We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

We cannot protect you… but we can disarm you

How else can you interpret the authorities intention to disarm people in New Orleans? We are not talking looters here, we are talking about people with legal weapons.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

50 comments to We cannot protect you… but we can disarm you

  • reverend

    Even ignoring the Constitutional argument, I don’t see any statutory legal basis for such a disarmament to occur. This is truely scary.

  • Welcome to martial law. It ain’t pretty.

  • Max

    The reality of New Orleans is an opportunity to unwind a lot of foolishness about gun control. No one is going to forget this. Even some of the gun grabbers among us will realize that they are, after all, among US and not part of the elites that keep their private guards and gated communities. Kissing Sarah Brady’s ass on gun control won’t get the ordinary person anything but chapped lips.

    Government is not your friend; The second amendment is your best friend.

  • rosignol

    Welcome to martial law. It ain’t pretty.

    The Mayor of New Orleans doesn’t have the authority to declare martial law.

    Methinks we may finally get a 2nd Amendment test case.

  • I found a video taken from ABC News.

    There’s footage of soldiers and (unidentified) police. At the end of the clip there’s an interview with a soldier (the leadin implies he’s one of the “reluctant” ones) saying he would shoot Americans. The feeling is mutual, Fritz.

  • rosignol

    I’m pretty sure he’s referring to returning fire.

  • The Second Amendment is no friend of mine. My rights do not come from the constitution, and neither do yours.

    What’s wrong with you people?

    I’ll say it before they can erase it: to hell with the Second Amendment.

  • Midwesterner

    Billy Beck, is that a sarcastic parody? Or do you actually believe that? What exactly do you mean about the second amendment?

    And why don’t my rights come from the constitution?

  • “Look into my eye.” I am as serious as reality.

    And if you have to ask why your rights don’t come from the constitution, then you’re just not worth the effort of an answer. Believe me: it will be demonstrated to you sooner or later with far greater authority than anything that I might have to say to you.

  • Midwesterner, your rights come from the fact of your being alive. Every human being has them, simply by being human. That’s what “inalienable rights” means. The Constitution doesn’t give you your rights, any more than it gives you your lungs.

    All the Constitution does is state that the government may not infringe upon your rights. No government can grant people rights or remove them, it can only infringe upon their rights.

    You, like every other person in the world, have the right to be armed for your own defense. This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, which only states that it is illegal for the government to infringe upon that right.

  • Midwesterner

    Billy Beck, there was nothing in your answer except that it’s too much work for you to articulate your feelings.

    Ken, “inalienable rights” are not justified in the constitution, only in the Declaration of Independence.

    Rights have no validity except as they relate to others. Are you going to claim a right to not be hit by lightening? To be exempted from gravity? This sort of flawed reasoning, that rights are preordained, is where the present inflation of “rights” comes from. “A chicken in every pot.” Everybody claims a “right” to something. Usually something of mine.

    Any effort to rationally defend rights is a statement of values. Then values must be defined by a philosophy. Philosophy is a human construct. It is inevitably a statement of values.

    On the other hand, to state that rights just “exist” is a metaphysical statement based on revelation. It is the functional equivalent of saying “God grants them”. This is what the founders resorted to. But then, whose god?

    The government is not a function of nature or divine creation. It is a contract. A cooperative contract based on shared values with other people.

    I refuse to acknowledge the “right” of government to exist. I refuse to get caught up in a debate over the metaphysical nature of rights. I refuse to hold a preordained institution accountable for metaphysical “truths”. Your construct implies a collective society/government that we must hold accountable to divine truth.

    Wrong. I acknowledge the existence of differing values. I acknowledge that others may see different truths than I do. I acknowledge that they can (and will) attempt to live those “truths”.

    I choose to cooperate under a constitutional contract with other like minded people, and receive the protections gained from a strong alliance. Therefore, my right comes from the constitution. If too many members of it choose different values, then I need to seek out an new association.

    I reserve the right to make my own value judgments without resorting to metaphysics. I choose my rights based on my best estimate of their consequence.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Midwesterner:

    The idea of inalienable rights vs. outlining rights in the Constitution was actually a topic of serious debate amongst the Founding Fathers. The Federalists, led by Hamilton and Madison, argued that if rights weren’t delineated in a Bill of Rights, then future generations would come along, overlook the idea of “inalienable rights”, and claim that people don’t have certain rights.

    The Anti-Federalists, led by Franklin and others, argued that if you had a Bill of Rights that enumerated certain rights, future generations would come along and say that the people didn’t have other rights, because obviously if the people were intended to have such rights, they’d have been enumerated in the Constitution.

    The compromise was what are now the Ninth and Tenth Amendments — but the Anti-Federalists turned out to be right, since these are probably the two most ignored amendments.

  • Midwesterner

    Ted, while I normally disagree with the Federalists, particularly Hamilton, on many issues, in this case it comes down to “how would it have failed faster?”

    I think the case is clear that stating what the constitution stands for makes it a more defensible contract.

    I think the Federalists were right. And something to keep in mind about Franklin in respect to rights, he was probably as pure a communist as could be found at that time. He preached it and practised it.

    You didn’t comment on the premise of metaphysical rights not being rationally defensible. I would like to know what you think, but we may be hijacking a thread.

    Although, I guess the idea of the constitution as a contract is extremely relevent to this case.

  • “The government is not a function of nature or divine creation. It is a contract.”

    Produce my agreement. Go ahead. Show your work.

  • Midwesterner

    Then opt out. Find a better one. Nothing prevents you from renouncing your allegiance. You will then be on your own without an association. But the consequences of that make my case, not yours.

  • “Then opt out.”

    Stop your dodging. You’re the one who asserted this “contract”. Prove it.

  • Midwesterner

    I guess I’m missing your point. Why not save time and you can prove it IS a “function of nature” or a “divine creation”.

    You seem to be trying to get me to say it’s always a voluntary contract. If you read the post through, you’ll see the point is that it is something humans invented and in the absence of other people, it, and rights, are non existent.

  • Look: if you don’t know what a “contract” is, then you have no business using the word, and most certainly not in this context. Enough euphemasia.

