the contract wherein Dale Franks deletes every single comment of someone on QandO that he labels a "troll"? That kind of social contract?
 
Written By: logic
URL: http://
Gee, like the contract wherein Dale Franks deletes every single comment of someone on QandO that he labels a "troll"? That kind of social contract?
No Book, I mean ’logic’... not at all like that. Ass. And, if I’m not mistaken it was not that you are a troll, but rather that you were ’trolling’. Ones a verb, the other a noun. MMMMMkay?
 
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
Logic, if you don’t like the way our hosts handle their posters, go start your own blog. We’re on their property, we are subject to their rules.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com
There’s no "social contract" here. The only issue is whether or not we consent to your posting here.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
Border’s article seems somewhat self-evident (but maybe that’s just because I agree with him). I also don’t think that his article does much to forward the thinking on how to deal with terrorists, etc. As far as I can tell, the primary arguments against torture and inhumane treatment of terrorist prisoners is not that the terrorists themselves are deserving of protection (although some on the left certainly make that argument), but that it weakens our own social contract to behave in that manner. That seems to be the point that Borders is making, and if I’m reading him correctly, I agree wholeheartedly. This is not to say that terrorists are morally entitled to our due process protections or to the rights under the Geneva Convention. It is just that it is in our self-interest as a society to treat them humanely.
 
Written By: Steven Donegal
URL: http://
I don’t really like his construct. Natural rights is the cornerstone of all legitimate human government. This is something that both the left and the objectivists have missed. You can say it is only a human construct. However, so is the laws of supply and demand. And yet, they are valid under all observable instances. Likewise, the quality of natural rights are observable in human societies.
 
Written By: kyle N
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
I’m continually picking up on an under current here (QandO) that libertarian (or neolibertarian) values are incompatible with a belief in God. What is so wretched about believing in God?
 
Written By: Richard
URL: http://
Not a thing Richard, and if you’re picking up such a vibe, it’s not from me.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
I’m continually picking up on an under current here (QandO) that libertarian (or neolibertarian) values are incompatible with a belief in God. What is so wretched about believing in God?
Specific theological, ontological and epistemologic arguments aside, I don’t have any problem with you believing in god. We only begin to have a problem when you substitute your faith for evidence. (e.g., as a basis for "natural rights")
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
I don’t really like his construct. Natural rights is the cornerstone of all legitimate human government.
And currency is the cornerstone of all even minimally advanced economies. It’s still a social construction.
You can say it is only a human construct. However, so is the laws of supply and demand. And yet, they are valid under all observable instances. Likewise, the quality of natural rights are observable in human societies.
Supply and demand is a natural consequence of human rationality. It might be said that "natural rights" are, as well, but — like supply and demand — the specific boundaries are unique in each circumstance. In some circumstances, there’s just no demand at all.

Likewise, with rights, the price point in the social contract is established in the market (society), where human interests and power meet human interests and power and seek sustainable equilibrium.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
You basically have two choices:

1. believe that it is self-evident "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"

or

2. believe that rights are contingent upon the group/tribe/nation that you belong to

the latter view is certainly more "self-evident" - tribalism is a powerful force in human nature and the most cursory reading of history (or the Old Testament!) shows the denial of rights to those defined as outside the group was, and is, all too common.
 
Written By: cllam
URL: http://
Jon,

I don’t understand what you mean (honestly). What is the (given) basis of rights in the U.S. Constitution? And it would be as opposed to? Please educate me if you would.

I just read up a little on it. I tkae it you do not believe in "natural rights" then?
 
Written By: Richard
URL: http://
But it’s a human construct with only as much value as we mutually assign it.
True.
Cultures do that.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
There are some interesting implications, which I have not yet thought out and so present merely as ideas for discussion, to Borders’ view.

The first is that rights are inherently not inalienable nor even natural, but are in fact civil: the society that creates rights can abrogate them at will. A contract cannot bind the contract’s sole enforcer, in this case the government, with any meaningful power, unless the enforcer wishes to be bound.

The second is that the ability to maintain rights would be inversely proportional to population density. When more people are in a given space, the rights of each person in that space shrink so as not to overlap another’s rights, and therefore it is conceivable that a sufficiently dense population would not even have the right to control their own bodies, as many uses to which they might put their bodies would be infringing on others’ equivalent rights.

In addition, while currency is a social construct, money is not. Money is a physical thing: a set amount of an intrinsically valuable commodity. A denarius had its worth (assuming it wasn’t shaved or debased) because of its metal content. So did a silver dollar. Currency is an abstract that is necessary to allow people to gain the benefits of money (portability, divisibility and free exchange) in an environment where only fiat currency is available. Thus currency, which used to have value because it could be exchanged for a fixed commodity, has a socially constructed value that exceeds its intrinsic value (as durable paper). Money does not. (You might choose not to barter for gold, because your demand for gold is low, but that does not invalidate the fact that gold has a value apart from its utility as a medium of exchange.)
 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
Jeff, no. There is no such thing as intrinsic value.
 
