What Are Rights?

I’m talking about the broader sense of “rights”, not rights that are specifically listed by some document written by a bunch of 18th century lawyers.  I’m talking about the concept of rights.  How do you define that concept?

Do rights encompass all of the things you’d simply like to have?  Are they the things that are necessary to sustain life?  Are they the things necessary to live comfortably?  Maybe everyone has a different answer.  For me, the easiest way to answer the question is to consider the things to which I’m entitled.  And for me, the things I have a right to end where the rights of others begin.  I’m able to determine which rights I have by defining the rights, or entitlements, I don’t have.

I’m not entitled to anything that requires a sacrifice on the part of anyone else.

I may covet these things.  I may try to trade for these things.  I may wait for others to decide to give me these things.  I may even try to convince someone to give me these things now.  But I can’t take these things, at least not morally.  Sounds reasonable enough, right?  We can agree is true?  If so, then we must also (by logic) agree that the contra positive is true.  More specifically, I am entitled to anything that does not require a sacrifice on the part of someone else.

If that made sense, keep reading.  If your brain is already scrambled by the terms “entitled”, “contra positive”, and “logic”, that’s cool.  Just come back in a few hours…I’ll be posting another edition of “The Roost” later tonight.  I pride myself on providing a little something for everybody.

Still with me?  Cool.

So as an example, let’s consider speech.  I feel I have a right to speak my mind.  This right does not require anyone else to relinquish their own right to speak their mind, but it is limited to speech that can cause someone else immediate physical harm (the “yelling ‘fire’ in a theater” example).   The same principle obviously applies to other things like art, religion, etc.

What about the right to be armed?  Again, it’s one I feel all of us have as long as we are not hurting anyone else.  In other words, being armed is fine, but using a weapon against someone is not.  Makes sense, right?  I mean, you have the right to make a fist, but you don’t have the right to hit someone else with it.  Of course, there are people who disagree with this as even a basic argument.  They feel there’s never a need for an individual to have a weapon because the state is perfectly capable of protecting your person and property.  Well, um….ok.

But let’s assume that we can all agree that we all have a right to bear arms.  In fact, let’s make it easy for everyone to accept the argument by saying that each of us has the right not to carry a gun, but to do something silly, like wear boxing gloves.  Of course, we don’t have the right to punch anyone else in the face unless we’re protecting our property or person, but we do have the right to wear a boxing glove, even in public.  Is that something we can all agree on?


But what if I added a small caveat?  What if I said that I not only have the right to wear boxing gloves, but that you have the responsibility to provide one (or two) for me?  Let’s take it even further–what if I said that I had the right to be given not only a boxing glove, but a high quality boxing glove.  And what if I claimed I was also entitled to hand wraps, a trainer, a heavy bag to practice with, a gym membership?  After all, what good are these expensive boxing gloves you just bought for me if I can’t use them effectively?

If you’re sane, you would probably balk at this idea.  Of course I have the right to boxing gloves.  I even have the right to wear them in public.  But it’s not your responsibility to give them to me.  And you certainly shouldn’t be held financially responsible for the quality of any gloves that I own, nor my ability to use them effectively.  Even if there were 15,000 people whom I forced asked to give me a penny each to pay for these high quality boxing gloves, it still wouldn’t be fair to them.  That idea is absurd, right?

And even the staunchest “gun nut” NRA member would laugh at the idea of being provided a gun by society/government.   The most fervent gun rights supporters can at least agree with the anti-gun camp on that one idea.

Assuming you have the right to carry a gun, you most certainly don’t have the right to be provided one by society.  The right to a “free” gun, or boxing gloves, or coffee, or Tootsie Roll Pops, or bread, or water is ridiculous by anyone’s standards.

So why does this concept change for so many people when the conversation turns to health care?  Sure you have the right to get health care if you choose to pursue it, but how can you make the logical argument that you are entitled to health care?  Couldn’t you use the same argument to claim you also have the “right” to auto maintenance, lawn care, vacations, comfortable furniture, tax advice, and organic food?  Don’t these things improve your quality of life as well?

These are all things I’d love to have free of charge.  I’m not saying the logical argument that I have the right to someone else’s work and efforts doesn’t exist.  I’m sure it does…I just haven’t seen it yet.  I would be much obliged if you could provide the argument for the right to health care in the comments.  I’m a logical person and am open to reason.  I would loved to be armed with this argument so that I can begin to get all of these other things at no cost to me without feeling like I’m stealing.

Now, I’m off to check the mail.  I’m pretty sure someone may have sent me a pair of boxing gloves.

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4 Replies to “What Are Rights?”

  1. The right to healthcare comes from the understanding that we have the right to health. In a world where we are kind, unselfish, and careful this is a low priority problem. Each other wold be sharing home remedies and bandaging each other up. The problem is that we are a broken world that involves superbugs, needles, and end stage renal disease. You have the right to be healthy and safe. If someone is charging $4000 a CT scan (my latest bill) and you can’t afford the private health insurance, the private health sector has violated your right to be healthy and safe.
    Your example would work if companies were not violating peoples right to be healthy and safe. Since they are, there has to be a guard set up. My government convictions, though, don’t stem from anyone popular. I’m a congolmeration of Hobbes, Locke, and Kant.

    I’ve lived overseas. I was given better care in a social healthcare setting in a country that I was not a citizen of than I do here when I have to be hospitilized and taken to the ER (happens a lot to me, unfortunately). The debate and anger socialized healthcare creates is a phenom that happens only in the States, when it comes to if we should have it. Currently, our healthcare system is about as fantastic as, oh, Nigeria.

  2. So are you saying boxing gloves are weapons? I always thought they made it safer for the punchee.

    I think the best place to look for an analogy is food, childcare, and other welfare, not the bill of rights. I am too lazy to look up why the legislatures enacted these programs, but once you entitle the government to steal your money, if you can get about 275 or so people to agree with how to redistribute the money, bam -congratulations – you are now entitled to, say, digital converter boxes for your television.

  3. TCH,
    No, I’m saying boxing gloves are so benign that no one would ever protest to your right to wear them in public. Safer for the punchee? Not sure about that…they allow the puncher to hit the punchee a whole lot more times without breaking his hands. I’m sure those aggregated punches do a lot more damage.

    Food is the obvious “next big thing”. If the price of fig newtons goes up any higher I may have to switch to socialism.

  4. To Amber: The private health care industry hasn’t violated anything! The government has. Surely you know that you can get a better deal on Health Care by negotiating your bill and/or services with the health care provider up-front. Usually you’ll get a much better rate than you would with non-private health insurance.
    If everyone shopped around for the best deal on services and cut the insurance and government out of the equation, then the health care system would function much more like the free market system.
    Sure I think the government may have some place for providing some means for individuals that can’t provide for themselves, but once you open that box then everyone else is screwed. It’s a pretty difficult situation…I’ll give you that, but to say that socialized medicine is the answer is just plain wrong.
    And before you tell me that I don’t understand…again you’d be wrong. My wife was just diagnosed with a potentially debilitating disease and the last thing I am going to do is wait for some insurance company or government program to step up and help us out. Now that may happen, but in the mean time I am going to work my butt off to provide for my family, live below our means, and ‘shop’ for the best deal I can find.
    The worst thing that can happen is for the government to dictate to me how I should provide for my wife and her disease. And yeah, some may think it sucks, that money that could be put away toward retirement, college educations, or even groceries and gas is being spent of health care…a right by your definition, but it’s life and you play the hand your dealt and don’t look across the table for someone else to slide you five aces.
    I am truly sorry for your health troubles, I understand, but you have to make the most of it and do for yourself….you should know…no one else will.

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