    And I’m saving time, as it’s going. I said so in my first reply to you.

  • Midwesterner

    The US constitution is a contract. It is an agreement. A voluntary agreement. Something that you are in by your consent. You can leave. There are a myriad of other governments out there you can choose.

    Many of them, even North Korea, have constitutions. These are rules the governments, in statement at least, agree to follow. Since they are to bind the government to treat the citizens in a certain way, and the citizens are similarly encumbered, I called it a contract.

    You chose to pick on that dubious choice of words presumably because that was the best you could do.

  • Julian Morrison

    Get this, Midwesterner: “you can leave” IS NOT VOLUNTARY. If a private guy came up to you and said as much, you’d absolutely rightly accuse him of running a protection racket.

    Let me spell out voluntary: a government is contractual and voluntary, if you can tell them to take a hike, and the matter ends there you don’t have to leave. You aren’t subject to their rules. They don’t take your money. You go on living just like before.

    Otherwise, it’s not voluntary, and no amount of fancy working is going to make it so.

    Voluntary is binary: is, or isn’t. No compromise, no handwaving.

  • “You chose to pick on that dubious choice of words presumably because that was the best you could do.”

    I “chose” that “dubious” (you’re goddamned right) word because I have had more than enough of people doing rampant murder to concepts in just exactly the way that you know is happening precisely because you tagged that use of the word as “dubious”.

    And don’t even try to tell me to love it or leave it, punk. I didn’t take that bullshit from the likes of Spiro Agnew, and you count for far less. Go fuck yourself.

  • Midwesterner

    Julian, you are apparently assuming property that is not subject to government control. Government is what is chooses to be. It usually IS a protection racket. This is what makes it so dangerous. The fact that we can leave the US with our lives is a sign that not everything to lost. I’ve been getting shredded for the inappropriate use of a word. Granted, wrong word.

    Now please address the fundamental point. If rights exists separate from government, what is their source? If we posit these metaphysical rights that just exist, where do we draw the line? Anybody can claim whatever inalienable rights they want.

    Rights can only exist as a function of human relations. They are unavoidably a product of the process of government/human relations. No?

    So are they going to be metaphysical or rational? I fear I’ve made a big mistake entering into discussion with people whose fundamental position appears to defy reason and accept metaphysics as a source of knowledge. It seems to me that this discussion is inevitably doomed unless you do espouse reason and merely disagree with my logic.

    Billy Beck, take your meds. I asked serious questions expecting serious answers and you’ve been insulting and confrontational from the start. You’ve yet to do anything but spew bile. You’ve yet to disavow this metaphysical revelation of rights you’ve apparently been blessed with. Go away. I’m sorry I asked. I mistook you for a rational person.

  • Julian Morrison

    If rights exists separate from government, what is their source?

    The source is (1) physical property (2) inalienable self ownership. And the source of these is respectively (1) the unavoidable feature of physical objects, that they are unique and have mutually conflicting possible uses (2) the fact that human bodies are physical objects, and further, that a particular person is fixed into to a particular body, and shares its fate. Corollary of both: when humans need physical objects, they either have to fight (and accept damage to self and to the needed item), or agree who has control and operate by consent. Ergo, property.

    From inalienable self ownership: protections against murder, rape, assault, kidnap, slavery, etc.

    From physical property: protections against theft, fraud, damage, tresspass, etc.

    Ok, so there’s that built up. Rights are definable because their source is defined. They are definable a priori and do not need a government.

    Leaving that aside,

    Rights can only exist as a function of human relations. They are unavoidably a product of the process of government/human relations.

    …how can you believe that? Unless you define government differently from how I do, do you really think that when you step outside a government’s reach, you lose your rights? Or perhaps you believe that any group of humans constitutes a government? *confused*

  • Julian Morrison

    BTW, aparrently the gun confiscation is illegal.

  • “Midwesterner” — you asked utterly ridiculous questions, made wholly indefensible assertions, and then started trying to push me around exactly like any common dough-head whose concept of authority far exceeds reality. I am an American, sir, and when confronted with that sort of thing, an American pushes back, in spades. If you don’t like it, then behave yourself. Otherwise, when you step in it, you’ll get dragged all the way through it.

    “Thus perish all compromise with tyranny.”

    (William Lloyd Garrison, on setting fire to the constitution, Framingham Green, Massachusetts, July 4, 1854)

  • Midwesterner

    Julian, thank you for your well thought reply. Your initial paragraph pretty much tracks the method of reasoning by which I evaluate various options of government. It is clearly based on rational thought. To reach those conclusions you start with a great many value judgments that another person (Wahabist?) would not.

    Would a Wahabist consider “protections against murder, rape, assault, kidnap, slavery, etc.” as something that was always and exclusively a bad thing? Would they see material things or humans as anything other than first last and always, property of God? Does this comparison demonstrate enough for you that rights are a derivative of values? That they would be perceived as “self-evidently” different by each world view?

    “They are definable a priori and do not need a government.”

    I believe that they do require a relationship between humans. Whether this relationaship is called a government or something else, I don’t presently see as critical. To clarify, would one find a dispute between the rights of a rock and of a human? No. The dispute would be between two humans over the possession of the rock.

    I do believe that when you step outside another *persons* reach, rights become non existent. Not just irrelevant. Non-existent. This is a key to my argument that government does not have any inherent “right” to exist. Robinson Crusoe (before Friday) had no government or rights.

    Your confusion about what I am saying is warranted. Not believing in the innate existence of government, if any group of citizens subject to a common protocol or mutual assumptions, then it has the same moral validity of government.

    My thinking is outside the box, but I think it is very sound. I will be in an out a lot this weekend but hope, if your interested, to pursue this discussion. One of us may change the others mind. And mine is always open to change.

    “gun confiscation is illegal.” I was watching an interview with a basketball couch about a physical game his team had just played. His reply? You have to play the game as it’s called, not as it’s written. I think we need judges that believe in the constiution and it’s rational basis.