Written By: Matt McIntosh
URL: http://conjecturesandrefutations.net
I rather like the construction, but then I’m a Pragmatist in most things. I do wonder, though, how far the analogy holds. If we allow too much currency into circulation, the dollar drops in value relative to goods and services. Essentially, a buck doesn’t buy what it once did.

If we are profligate with recognizing rights (as a culture), does the same thing happen? How would that manifest? There is a downside to circulating too much currency. What’s the downside to recognizing too many rights? (Or would it be more appropriate to phrase it—"too far-reaching sorts of rights?)
 
Written By: JMD
URL: http://aberrancy.blogspot.com
1. believe that it is self-evident "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"

or

2. believe that rights are contingent upon the group/tribe/nation that you belong to

Both are wrong.

When Jefferson wrote that "WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT" he was not speaking a universal truth at all. The operative word in that phrase is "WE".
As in; "We the People of These United States."

Rather than talking about a universal point of view, a universal truth, if you will, he was instead talking about the point of view of WE the new American culture. With this angle, many of the long-held myths about rights tend to disappear.

Consider; if it was in fact a universal truth that all men were created equal, it wouldn’t have been such a radical idea, for the time, much less then to now. Last I checked, it is quite true that a vast majority still do not consider these as any kind of truth, universal or otherwise; they consider them to be anything BUT self-evident. Royalty still exists, as do class structures, and slavery, as well.

Again, I say...Jefferson was speaking of the point of view of OUR culture, not that of others.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
If we are profligate with recognizing rights (as a culture), does the same thing happen? How would that manifest?
Fantastic point! I hadn’t thought of that analogy. "Rights inflation". When a society begins to extend positive rights to individuals (i.e., right to basic minimum health care, income, etc), the value of negative rights is devalued or abrogated altogether.

That’s a great angle I hadn’t thought of.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
So, Bithead, buy looking at this as "we(the American culture) hold these Truths to be self-evident...that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights", aren’t you saying that we as a people have agreed that our rights come from our Creator, whatever religious persuasion they’re from, and does that mean that the rights of atheist(for their purposes) come from the monkeys they evolved from?

It seems to me that you are saying that this country, at a very root level, agreed that our rights come from our creator or perhaps even the ’author’ of Intelligent Design. You seem to be saying that this country was founded with at least some religious component. I know this goes against the grain with most of the left and dare I say at least a couple of authors and commentators of this blog. Are we saying that once we pull our rights out of the abstract, we are never allowed to reference that area again? Or was this country founded on Judeo-Christian values? It just seems to me, using your analogy, that we agreed to use religion to come up with these rights because, if left at the human level, we know no rights are unalienable.

I know where I stand, not being a religious sort, I still believe that we are guided by an "invisible hand", to borrow a phrase from Adam Smith.
 
Written By: Wilky
URL: http://
Should the rights market be fair, balanced and competitive, or should rights market power be concentrated in the hands of those that have monetary market power ?

Or to look at it another way - should employment markets be regulated, to ensure competition on both sides (demand as well as supply), and should collective bargaining power be extended to one or both sides ?
 
Written By: Blewyn
URL: http://
It seems to me that you are saying that this country, at a very root level, agreed that our rights come from our creator or perhaps even the ’author’ of Intelligent Design. You seem to be saying that this country was founded with at least some religious component
Actually, no, I’m not saying it.
Jefferson is, and I’m merely an observer of that fact.

And that, as a matter of logic, raises the question of what happens to rights when those agreements are declared null and void?
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Sad. I remember a day when Bruce McQuain knew and understood what rights were, and defended them.

 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
I’m sorry Rich ... do you see my name anywhere on this post?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
In the above framework, it’s useful to think of government as a market in power.
Except you don’t personally have to pay for the items on your political grocery list - everyone else does. Imagine how crappy your car or house would be if you obtained them in a "market" like the one for government.
 
Written By: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com
I see this blog continues to manifest the symptoms of its founding contradiction, following the usual pattern of heaping contradiction upon contradiction in an attempt to bury the reason that would reveal them under their sheer weight.

The end you will come to is blindingly apparent, and it will only get more comical to watch as you accelerate toward it, refusing to see what is right in front of you.

Signed, Destined for Deletion
 
Written By: Kyle Bennett
URL: http://www.humanadvancement.net/blog
Philosophical ebonics, little else.

My right to say so—even if you disagree or delete me.

This passes for intellectual thought these days.

Amazing.

:-) jb
 
Written By: jb
URL: http://
So in the case of rights, they do exist in the sense that money exists. But they aren’t mysterious essences that, a la Feser, inhere in physical human bodies (any more than the souls that supposedly animate them). Rights are the convenient and rational human artifices that are contrived from mutual agreement among people willing ...
How does "agreement" avoid being a mysterious essence?
 