  • Richard Thomas

    “Right”, it’s pretty much what it says, what is “right”, it is an adjective which has been turned into a noun which has allowed it to be much abused. It does require interaction between individuals but is certainly not dispensed by government which is merely a collection of individuals.

    Different cultures will have differing ideas of what is “right” of course, this is why western culture has fallen back to a lowest common denominator of “right” which provides for a maximum compatibility between differing cultures. Allah, Jehova or Cthulhu may say “Kill the Infidels” but I say “Your right to swing your fist ends at the beginning of my nose”.

    Rich

  • Scarecrow

    It does not have to ‘dispensed’ by the government but only recognized by the government. If no one recognizes your rights, it only exists from your perspective. Someone else has to recognize these rights for it to be valid for the relations between you and him.

  • Midwesterner

    Rich, thanks for responding. I think I agree with everything you said except for the part that rights are “certainly not dispensed by government”. I like your choice of the word “dispensed”. It does not imply where the government first begged, borrowed, bought or stole them from, but government does indeed (whether we like it or not) dispense them. Or retain, as the case may be.

    “government which is merely a collection of individuals.”

    Yes. Government is merely a collection of individuals. That is (I hope) agreed.

    So, tell me if you can. Are rights a product of reason and values? Or are they a product of metaphysics? (Greek words meta = after/beyond and physics = nature)

    All these claims about rights being self-evident, endowed by the creator, obvious, “an utterly ridiculous question” or any other claim that doesn’t resort to reason, is claiming a metaphysical basis for rights.

    That is VERY dangerous territory. “Self evident” is gravity. Rights are not self evident. Exactly how, barring the use of reason, do the self evident rights you perceive differ in standing from the self evident rights Wahabists perceive?

    Can you or anybody else please tell me WHERE THE !@#$%%^ RIGHTS COME FROM IF NOT FROM REASON!

    I said it before, I’ll elaborate. The only way rights could be self evident, would be for them to be one of the laws of physics; gravity, the weak force, etc. Every thing, animate or inanimate, person or not, obeys the laws of physics. Including laws we don’t understand yet. Water molecules in a human brain obey the exact same laws as water molecules in an asteroid. The only things that can be considered self evident, are inviolable laws.

    Rights are the product of thoughtful people studying the laws of nature and determining how best to apply them.

    When you make something mystical out of rights, you are leaving yourself wide open to the those morally relativistic, multi-cultural, “nobody’s truth is more right than anybody else’s” arguments that can only be defeated by, … guess what. Reason! And that reason is based on what? Observation and deduction. And in that playing field, the odds are all on our side.

  • Midwesterner

    Hi Scarecrow, I didn’t see your post in time to include it in my comment. I think I agree with what you are saying but I actually kind of liked his choice of the word “dispense”.

    But I think you’re also stating that rights exist only between humans. Maybe you can elaborate or contradict my reply to Rich.

  • Euan Gray

    Rights are abstractions created by human intellect in the context of the general consensus of contemporary opinion. They have no a priori existence or meaning. Any alleged a priori existence stemming from the concept of property is meaningless, because property is also an abstract concept created by human intellect. Rights change with changes in human culture – there is no right to own slaves now, and we all apparently have the right to be free (for a given definition of free), but previously this was not so and slave ownership was a right in almost every western society until the late 18th/early 19th century. Several of the Founding Fathers, despite spouting rhetoric about inalienable rights and liberties, were slave owners – possibly the rights were then seen as inalienable only for adult white males, but there it is. To say people have any inalienable natural rights is imbecilic, because what you might consider an inalienable natural right now was not seen as such in, say, ancient Rome and might not be seen as such in a couple of centuries.

    Julian Morrison is correct to say rights don’t need a government to give birth to them. However, in practice they generally need a government to enforce prohibitions on others trampling over them. Without a government, you rights are limited by your personal ability to defend them, whereas with a government they are limited by the ability of the judicial arm of the state to defend them – which is somewhat greater.

    The earlier point about government, society and contract is valid, IMO. Because it is impossible to select before birth one’s country of residence, one must deal with the situation in front of one. This means, in practical terms, that you are essentially party to a contract between society, of which you are a member whether you like it or not, and the state. Your explicit prior consent is not needed because it is in fact impossible. However, you can break the contract at any time by settling your dues and leaving. This is entirely voluntary.

    You DON’T have the right to demand that you get to stay in the US (for example) AND that the US government changes to suit you. It doesn’t work that way, and it is puerile to assume that it ever could.

    You DO have the right to demand that the US government obeys the law, but part of that deal is that you need to obey the law too, and of course the law can be changed.

    It should also be noted that rights granted by the constitution are not absolute. It is not in practice possible to grant absolute rights, and all such grants are conditional. A reading of the constitution will make this plain to anyone but those determined not to see.

    EG

  • Richard Thomas

    Rights as I have come to view them arise from the need of self-interested individuals to interact with each other without having to slaughter each other at each turn. Without invoking the religious aspects of the term, the rights I claim are the very embodiment of “do unto others”.

    In the absence of a global agreement about aspects of religion and the nature of existence, the most rational attitude to take is a “mirror” equivalence of individual liberty to do as one will as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others in all except the most extenuating of circumstances.

    Governments have nothing to do with rights other than that they can respect them or abrogate them. Clearly this has to be so otherwise there would be no progress to be had. Why outlaw slavery if one has the “right” to own slaves as given by law? No, rather, the law must change to recognise the right of men to be free and have self ownership.

    You are correct, of course, that my view of rights is predicated on certain outlooks. In my case, that is the idea that all people are equal (in the important aspects though not all of course). Others may not agree of course, but other options include nihilism (which leaves us nowhere to go) or religion (and the absence of a specific deity coming down and throwing thunderbolts at the unbelievers, we are left with the (often bloody) question of which one).

    In terms of forming a social structure (in our case, government but not necessarily) for moderating the interactions of individuals, I happen to believe that my outlook provides the most fair and equitable model. Unfortunately, the government we currently have is ever increasingly concerened with collectivism which is basicalyy, if you can find enough people to agree with you, you can feel free to abrogate the rights of others.