Written By: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com
John;

Good point.
They tend to become either cultures, or contracts.
Of the two, cultures are by far the longer lived, generally speaking.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Bruce:

I see your name on the blog. That’s my point.

Richard
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
I see your name on the blog. That’s my point.
Well it’s a foolish point unless you believe in guilt by association.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
Well it’s a foolish point unless you believe in guilt by association.

Don’t hide behind "guilt by association". Theres a big difference between association with the guy who sits in the cubicle next to yours only because the company decided to hire you both, and a voluntary and self-initiated ongoing association that is part and parcel of something you apparently value so highly. In the latter case, you can’t escape the sanction it implies by invoking platitudes.

While you keep your name on this blog, you own everything in it, trash or treasure.

—Kyle Bennett
 
Written By: Kyle Bennett
URL: http://www.humanadvancement.net/blog
Don’t hide behind "guilt by association". Theres a big difference between association with the guy who sits in the cubicle next to yours only because the company decided to hire you both, and a voluntary and self-initiated ongoing association that is part and parcel of something you apparently value so highly. In the latter case, you can’t escape the sanction it implies by invoking platitudes.

While you keep your name on this blog, you own everything in it, trash or treasure.
That is, perhaps, one of the most outstandingly stupid arguments I’ve heard in a long time. Apparently, you believe that, if we associate with someone, who doesn’t believe exactly as we do, then we are somehow responsible for his expressed thoughts.

We are responsible for what we write individually. That’s why are names are at the top. We don’t always agree. We make our disagreements public.

The the proximate case, Jon and I have both written posts expressing a diametrically opposing view. By your reasoning, then, Bruce shares some responsibility for both of our opinions, which is a patent impossibility. So much for the vaunted Libertarian principle of individual responsibility.

You perfectly exhibit the intellectual rigidiy and quickness to expose "heresy" that has made the Libertarian Party a national byword for crankery.

It’s a good thing you don’t read Balloon Juice, a group blog with both a liberal and conservative blogger. Your head would probably explode trying to figure who is responsible for what.

No doubt this will come as an utter shock to you, but unlike many members of the LP, we don’t feel the particular need to sniff out heresy with the other bloggers here. The LP’s ongoing fascination with enforcing ideological othodoxy and punishing the insufficiently authentic among their putative allies has more than a whiff of Stalinism about it.

No doubt you’ll be conducting an appropriate show trial on your own blog.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
While you keep your name on this blog, you own everything in it, trash or treasure.
That’s horshit Kyle, but if it makes you feel good, pat yourself on the back, buddy. A bit like me claiming that if you hang out in the Whitewater group you’re responsible for what the Maine Mosquito says. Brilliant, eh?

I write what I write. They write what they write. If we disagree we duke it out in the comments section. If you don’t like how that works find somewhere else to frequent. But don’t try to run horseshit "you own everything" arguments by people who know better.



 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
The LP’s ongoing fascination with enforcing ideological othodoxy and punishing the insufficiently authentic among their putative allies has more than a whiff of Stalinism about it. No doubt you’ll be conducting an appropriate show trial on your own blog.

That’s quite a chain of unfounded assumptions and bombast to support an untenable position. The lenthy ad-hominem does not quite cover up the lack of content.

Who said aything about punishment, or the censorship you imply? I have no intention to try anyone, here or elsewhere, nor to attempt to enforce any orthodoxy.

But to say that I simply cannot judge someone based in any part on his voluntary associations, based on who he shares common cause with, based on whom he chooses to be part of a joint effort with? Someone is granted blanket immunity from the opinions of others without regard to his individual choices, all because of some spurious "common wisdom" that intentional associations have nothing whatsoever to do with a person’s moral character? That all individual choices matter except choices from that category? How rigidly orthodox is that?

This blog is not Balloon Juice. I know nothing of it, so I won’t comment, but this blog is not a "point-counterpoint" or ad-hoc collection of bloggers. You announced at its inception that it is a joint effort aimed at acheiving common goals. Voluntary associations, and the contexts in which they are made, are part of what serves as evidence of someone’s moral character. That was the extent of my comment.

Billy’s respect for Bruce goes a long way with me, and I know nothing about you either way, Dale, but the fact that both of you continue under the explicit premise that Henke’s drivel serves your political goals says something, too. I can’t ignore it.

And, for the record, I am no longer associated in any way with the LP. I choose not to associate in a formal political way with an organization that believes in silly things like voting. I have friends in the LP, and I remain friends with them. We share common values, but our friendship is outside the context of politics. Some kinds of associations are more significant than other kinds. It’s all sbout context.
 
Written By: Kyle Bennett
URL: http://www.humanadvancement.net/blog
That’s quite a chain of unfounded assumptions and bombast to support an untenable position.
*shrug*

It made me feel better to write it, though.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
You announced at its inception that it is a joint effort aimed at acheiving common goals.
And that implies that we all have to march in complete ideological locktsep, because we share certain goals?