    Rich

  • Richard Thomas

    So, tell me if you can. Are rights a product of reason and values? Or are they a product of metaphysics? (Greek words meta = after/beyond and physics = nature)

    reason and values *are* metaphysical. At the base physical level, we are a bunch of animals running around on a big ball of rock in space trying to make best uses of the finite resources available to us.

    The question is, where we go from there.

    Rich

  • Midwesterner

    Cool. Now I have to think! This is going into epistemological presumptions I took as a given.

    I think that most of us here presumably believe there is an absolute reality that can be observed. That reality is within nature. Not supernatural. We need to concede nothing to people who claim supernatural knowledge or the impossibility of knowledge. Therefore, we better clean our own logic up first. To that end –

    First, reality exists separately from our perceptions.

    Second, reason is based on this reality.

    Hence, reason is not metaphysical, all though it is vulnerable to flawed perceptions.

    Richard, are you saying that all knowledge is an infinite regress? It sounds like you are rejecting coherentism and Objectivism and related theories of knowledge. Presumably you doubt our perceptions? Maybe I should ask, do you believe in an absolute reality separate from our perceptions?

    On this site, there is a very high probability that you are acquainted with the epistemology of objectivism. Does it work for you?

    I’m going to be in and out but would like to continue this discussion. It is absolutely imperative that we move the discussion of rights and justice to a basis of reason guided by our best perceptions of reality.

  • Euan Gray

    First, reality exists separately from our perceptions

    Prove it. It’s a reasonable assumption to make, but there is absolutely no way, even in theory, to prove that any objective reality actually exists. We just assume it does.

    Second, reason is based on this reality

    It’s based on our perceptions of what we assume is or may be reality. That’s not necessarily the same thing, and of course different people and different groups sometimes have different perceptions.

    Hence, reason is not metaphysical

    Up to a point.

    The point is that what we call reason is ultimately based upon a series of unverifiable assumptions. Whether our reason is reasonable or not depends not on any objective measure of truth or fact (for ultimately there can be no such thing) but on whether or not in coincides with our preconceptions and, perhaps more critically, whether or not it produces useful results.

    In the case of rights and justice, the best that can be done is to create a system which is broadly acceptable to the majority of people in society at the time of formulation. There are no eternal verities, and as the broad opinion of society changes over time (as it always does), so too changes the idea of what constitutes an appropriate and reasonable set of rights and code of justice.

    Outside a metaphysical world-view, it is not possible to formulate a system or code which is eternally true or right. It is a waste of time and effort to try, although this has never stopped people yet.

    EG

  • Midwesterner

    Hi Euan,
    I’ve read many of your posts over the months. I’ve seen you jump the net enough times to think you may enjoy the debate more than the product. All the same, I’ve enjoyed many of your posts.

    Let’s start with your easy points. You said,

    “In the case of rights and justice, the best that can be done is to create a system which is broadly acceptable to the majority of people in society at the time of formulation. There are no eternal verities, and as the broad opinion of society changes over time (as it always does), so too changes the idea of what constitutes an appropriate and reasonable set of rights and code of justice.”

    Reason can not effect anything in a stasis. Broad opinion must change. Reasoned values are antithetical to stasis. Unless some hypothetical total and perfect knowledge were achieved, change is unavoidable.

    Now, to address the rest of your points. The all, in essence, doubt of the fundamental nature of reality.

    If there is not an absolute underlying reality that all have an opportunity to perceive, then we would all have to be living in our own mental construct. That’s extremely unlikely, but not impossible.

    If you or anyone else holds that reality is a mental construct, then there is a simple solution without the need of disproving it. “This is MY mental construct. YOU, GET OUT!”

    If reality is a mental construct, I can construct for myself an absolute reality and act accordingly. In either case, the response is the same. I act and I require others to act as though there is an absolute reality.

    That puts us back to human relations based on a functional definite reality, whether it exists, or not.

    Midwesterner’s Law of Alternate Realities. “When confronted with an argument for alternate and individually perceived ‘realities’, you, in your own ‘reality’ can claim a certainty of one absolute reality and proceed accordingly. Whether it is true or not is irrelevant.”

  • Euan Gray

    I like the product, but only when it works. Many libertarian products are theoretically great but unlikely to survive contact with reality.

    The point I was trying to make above was that one cannot construct a concept of rights which is always valid since rights are based on perceptions and general consensus, which change. There is nothing upon which to construct such a system. Even if we could prove the existence of such a reality, it would not alter the point that a code of rights (essentially, a morality) is constructed NOT on any actual or putative reality but on a general consensus of opinion about that reality, and this consensus changes. Assuming a fixed reality is the realm of metaphysics and religion.

    It is therefore pointless to try to come up with some system of rights that it eternally valid. You can look at it as logically as you like, you can consider reality to be real or perceived, but you still cannot come up woth something true now and always.

    Is the right to bear arms always valid? Would it be valid in the context of a global population of 10 million? 20 million? More? If there are severe shortages of food, clothing, energy?

    Is the right to privacy universally valid? Is it still valid in a time where all can communicate anything they want instantly and anywhere? Is it still valid when they can do that AND transport anything anywhere, any time, instantly?

    Is the right to property universally valid? How about in an age when machines do all the work, humans don’t need to do anything to survive, money doesn’t exist any more and there is no concept of an economy?

    And so on. In such significantly different environments, human culture would change a great deal, doubtless giving rise as always to many different ways of tackling the problems, but it could be reasonably assumed that the morality – and hence rights – assumed by those societies would be quite different than ours.

    EG

  • Midwesterner

    “Many libertarian products are theoretically great but unlikely to survive contact with reality.”

    Or even each other, I might add.

    “The point …. a fixed reality is the realm of metaphysics and religion.”

    But does it matter? To put my presumptively named “law” in different terms, On the two ends of the scale, Direct Realists believe there is an absolute reality that we perceive and Solipsists hold that there is only our imagination. So even if Solipsism is correct, someone who believes Direct Realism must act in accordance with it. The metaphysical possibilities are irrelevant. Therefore, are to be ignored.

    Or yet another way would be if you were to say to me, “You cannot know reality is real, you have only your perceptions.” And I would reply “My perception is that you are wrong. My perception of your errancy is at least as valid as is your’s of mine. MORE valid, because it IS mine, and that is all I can know.”

    You make a statement near the end,

    “And so on. In such significantly different environments, human culture would change a great deal, doubtless giving rise as always to many different ways of tackling the problems, but it could be reasonably assumed that the morality – and hence rights – assumed by those societies would be quite different than ours.”

    Exactly. I copied this statement from one of my very first posts in this thread.

    “ I choose to cooperate under a constitutional contract with other like minded people, and receive the protections gained from a strong alliance.”

    To that I add, I want to be in an alliance of people that believe in any absolute reality, or at least act as though there is. People who believe actions and consequences are tied.

  • Midwesterner

    Typo error. That should have been “an absolute reality”

  • Euan Gray

    But does it matter?

    Yes, if you try to create a moral code (or system of rights) that is eternally true and valid.

    Go back to slavery. In the 18th century a great many people considered blacks naturally inferior to whites in several ways and from there satisfied themselves that slavery was natural – indeed, that people had a right to own slaves if they wished. Today, very few people think like this. So something that was perceived as a right as little as 200 years ago (less in the US) is today seen as abhorrent, because the perceptions of reality held by the majority have changed. Who is to say they will not change again for other matters?

    My point is that you cannot come up with a fixed system of even minimal rights that is true once and forever because perceptions, culture and morality change a great deal over time.

    I don’t subscribe to the ideas of natural rights or natural law. I don’t see any basis for such ideas at all, and I don’t believe that there can actually be such a basis. The rights generally accepted at any given time in any given culture are the rights that work for that culture at that time, no more.

    I’m not saying we should not have rights, merely that the rights we should have now are the rights that work now. They would not necessarily have worked in the past and they will not necessarily work in the future.

    In that respect, whether there is an ultimate reality or not does matter. If there is – and if we can prove there is – an ultimate reality, then we can base permanent rights thereon, but if there is not – or if we cannot prove there is – then we can only adopt and grant rights appropriate for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. A pragmatic rather than a dogmatic approach, that is to say.

    But the idea of a concrete ultimate reality upon which we found our rights is indeed a metaphysical concept. It gives us the like of religious proscriptions against abortion and homosexuality which, though they may have been quite sensible and indeed desirable AT THE TIME, are no longer necessarily advantageous to our society & the proponents of them appear deluded, old-fashioned or eccentric. Such is the price of dogmatism.

    EG

  • MayDay72

    Must…Resist…Urge…To…Debate…The…Meaning…Of…”Rights”…

    After reading much of the debate involving Midwesterner, I am reminded why I always stick to the “utilitarian” arguments in similar discussions. I’ve become fairly convinced that Hobbesian (social contracts, etc.) or Lockean (natural rights, etc.) beliefs are somehow “hard-wired” into us. Natural rights theory is cool among many libertarians and a lot of people from the political “right” who read lots of Locke, Jefferson, etc…But the discussion will always hit a “wall” if you try to base an argument on natural rights if one of the individuals in the discussion is too far removed (politically, philosophically, religiously, etc.) from such ideas.

  • Midwesterner

    Darn it, Euan. Your supposed to jump the net and hit it back. It seems almost like we’re playing doubles against an empty court.

    Maybe I can pick at a point that we may or may not disagree on. You say that –

    “In that respect, whether there is an ultimate reality or not does matter. If there is – and if we can prove there is – an ultimate reality, then we can base permanent rights thereon, but if there is not – or if we cannot prove there is – then we can only adopt and grant rights appropriate for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. A pragmatic rather than a dogmatic approach, that is to say.”

    It does not change anything to know that there is an ‘ultimate’ reality unless we know what that reality is. Somewhere back in the dark reaches of (I think) this thread, I mentioned a hypothetical ‘perfect’ knowledge. If this perfect knowledge were achieved, it would suggest that rights could be established permanently. Or at least predicted if they needed to alter with time.

    Side bar: While I say hypothetical, in an earlier thread (Link) I said

    “At some point,a system running in a chaotic mode will be able to posit and test any number of theories faster than an un-enhanced human could imagine. If the system is connected to a means of manufacture …? Think of it as knowledge critical-mass.

    At this point, the knowledge of the universe could be released. Think V-ger to the nth.”

    Maybe it’s not that hypothetical. Different topic. This thread is already far enough off of topic.

    You also said –

    “If there is – and if we can prove there is – an ultimate reality, then we can base permanent rights thereon,”

    It’s not enough to prove that there is ultimate reality, it would require perfect knowledge. I think those two would come together, if ever. Until perfect knowledge exists, it doesn’t matter, I think. And anybody who claims perfect knowledge in it’s obvious absence, is merely making a disguised metaphysical claim.

    And MayDay72, you can’t put up a teaser like that and go away so here’s this. I’ve also been inclined toward utilitarian arguments but they are lame in the face of religious attack. They require value judgments. I think anyone who relies on ‘natural’ or pre-ordained or ‘God-given’ rights is cutting corners. I still don’t see the fundamental difference in validity between that and the Wahabists validity. If we want to bring the government to a basis of rational thought, we need to do better than that.

  • MayDay72

    Midwesterner,

    Actually I agree with many of your qualms and questions regarding natural rights theory. But I have many of the same concerns regarding Hobbesian/social contract theory…Which seems to be the general direction that many of your arguments and opinions seem to come from.

    You seem a unconvinced by arguments based on “natural rights”, “natural law”, “inherent rights”, etc. But I start scratching my head when people start talking about “living breathing documents”, “cooperative contracts”, “democratic consensus”, etc.

    I find the definition of “rights” based on such a philosophy to basically be:

    (A) Things that some or most of us guys have decided we’d like to have. (B) Which we may or may not have wanted before. (C) Which we may or may not want in the future. (D) Which we we decided we’d like to have by “democratic consensus” via Magic 8 Ball or dart board. (E) That other people might or might not already have. (F) That might or might not be economically feasible in the long term. (G) Which may or may not require removing things from other guys by using sharp sticks and big rocks

  • Euan Gray

    It’s only a question of perfect knowledge if we are trying to create a permanent system of rights which is absolutely valid once and for all.