Whatever, buddy.
Someone is granted blanket immunity from the opinions of others without regard to his individual choices, all because of some spurious "common wisdom" that intentional associations have nothing whatsoever to do with a person’s moral character?
Well, that’s the whole problem. Because you disagree with Jon’s position on Natural Rights, you immediately assume that he has a moral flaw.

And you don’t catch even a whiff of totalitarianism in conflating intellectual differences with moral failure?

Wow.

Are there any other thought crimes we need to be aware of before continuing to blog here? ’Cause I don’t want to fall afoul of the Bretheren, and face a hideous shunning.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
find somewhere else to frequent.

That’s good advice. I’ve tried to stay away, but wasn’t up to resisting the temptation. But there’s no value in it for me. Besides, regardless of anything else, I respect your right to not have to deal with those who aren’t welcome, in your own house, and I’m sure I’ve made myself unwelcome.


 
Written By: Kyle Bennett
URL: http://www.humanadvancement.net/blog
What “absolute right” to harm others?

Came here through no-treason. Bithead, Henke, these names sound familiar. Same too this strange idea that rights only exist via some government program.

How can one believe that natural rights are a fiction yet at the same time believe in "absolute rights" as a non-fiction?

I don’t believe that natural rights are something that were handed down by some creator. Firstly because there is no evidence for a creator. Secondly because all the purported books written by such "creators" like God and Allah are decidely incongruous with what we take to be natural rights. The purported rules by Allah and God have no respect for natural, individual or any other rights. They promote all forms of injustice from slavery to murder of others merely for having differing opinions.

Nor do I think that the collection of rights that should be bundled together and called "natural rights" is quite as clear as some people think.

However I do not think those rights that are generally considered "natural rights" were pulled from a hat. I think the natural aspect arises from the fact that certain sets of rules just make more sense due to the limitations of reality. They are natural precisely because they do not attempt to put something in place that would naturally lead to bad outcomes.

I’m no philosopher so I don’t know if there is a school of thought that takes this position. In the meantime if someone asks me, I say that I believe in natural rights, although I believe they have more of a Popperian foundation (based on emirical trial and error) rather than some diety.

I don’t like your formulation precisely because it seems to me that it allows behavior that I find morally repugnant, unjust, and frankly criminal. Seems to me that under your system anyone could take a ball-peen hammer to an illegal immigrants baby and it wouldn’t be a crime. After all that baby wasn’t implicitly protected by the social contract, not being a member of the society.
 
Written By: Brian Macker
URL: http://www.brainwacker.com
Might makes right. I’ve heard this one before.
 
Written By: HankP
URL: http://
Same too this strange idea that rights only exist via some government program.
I’ve never made that argument, notwithstanding the lack of reading comprehension displayed by in response to what I actually wrote.
I don’t like your formulation precisely because it seems to me that it allows behavior that I find morally repugnant, unjust, and frankly criminal.
Nature allows behaviour that we find repugnant. Morality is simply the process by which we, individually, choose how we regard that behaviour.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Nature allows behaviour that we find repugnant.
ALLOWS is, but doesn’t tend to REWARD it.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Tell that to Genghis Khan.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
I said TEND, Jon.
There are other exceptions, of course.
Saddam, Hitler, and so on.

I reiterate; When a people respect the rights that Jefferson listed, they tend to do better, on the whole. When they don’t, they tend not to do as well over time.

The communist nations of the world for example, don’t do so well, as a rule.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
"Same too this strange idea that rights only exist via some government program."

I’ve never made that argument, notwithstanding the lack of reading comprehension displayed by in response to what I actually wrote.
Substitute whatever you want for "government program". I know you have something more complex in mind but it all comes down to politics doesn’t it. You only care about the hard result of obtaining protection. Even if you use the gun yourself you are going to have to deal with the social norms. So it becomes a government program.

For example Uday Hussein was able to pull women off the street and rape them. If I am understanding you correctly this would be the social contract in the matter, and know one could object otherwise. But the only reason no one dares challenge Uday is not his own personal force but the fact that he is backed up by the "social contract", the sum of all the values of every individual as expressed in the empircal outcome. You know a "market values of the social contract", etc.

Funny thing is I think you are asking the right questions with regard to natural rights theory but you are coming up with some awful bad hypotheses to replace the existing theories. Natural rights theory is a lot stronger than you give it credit for. You are right however in your attack on its foundationalism.
Nature allows behaviour that we find repugnant. Morality is simply the process by which we, individually, choose how we regard that behaviour.
Nature allows behavior that prevents other behavior that nature allows. Just because some psychopath can attempt to rob or murder me doesn’t mean I have to just live with that fact. There is no "absolute right to harm others", since I can prevent it.