    I don’t think, though, that “perfect knowledge” is any more feasible than verification of the true nature of reality. Knowledge is necessarily flawed and limited, and it cannot be otherwise because ultimately you come up against Heisenberg and the principle of uncertainty. Our knowledge of reality can be at best an estimate, since more detailed knowledge does not exist – this is not to say that we do not yet understand it, it is to say that the information just does not exist. I say therefore that it is in principle impossible to construct a system of permanent rights. I think this leads to the conclusion that natural right is no more meaningful a concept than right granted by divine fiat.

    I have problems accepting the existence of the divine or supernatural, at least in practical terms. In principle, there is no reason why it cannot exist, but by definition we cannot test its existence. It is therefore a question of faith, and following the same principle a belief in natural right is at least as much a question of faith.

    So, how to answer the pragmatic question of the grant of rights in a real human society?

    I think, as stated before, that what works in the context of the time and culture in question is what to do. Turning (at last) back to the topic of the thread, we could question the grant of the right to keep and bear arms.

    No right is absolute, and the second amendment right is no different than any other in this sense. Ignoring dogma of pro and anti sides, the grant of right is plainly contingent. The contingency of the right has never been contradicted by any federal court, although in exactly what ways it is contingent has been debated and disagreed.

    If the state decides to evacuate a city, and if certain residents of that city have exchanged fire with the state, it seems prudent that the state would forcibly disarm the citizenry as part of the evacuation process. Given that the right of the citizens to keep arms is contingent, there seems no right-based argument that they should not be disarmed in certain circumstances. The problem with the objection to this disarmament is the usual libertarian problem – conflict with reality (or at least the commonly accepted perception thereof, but let’s not get picky).

    The reality of human nature is that sufficiently large numbers of people are venal, ignorant, short-sighted and selfish. People are also social animals as well as individuals. Add this together and you have a society (which some libertarians claim does not exist) comprised of individuals, some of whom are unimpressive in their nature but most of whom function as part of a collective body at the same time that they are acting as individuals (a fact that seems to simply surpass the understanding of many libertarians).

    Parenthetically, an example of the duality of human nature: taxation. On the level of a selfish individual, I don’t want to pay taxes. Here it stops for many libertarians. However, when thinking as a member of a collective entity, I accept that some measure of taxation is inescapably necessary because at a minimum certain public goods have to be supplied. So part of me objects, part accepts.

    EG

  • Midwesterner

    Hi MayDay72

    Rousseau at least, assumes a ‘natural right’ which must be abandoned in a social contract. I didn’t quite figure how he proved it. Some years ago, I scratched the surface of Hobbes and Rousseau and abandoned them. I can’t remember why. Particularly I remember disliking Hobbes. Maybe you can elaborate on your concerns. I may share them.

    I liked what I knew of Descartes except for his dream reasoning. I thought he satisfied himself that it was wrong, but I don’t remember on what grounds.

    For the list,
    (A) Yes
    (B) Yes
    (C) Yes, though not all will admit it.
    (D) You left out individual consent. Subscription.
    (E) Yes.
    (F) We can adjust if we make a mistake.
    (G) Or, more probably, protecting things from …

    I just don’t understand libertarian dogma very well. 20 years ago I read Atlas Shrugged and thought I was an Objectivist. Then I actually met some. I realize that it’s a religion with dogma, saints, heresy, and no conclusion reached by The Ayn can be challenged.

    And to be a good Randroid, I must smoke and not eat soybeans.

    Euan, I don’t think a system of rights any more permanent than the contract holders’ decide they should be, is necessary or possible.

    I think the truth of Heisenberg’s theory is still uncertain.

    Your approach is contingent on a system of values to decide what works. Or isn’t it? How to justify those values?

    And yes, all rights are contingent. But that contingency occurs at the level of a government’s willingness to keep it promises. No interpretive approach to the constitution that violates the constitution itself is anything other than a breach of contract. (Too many negatives in that sentence.) I claim government has no validity beyond that of its citizens.

    “If the state decides to evacuate a city, and if certain residents of that city have exchanged fire with the state, it seems prudent that the state would forcibly disarm the citizenry as part of the evacuation process. Given that the right of the citizens to keep arms is contingent, there seems no right-based argument that they should not be disarmed in certain circumstances. The problem with the objection to this disarmament is the usual libertarian problem – conflict with reality (or at least the commonly accepted perception thereof, but let’s not get picky).”

    The problem here is not the violation of some reality. It’s the violation of the agreement between the citizens and the government. In this case, law abiding citizens are constitutionally allowed the means to defend themselves. Our US government is to go after criminals, not the tools that can be used for crime. Virtually everything falls into the latter category and it is the equivalent of no rights at all.

    “The reality of human nature is that sufficiently large numbers of people are venal, ignorant, short-sighted and selfish. People are also social animals as well as individuals. Add this together and you have a society (which some libertarians claim does not exist) comprised of individuals, some of whom are unimpressive in their nature but most of whom function as part of a collective body at the same time that they are acting as individuals (a fact that seems to simply surpass the understanding of many libertarians).”

    This is were I think a distinction needs to be made between ‘collective’ and ‘cooperating’. It’s the matter of force and right to withdraw. We fence people out, Totalitarians fence them IN.

    Regarding taxation. I don’t think a government has a inate ‘right’ to tax. It’s something that should be in the terms. Would you buy a condo if the condo association had no provision to maintain the roof?

  • Euan Gray

    I don’t think a system of rights any more permanent than the contract holders’ decide they should be, is necessary or possible

    Which is my point – and since what the parties wish will change over time, so the rights granted or denied will change. It is rather pointless to try and construct a rational and lasting system of rights, in this case.

    I think the truth of Heisenberg’s theory is still uncertain.