That was my point if you don’t believe in "natural rights" you cannot believe in these "absolute rights" on the same grounds. You claim others don’t have rights because it is possible to violate them, then posit a "absolute right" to violate others. But this "absolute right" is vulnerable to the same argument. You have no such right because it is possible for others to violate them, to prevent you from doing the damage in the first place.

As to your claims of what morality is, I don’t buy it. My own position about morality is too complex to explain tonight. It is not foundationalist, and I disagree with that other commenter that one cannot get from existential to normative statements. One can, and one can do so without making any axiomatic assumptions. I can do so in a Popperian fashion.
 
Written By: Brian Macker
URL: http://www.brainwacker.com
Henke,
Nature allows behaviour that we find repugnant. Morality is simply the process by which we, individually, choose how we regard that behaviour.
If it’s simply a matter of taste, why find behavior repugnant at all? A tornado may be far more dangerous than a rapist; would you find the tornado to be more repugnant? Do you have any reason to apply a different standard by which to regard the behavior of people as opposed to the behavior of the atmosphere?
 
Written By: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com
Henke,

From the Saddam Hussien trial:
"For 35 years I have run your rights," Hussein said.
Do you find this statement to be in accordance with your understanding of rights? I don’t see why you wouldn’t and want to make sure I understand you.
 
Written By: Brian Macker
URL: http://www.brainwacker.com
If it’s simply a matter of taste, why find behavior repugnant at all? A tornado may be far more dangerous than a rapist; would you find the tornado to be more repugnant? Do you have any reason to apply a different standard by which to regard the behavior of people as opposed to the behavior of the atmosphere?
If there were anything I could do to stop either, I’d do it. Otherwise, in either case, I’d get out of the way.

Man is homo economicus. We act in accordance with our basket of values, be they moral, material or other utility.
Do you find this statement to be in accordance with your understanding of rights?
No. There’s no necessary link between morality and laws. I don’t believe there is anything like a transcendent "right". I would agree with Hussein’s formulation had he said "For 35 years I have run your laws."
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Jon,

... and pardon me if you took offense to addressing you Henke. There are no other Jon’s here so it was unnecessary and could have be construed as rude, I’m sorry.
No. There’s no necessary link between morality and laws. I don’t believe there is anything like a transcendent "right". I would agree with Hussein’s formulation had he said "For 35 years I have run your laws."
I find that first sentence a little bizarre. Do you think we outlaw murder for reasons other than that it is wrong? Are you aware that just about everybody else on the planet sees the connection? Different people have different ideas about why murder is wrong, but there is still a consensus on this.

A modern Muslim may say it is wrong to kill another Muslim because the Quran says so, and yet not believe the same thing for a non-believer. In fact, the Quran teaches that he must kill the non-believer. He would thus outlaw the murder of Muslims, and enact laws that make apostasy and heresy punishable by death.

Whereas, a modern Christian would hold that both were murder because of his traditions, and what his conscious tells him about what God would say. He would still believe that what is good or bad is determined by God but, because of Western traditions, he would let his conscience be a guide to what God would command. Thus he would enact laws that outlaw the murder of anyone.

Secular Humanists would have yet a different basis for determining what is right and wrong. They too however would wish to enact laws that were in harmony with their morality.

In short no one wishes to have a legal system that is violates their moral system. You don’t need a transcendent system of rights for this connection to be valid.

Do you believe in right and wrong? I understand that many groups talk past each other when using these terms but I don’t want to know if you believe in their version of right and wrong. I want to know if you have your own version. Do you have a personal morality?

Ok, because you switched the word in Hussiens statement from "rights" to "laws", I will now assume you have some standard to distinguish between "law" and "rights". What is it?

When you write,
"I would agree with Hussein’s formulation had he said "For 35 years I have run your laws."
I am not sure I agree with you on this. I don’t believe that laws that are subject to arbitrary modification and application are true laws. In fact, I know that they are not.

I will give an example. Suppose you sat down with me a checkerboard and I said I wanted to play you a game of "super checkers". I tell you the rules, and you agree to play. As we play it becomes clear in the middle of the game that when I am in trouble that I am making moves that are not consistent with the stated rules. You confront me about it, and I state, "Well I’m the rule maker and I changed the rules". To which you reply, "Well, then you tell me the new rules and I’ll play that way to the end of the game".

To which I reply, "No you can’t, part of the new rules is that only I can make those moves". You reply, "Well then I can make up new rules too.". I say "Ok, go ahead". You say, "Well I can get kings on any edge". I say, "Ok, I veto that rule, after all I’m the rule maker". You exclaim, "What! I’m leaving!". Finally, fed up with your insolence, in a low tone I exclaim, "Hoooneeey".

My four hundred pound sumo wrestler "significant other" comes in the room from the kitchen. "Jon is not following the rules. Get my meaning...", I intone. Immediately four hundred pounds of heaving flesh springs up and slams down on the checkers board throwing you to the floor. I screw, "Yeah, a winner!!! Don’t feel bad Jon. Maybe you’ll beat me next time".

Now certainly I can call those "“super checkers rules" by the word "rules" but they really aren’t the type you are used to. They certainly count as rules. They are intended to restrict behavior. In this case the rules are designed to restrict your behavior and to make it so that I always win.

One of my rules is that ignorance of the rules of “super checkers” is no excuse for breaking the “super checkers” rules. Don’t complain either, you agreed to play “super checkers”. Does this seem the least bit fair to you? Of course not!

The reason it was not fair is that I equivocated when I asked you to play a "game" of “super checkers”, and informed you of the "rules". You probably thought I meant a game of the normal sort, not a "mind game" or "rigged game". Also when I told you "the rules" you probably assumed that the rules would follow certain conditions of fairness.

You assumed the definition of rules that are normal. Normally rules for games are universal, unchanging, balanced, and clear. I clearly used a different meaning, one that was not fair.

This is exactly what tyrants do when they set up systems of "law" like the ones Saddam set up. In fact this is such a common trick that there is a term we use for a society that uses the fair kind of laws. We call such societies ones where the "rule of law" is in effect.

Saddams Iraq was not operating under the "rule of law". These were not laws in sense that the western world currently uses the word.

So I would only agree with the statement if it were modified to be, "For 35 years I have run your lives."

Now that I have explained it this way do you agree?

Part of the theory of natural law that you need to understand, and apparently don’t is that there are certain features that are "natural" to laws that a rational person would agree to. No rational person is going to agree that his life can be forfeit arbitrarily. Thus we outlaw murder. Features like universality, consistency of application and the like insure that no tricks of unfairness occur.

I don’t believe in Platonic realities. I do not for instance believe that the number four exists in some alternate platonic reality. However, that does not mean I do not believe that the “number four” could not exist as an instantiation in the real world. It is entirely possible that a fork has four tines, or that my computer stores a representation of the number four, or even the existence of four apples in a basket.

The same holds for strategies. Consider the game of Chess. I could see someone taking the same position you do on "Rights" with the strategies of Chess. I could hear that person saying,
"Yes I know there are rules, but what are these imaginary "strategies" you point to. What is this "Sicilian Defense". Can I taste it, smell it? What other than your say so do I have to go on. I don’t trust your tendency towards transcendent beliefs. You say to me, ’You ought to use the Sicilian Defense under certain conditions’ but upon what basis do you say this."
The answer as to where the strategy exists is that it can be instantiated in many ways. One it can be a strategy you have learned, and so it can be stored in your brain, another is it can be a strategy that was or is being played by someone, it can be recorded in the newspaper, and it can be hard coded in a computer program.

The unstated assumption, of course, is that you wish to win the game. The strategy becomes normative only when that is your desire. If you desired to lose then, of course, some other strategy would be better for your ends. Perhaps you have a side bet with an idiot that you will make money on if you lose the game, or are afraid of appearing the geek by winning. Without this unstated assumption of course I cannot tell you what you ought to do, I can only tell you what you ought to do to win according to the rules.

Now let me move on to the issue of morality. I believe that the same holds true for moralities. There are unstated assumptions in societies that allow people to derive normative from non-normative statements. When someone makes a moral statement "You ought not to do X" it is really shorthand for the more precise statement "You ought not to do X, because I assume you desire Y".

There are several different forms of the shorthand normative version, which all are convenient for speaking but amount to the same thing. One can say "Don’t murder", "It is evil to murder", "You ought not to take someone’s life without just cause", etc.

The assumption of what you desire is different under different moral systems.
Islam: "To obey Allah, no matter that it disgusts you and goes against your nature. So you get your reward in the afterlife, a decadent lifestyle of debauchery., and to avoid everlasting fire."
Christianity: "To obey God, so that you can bath in his love in the afterlife, and to avoid everlasting fire."
Mafia: "To stay in good graces with the rest of us, to avoid getting caught, and to make easy money".

I don’t know if you looked at that other thread you had on natural rights, but I gave an outline of my own personal moral system. One of the beauties of my system is it explains why we use the word ought for thinks as diverse as murder, foolishness, gambling, rudeness, smoking, and even obeying irrational laws.

If you hadn’t read that and had seen the above you might be thinking, well I understand why murder is immoral, but why gambling, drinking and the like. Well, at least under my system that all depends on how likely those things are to not be in your enlightened self-interest. They are bad precisely because they are bad for your extended self. So my unstated assumptions being that you desire what is best for your extended self in this life, not some afterlife.

I can even extend this to the fact that you may not live under a system that reflects your morality. I would say for instance that you "Should obey the law" under certain circumstances that you do not think is just. For instance, I think you should obey laws outlawing pot, and would also recommend that you obey alcohol prohibition, because to not do so puts you in jeopardy. That doesn’t mean you cannot oppose the law. The reason it is "wrong" for you to disobey the law is not some foundation in justice. It is wrong because it is harmful. The amount of harm of course depends on the individual’s circumstances. A man living in a "Rockefeller law" state with a large family of depend children, who doesn’t have many assets is in quite a different position than a playboy who just inherited a large sum of money and lives in a state where users get a slap on the wrist.