    This is either a pun or a lack of understanding of what Heisenberg meant. If the former, very droll. If the latter, uncertainty is not uncertain. Perfect knowledge is impossible, since complete information does not exist and cannot exist.

    contingency occurs at the level of a government’s willingness to keep it promises

    This is, I think, a common libertarian error – it pushes the burden of everything onto the state. True, the state has an obligation to keep its promise. But so do the people have an obligation to keep theirs and not to abuse their right or break the law. It cuts both ways.

    I claim government has no validity beyond that of its citizens

    It has no security beyond the tolerance of its citizens, that’s true. Cromwell posited the right of the people to revolt against tyranny (that’s where the philosophical justification for the American revolution ultimately comes from), and asserted that a king could not rule against the consent of his subjects. This is only common sense, of course.

    In a democratic state, however, what matters is the proportion of people not actively opposing the government. I’d generally agree with your sentiment on the validity of government, but I think it important to note in this regard that those who refuse to vote in a democracy do not detract from the validity of the government – they just fail to make their voice heard. Perhaps some think that if they don’t vote they don’t give consent, and therefore the state has no moral right to interfere with them. It doesn’t work that way, and it is crass stupidity to think it does or can.

    In this case, law abiding citizens are constitutionally allowed the means to defend themselves

    But you accepted above that all rights are necessarily contingent, and therefore you must accept that the constitutional right of the people to keep arms is contingent. The constitution does not actually say anything about the right applying only to the law abiding, or that criminality is the sole reason it can be abrogated.

    There is no agreement between citizens and state that law abiding people have an absolute and irrevocable right to keep whatever arms they choose in any and all circumstances. The constitution simply doesn’t say that.

    Furthermore, the state also has rights and powers granted by the constitution. The (federal) state has a right to preserve order and put down by force insurrection, rebellion and by extension violent disorder. It would be somewhat stupid to say that in exercising this right it is forbidden to disarm people.

    a distinction needs to be made between ‘collective’ and ‘cooperating’. It’s the matter of force and right to withdraw

    “Collective” does not mean forcible.

    EG

  • Midwesterner

    “ … It is rather pointless to try and construct a rational and lasting system of rights, in this case.”

    Leave out “lasting” and it is very much to the point.

    “… complete information does not exist and cannot exist.”

    It was both a pun and a personal statement of (non) confidence. Quantum mechanics should be considered a model of reality, not an understanding. Being a model, it can predict to a statistical degree of accuracy without knowing why. Wave v particle, nobody understands anything at the quantum level. Heisenberg, Schrödinger, they were all building models that predicted but do not understand. Your point they can only predict to a statistically identifiable degree of accuracy and can’t predict individual events should not be taken to mean anything more than that. It’s far from certain. I do not except the “cannot” in your statement. It’s still an uncertainty 😉

    “True, the state has an obligation to keep its promise. But so do the people have an obligation to keep theirs and not to abuse their right or break the law. It cuts both ways.”

    Are you suggesting that if any citizen breaks the contract that the government is entitled to break the contract with all citizens? That’s untenable.

    Regarding “It has no security …..” and “In a democratic state,…” pretty much, yeah. But about revolt, I’ll paraphrase Perry’s statement. “1 person is a martyr, 60 million are a movement”.

    “But you accepted above that all rights are necessarily contingent, and therefore you must accept that the constitutional right of the people to keep arms is contingent. The constitution does not actually say anything about the right applying only to the law abiding, or that criminality is the sole reason it can be abrogated.”

    Euan, we are speaking of constitutions in general. All rights are contingent on a government keeping its side of the contract. It is not the ‘constitutional’ part of the right that is contingent, it’s the exercise of it. To which I refer you back to Perry’s statement.

    “There is no agreement between citizens and state that law abiding people have an absolute and irrevocable right to keep whatever arms they choose in any and all circumstances. The constitution simply doesn’t say that.”

    I suppose that you are referring to our US constitution, in which case it depends on whether you are a strict constructionist or a living document sort of person.

    “It would be somewhat stupid to say that in exercising this right it is forbidden to disarm people.”

    Only if the contract says so.

    “Collective” does not mean forcible.

    I generalized. Furthermore, I substituted symptom for substance. All the same, collective does require forcible.

  • Euan Gray

    Your point they can only predict to a statistically identifiable degree of accuracy and can’t predict individual events should not be taken to mean anything more than that. It’s far from certain

    That’s not really true. Furthermore, advances in understanding resulting from the study of chaos merely reinforce the point of uncertainty. Perfect knowledge does not exist, the data simply doesn’t exist.

    Are you suggesting that if any citizen breaks the contract that the government is entitled to break the contract with all citizens?

    No, and this isn’t happening either. The government in New Orleans seeks to disarm the populace before evacuating it, for the pragmatic and sensible reason that some people have decided for whatever reason to use force against the government. It is in no sense trying disarm the entire population of the state or the nation. It’s not realistic to expect that the government could evacuate the place whilst leaving arms in the hands of some, presumably only the law-abiding. This may be theoretically desirable, but it is lunacy in practice.

    1 person is a martyr, 60 million are a movement

    Perhaps so. However, rhetoric aside, I see no evidence of the armed “movement” standing up to the state in any significant or meaningful way whatsoever. Not entirely germane to this thread, but the argument that an armed populace prevents tyranny is patent nonsense. Even if 60 million are a movement, they can still lose.

    All rights are contingent on a government keeping its side of the contract

    Yes, but ALSO on the people keeping their side of the contract. It is not one-sided, although such a simplistic view does appear to be common amongst ideologues since it suits their preconceptions. Reality is, however, a little different.

    Suppose there is in a hypothetical state the general right to keep and bear arms. Suppose, though, that the exercise by the people of this right results in high levels of murder and looting. Suppose then that the state revokes the right and the rates of murder and looting fall dramatically. Which is more important – your personal right to keep arms or the general right of the people to live without ridiculous levels of fear and insecurity? The weakness in the libertarian view of rights is that it puts too much emphasis on the individual right and not enough on the general consequences of the exercise of that right. In our hypothetical example, the state has an obligation not to prohibit the possession of arms because it is a right of the people. However, if the people exercise the right irresponsibly and cause bigger problems, it is at least arguable that the right could be revoked because the exercise of the right results in a greater wrong than the revocation of the right. So both state and people have obligations as well as rights.