Now back to the reality of "rights". I’m going to get sloppy now because I am getting tired of writing. Rights are analogous to strategies and rules, and have a lot to do with them. Different aspects of rights are instantiated in the real world the same what the strategies and rules are. They are written, remembered, and instantiated as laws. They are as real as the four tines on your fork. Just like an apple is a certain juxtaposition of atoms, rights are a certain encoding of rules, strategies to deal with those rules, and beliefs about those rules. When people take actions the rules are obeyed, considered, etc.

Even when a robber violates your rights he takes them into consideration during his actions. He knows that it is not behavior that you are going to like, and so he uses certain strategies to counteract your responses. He knows what your rights are but he chooses to violate them. He uses a different set of rules for himself than you.

Even the fellow who says "might makes right" does this. He is not using some fair set of rules where it just so happens the weak person loses to the strong. No, he would be the first to complain if someone else bigger than him took his stuff. He is a hypocrite in this manner. Not only that but it is the human condition that no one person has it over another no matter what the discrepancy in size. Big bad tough guys do sleep and when they do they are vulnerable to ball peen hammers. You say well he can have someone help him? Well so can the weak guy.

What the people who believe in natural rights are saying is that it just so happens that their are rules of behavior which are "fair" in the sense I have described above, that rational people would agree to, and that will result in consequences that are assumed to be good according to the moral system. Which under a natural right type of morality are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I have seen other natural rights versions based on Aristotelian values where the assumed goal is "thriving".

When someone, anyone, realizes some set of moral rules and follows a strategy of obeying those rules the rules become real. They have been instantiated. Just like the instructions for Microsoft Word can be loaded on your computer and run, a new instantiation is formed. At first some programmer realized if he put certain instructions in a certain order and they were obeyed in a certain context then a certain outcome would arise, a running copy of MS Word. If he only wrote but never ran the program that would be like a person realizing that he was nice to everyone he might have it easier in life, but then never acted on it. See the analogy?

So moral systems can exist in theory, as dead systems on paper, and as living systems. Note that only a single person need be following a moral system for it to be instantiated, that is, for the moral system to exist. It may not be an effective moral system given the moral ecology of the surrounding people but it does exist. Notice this is an individualist theory of instantiation, it doesn’t require your collectivist social contract style underpinning.

Organisms are information-based systems, that is, they are genetic and cultural replicators, and so I could have analogized to living organisms instead of computer software. When a collection of rabbit sperm and egg genes is instantiated during fertilization it becomes an instance of a rabbit. It doesn’t matter that this rabbit isn’t exactly like every other rabbit. What matters is that for the qualities that define a rabbit it is within the required parameters.
Likewise with rights, since you can have a bunch of people operating on similar but not exactly the same moral belief and yet say they are all Christians, Muslims, or whatever. There is some set of behavioral attributes that will classify an individuals belief as belonging to particular moral systems, and it can be more than one. There is a certain amount of flexibility to it.

Now I saw one person claiming rights don’t exist because if we go back in time we will find a moment before the existence of rights, or that we rights require certain preconditions, such as rational men on which to exist. Well, we can go back in time to when there wasn’t any rabbits, and even further to a time when the conditions on earth were not suitable for the existence of rabbits. This however does not prove that rabbits do not exist. This is likewise with natural rights.

Now comes the issue of goals or what you value. Some people have unusual goals. They desire and pursuit goals that can never be harmonious with the goals of other people, in principle, and not just in reality. This is because strategies are not only methods to goals but goals themselves. When they pursuit such goals we call what they are doing evil. A good man will not only be concerned about his goals but how he achieves them.

Let me move back to my analogy of "super checkers" to make yet another point. My goal was to win, as was presumably yours. The difference between us was that I was willing to operate utilizing unfair rules, to achieve my goal. Also notice that in the "super checkers" game I was using manipulation of the rules to my advantage as part of my strategy to obtain my goals. Rules that count as rights cannot have this feature.

Ok, now to summarize why rights are real. Rights are by definition rules about how to behave towards others. Not just any rule can count as rights, only rules that have certain attributes count, for instance, universality, stability, and reciprocity. Once one person runs this "moral software" the rights become instantiated. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. Once someone recognizes their rights and obeys the rights of others the rights become real, and if that enlightened persons rights are violated then those violations are real. This is whether or not the other person realizes it.

Now remember this is my own formulation. Not necessarily what you are going to get from the no-treason crowd or Billy Beck. I’m sure some of them will be upset with some of my conclusion. Be aware however that my theories give power to moral systems that are far from perfect. You can be running rules such as, don’t murder, but go ahead and steal. It’s still a moral system and still is "real" so long as someone is running that "moral software" and will feel violated if his personal rules are not reciprocated. It may be tough though if you are a animist living in a world of Muslims.

It is my personal belief that my rules make more sense. I also believe that there can multiple moral systems that classify as natural rights systems. Let me go back to the rabbit analogy. That classification is not at the species level but at the level of genus or even ecological niche. There may be multiple natural rights systems just like there are multiple ways to make a living as an herbivore.

In my case I think some of the qualities of the moral systems they believe in are not robust. I for instance do not believe their systems are fully reciprocal. As an example, they think that a moral system does not qualify as such if it is not pacifistic as to obeying the rules; no retaliation is allowed for free riders. Thus, if we have say a Muslim who believes that he can chop off my head, a non-reciprocal rule, then I cannot take action till he does so. An unfortunate rule set, especially if my moral system is in the majority for the moment but free immigration is another trait of their set of rules. Soon to be outnumbered and violated.

So now, let me illustrate with some strange examples. These not for the prior paragraph but the one before that one, based on my proposed moral rules. Note I am going out on a limb here and stretching my model in ways you won’t see from others. They just classify animals as non-moral agents and give up on it, a safe and cowardly approach. I am more willing to have my ideas ridiculed, rejected and modified.

1) You are walking down the street and a domesticated chimp jumps out and kills you. Your rights have been violated; In this case a chimp has murdered you.

2) You go hunting for chimp. A wild chimp jumps out and kills you. Your rights were not violated. You were going to do the same to him.

3) You are a PETA member and are on a safari. You see a wild chimp.

3) You walk up to a chimp, punch it in the face, take it’s banana. The chimp kills you. Your rights were not violated.

4) A stupid chimp in the jungle has a banana, a bigger chimp comes up an takes it. The stupid chimp would have done the same if he had the chance. No rights violations have taken place.

5) A very smart chimp in the jungle realizes that if he doesn’t take the bananas the other chimps have fetched or shaken from the tree, and they obey the same rule then it will be easier on all, one can stockpile bananas, and also shake multiple bananas from the tree without climbing down after each one drops to claim it. He starts obeying this ruleset. Another chimp grabs his banana. His rights have been violated. If he believes in his idea he will get upset and punish the other chimp. Can chimps cognate at this level. I doubt it. That’s why we call them immoral.

6) A communist declares that property rights do not exist. He has in effect renounced ownership not only of his property, but also his of his capitalist believing neighbor. His neighbor could be of one of two stripes.
a) His personal rules are that he will acknowledge the property rights of others regardless of what they do.
b) His rules may be that he only acknowledges the rights of others who share a belief in property, and act on that belief. He gives people the benefit of the doubt, but once they show themselves not to be true believers in this moral system he uses a different strategy.

You can see that in 6 a) and b) they rules are very similar, except that b) includes a reciprocity enforcement attribute. This ability allows me to achieve social features that are not obtainable from standard natural rights theory, things like good Samaritan laws, and proper anti-discrimination law, while also allowing for voluntary immigration control.

That’s one of my main objections to certain forms of libertarianism. They don’t include reciprocity enforcement strategies and therefore are susceptible to invasion by frankly evil moralities, like Islam and Communism.

I’m sure they would beg to differ. But that is one thing about viewing moralities as strategies. There isn’t any one clear-cut approach to winning at chess and there isn’t with moral systems either.

So yes I would say natural rights exist as formulated by someone like Beck, but I think he is mistaken if he thinks he is on the moral high ground. The terrain is more complex with lots of hills some of which lead to even higher hills, some are dead ends, some are indefensible from invaders.

Oh, well I’ve had my say. I’ve simplified a lot. This is a very broad subject and frankly a four hundred-page book would be more suitable. Don’t forget my questions at the beginning, if you want me to understand your beliefs.

One last note, if you think it funny that I tied this into chimps. Well my moral system is flexible enough to work in not only animals but also "aliens" not that I believe in them. As an example, I think it is morally wrong to mistreat animals because even though there is a disparity in our ability to follow the same rule sets there are consequences for us. Animals have more primitive social awareness, learning but are agents just like us. So when you mistreat your hundred pound dog there is a likelihood that it will lash out, not only at you, but also at someone else and seriously harm them.

This is not in your enlightened self-interest at many levels. You might get bitten, someone you value might, a stranger might and then might expect restitution, your behavior towards the animal might ruin your reputation, which isn’t good for you, etc.

Note I have not address the issues of punishment, etc. and how that would be applicable to man or beast. Suffice it to say that since animals are not so bright that punishment is just not going to make sense. If there is a man-eating lion attacking your railroad workers you don’t reason with it or send it to jail for reform, you kill it.

Again, sorry for the asides, but don’t forget my questions.

I have a copy of this post. If you are annoyed at it’s length I can delete it and post it on my blog with a trackback.
 
Written By: Brian Macker
URL: http://www.brainwacker.com

 
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