    I suppose that you are referring to our US constitution, in which case it depends on whether you are a strict constructionist or a living document sort of person.

    No it does not depend on this. The constitution simply does not say it and no amount of semantic wriggling can say it does.

    The interpretation of the constitution is a tricky thing. My own view is that it is a product of its time, like pretty much everything else, and that the assumptions in it may have been perfectly valid and sensible in the 18th century but not necessarily in the 21st. Things change, and society has changed radically over the past 230 years. America is no longer a large nation with a tiny population living in an agrarian culture, and any system of government needs to recognise that things like this do change, the consequences of the exercise of certain rights may be radically different, some rights may be counterproductive and other rights not granted 230 years ago may be desirable now.

    Only if the contract says so

    The insistence on a pedantic and explicit statement of what can and cannot be done, an utterly inflexible approach, seems to be characteristic of a certain strand of libertarian thought. It leads to such delusional thinking as that the state cannot levy income tax without the 16th amendment, Spooner’s “no contract” bilge, and so on. Such an approach only works if nothing changes. Since everything changes, it is necessary to be more flexible.

    All the same, collective does require forcible

    No it does not. Marriage is a collective – in fact a communistic – institution. It does not require force. Joining a country club (or any club or society) is joining a collective, but requires no force.

    You have to obey the rules of the society (the collective) you join, but you can of course leave. What you can’t do is join and demand the benefits without paying the costs, or assume that the rules don’t apply to you, or only apply if you personally agree with them. If you consider that force, then you have an erroneous conception of what collective actually means.

    Again, though, it works both ways. If you think that the collective enforcement of the rules of the collective is force, then perhaps you should consider that the desire not to have the rules apply to you but still to obtain the benefits of the collective is force – force exerted by you against the collective.

    I missed your point earlier about taxation. I don’t say the state has some inherent right to levy taxes, but I do say that if the state is to function it does need money, and that money has to come from somewhere. The more the state is expected to do – and in a democracy the people’s desire for the state to do more will generally increase – so the income the state needs increases. Again it must come from somewhere, and if not from taxation then from where?

    This is linked to the question of force. You can say that if the state taxes you to provide services you don’t use then this is force. However, the alternative is to either forcibly deny others what they want or to demand that only they pay for it. This is not really different than having an inactive state, and the problem with that – however desirable it may be – is that most people seem unaccountably to disagree with such an outcome. The only way you can remove such state force is, really, by force.

    EG

    EG

  • The weakness in the libertarian view of rights is that it puts too much emphasis on the individual right and not enough on the general consequences of the exercise of that right

    Which only shows that Euan has almost no concept of what ‘the libertarian view of rights’ actually is. In reality libertarianism is almost entirely about consequences. I too can harshly critique aspects of libertarianism but then I actually understand what most libertarians really do think. But as the evidence suggests putting Euan right on that (again) will not result in him actually arguing his weak but by no means unsupportable case from a position of knowledge in the future, I will move on.

    The semantic issue is simple and like most semantic arguments, messy and unsatisfying: collective and collectivist are not the same thing. Samizdata.net is a collective and I have yet to threaten its contributors to keep them writting, so Euan is correct. However… Collectivist is usually used to mean enforced collectivism, i.e. what state socialism or fascism (for example) does.

    For example, a voluntary collective, even a non-state socialist one (say, a kibbutz) would not be collectivist by that definition because you can simply leave if you change your mind and set up a private farm across the street from it in competition.

    And moving on again, the right to bear arms is really just the right to defend yourself effectively in a social context (even the Second Amendment says ‘well regulated’, so no firing off guns in the air on Main Street in a fit of exuberance). As that can only be done arms in many instances, to deprive a person of that right is to deprive them of the right to defend themselves against violence at all. I am not inclined to point out yet again how you can derive objective and rational moral theories to support that… take it to email amongst yourselves if you really want to continue that sort of discussion.

  • Euan Gray

    I actually understand what most libertarians really do think

    That’s not enough. You also have to consider what would happen if what such people think was put into practice. Theory and reality are not the same thing.

    In reality libertarianism is almost entirely about consequences

    And it gets it completely wrong. It underestimates the consequences of a less restricted individualism, especially in the context of a far more heavily populated planet and in cultures where most people live in high density urban areas. It is workable in a more bucolic and less interdependent world, but not in the contemporary west – and this is because it doesn’t address properly the wider consequences of its assumptions.

    One of the acceptable restrictions on liberty usually quoted is that on free speech, where one should not shout “Fire” in a crowded theatre. What libertarianism doesn’t seem to realise too well is that nowadays there are a lot more theatres, people spend more of their time in them and the crowds are bigger. The consequences are somewhat different. Libertarianism may have an 18th century view of the world, but unfortunately the world has moved on just a little.

    Libertarianism is pretty good on the consequences of the excessively mighty state and its attendant petty regulation. However, it seems so consumed with attention on the mote in another’s eye that it does not see the beam in its own, as it were.

    Collectivist is usually used to mean enforced collectivism, i.e. what state socialism or fascism (for example) does.

    This is one meaning of the word, but not the only one. In any case, the point is hardly relevant since it was “collective” and not “collectivist” that was being discussed.

    As that can only be done arms in many instances, to deprive a person of that right is to deprive them of the right to defend themselves against violence at all

    Actually, it is to deprive them of A means of defending themselves against violence, not ALL means, and it does not deprive them at all of the RIGHT to defend themselves against violence – merely the right to defend in a specific manner. Your assertion is overreaction.

    But the point is that the state is in this instance TEMPORARILY depriving the citizenry of this right, in view of specific extenuating circumstances. The right is not absolute, it is contingent, and one of the contingencies in which it might be suspended has just arisen. After this is over, the people will be allowed to keep their arms again because the contingency is gone. It is petty and childish to argue that a temporary disarmament for the purposes of maintaining order is the same as a permanent revocation of a constitutional right, and I suggest that that type of histrionic overreaction is a factor in turning people off libertarianism.

    EG