Tag Archives: nihilism

UGH, rights?

Gay people don’t deserve rights.

That’s right. I said it. Gay people don’t deserve rights.
But nor do straight people.
Or white people.
Or aboriginal peoples.
And why?

Because they deserve better than the flimsy conception of rights, which are no more than a placeholder for our understandings about the way the world works, and the way our unique (or not) physiologies function within that world, and together, as a social collective. To write down a right makes it too easy to presume as granted. Too easy to forget that our real, active, scary participation is required every day to keep that piece of paper meaningful in a cynical world.

(And would you have read another one of my long-winded, preachy updates withOUT such an inflammatory title?)

It’s not a right. Whatever you think you should be able to do, or be free from, or have given to you is not a magical rule from some god or law of physics. Rights don’t exist least of all pertaining to objects outside you and how your ideas about them are treated.

There are the things & conditions you need to survive, those you need to live comfortably, and those you need to flourish as a human. That’s it.

There’s nothing inherent about you getting them, keeping them, or deserving them. I think people should have them all in abundance, but that’s a recognized opinion, not pretending to be a self-evident fact that I can use violence to enforce on others (as it is that our system does when sufficiently convinced of its “right” to this or that).

Those of my peers who seek redress for the terrible biological, psychological, and environmental have a favourite conception of this redress: namely the declaration of “rights”, signifying the social contracts between ourselves, and our resources, that we’ve recognized fundamentally underscore a high quality of life and hence lower rates of crime, social conflict, and destruction of habitat- either absolutely (like food, water, shelter) or more circumstantially with regards to our technological & scientific development (internet access, what access to “education” could/should mean). Having seemingly understood what is needed to heal our wounds, I feel that rather than apply the medicine, our habit has been to tie pretty bows around the vial (so to speak), and place it in a very ornate cabinet to signify our recognition to all. “We know what people’s rights are!” we proudly sniff, but we woefully miss a step; two if you ask me and George Carlin. Most noticeably is the lacking application: we say it, but don’t do it. We KNOW everyone needs food, water, shelter, education, socialization opportunities, communication tools, and a buffering practice against the stressors of modern, urban life (like meditation, TLC, shinrin yoku…), but we fail, very often, in delivering. And I think the reason lays in how we THINK about and hence act about “rights”. To quote George Carlin:

‘I hate to spoil the fun. But there’s really no such thing as rights. They’re imaginary. We made it up. Like the Boogie-man (…) Rights are just an idea. A cute idea I’ll give you that. But that’s all. Cute. And fictional.”
– George Carlin’

We forget they aren’t real. They a formal recognition of VERY REAL physical referents, but themselves cannot be measured or experimented on or located anywhere in reality. The physical referents are our metabolic processes, our social brains with mirror neurons and process of complex guilt and jealousy, our ever-quickening info-stream and the effects that has on our cultures. We know that we ALL need an equitable access to certain things for our lives to go smoothly on this planet -and this irrespective of who “owns” the food, who powers the grid. It doesn’t matter how we get them per se, or the moralizing we’d like (or not like) to put in the way: People need access to food, or they’ll steal it. People need homes or they’ll always feel unsafe and very likely be dangerous. And to ensure everyone knows what we know, we formalize these understandings into declarations and charters.

Well, I worry about “formalizing” them. Every time we put one down on a big, shiny, laminated piece of paper in a politician’s office, we leave it precisely where it will be cared about least, and with the greatest potential to be glossed-over, overlooked, or even totally ignored. By the time it hits that wall, it’s a token gesture. It’s efficacy has run dry. We transmute the understandings printed upon it, in the same way the primary teacher of a religion or philosophy has their message transmuted when they pass away, and their works are committed to papers and sermons. The inner, social/emotional volition -the direct, reality-touching understanding that sparked initial action- is dimmed, or wholly snuffed, and the lesson becomes rote. Passionate at first, but eventually taken for granted, never questioned, and hence, rarely understood. And impotent, for obviously we have may starving, killing, and dying in the shadows of our charters.

“Oh, it’s a RIGHT, they HAVE to give us those!” we reasonably reason, and forget to do much of the work (or forgetting that we, personally MUST work at all) to uphold these rights; this is the “work” that great economic thinkers have waxed romantically on about- not just breaking rocks and heaving boxes and flipping burgers and commission sales. Without understanding that these “rights” are not metaphysical laws that magically keep us safe, but scientific understandings of what keep humans safe, happy, and sociable, that must be practiced, and lived, and defended when threatened to be effective (and doubly so in the economic system we use, which directly threatens nearly every “right” to which we stake a claim), too many people take their rights for granted, and in doing so, possibly help cost the rest of us ours.

“Too political” they call those who do speak up, not realizing every act -especially silence and complicity- is 100% politically charged and declarative of taking a side. Acknowledging the physical referents of rights is a good thing. Thinking of them as “rights” is not the most functional option. For one must be entirely and consciously political about every act they undertake. All actions will affect the status of what is accepted in your society. Every step is a vote. Calling them “rights” ignores the basis in measurable, verifiable reality that these preconditions for peace and a thriving life are based on for an emotionally-charged rhetorical device. You can’t say “Take away their rights!” in a debate, you’d lose right away. That’s what this word is good for: emotional manipulation of a crowd mentality. Getting our enemies booed in parliament. Framing a tyrant to ignorant, angry crowds. But too easily that conception can be turned on us, for the “rights” of the corporation, or the amoebic jellybean in the womb, or the stockholders, or the assets and interests of those with no understanding or regard for social & environmental sustainability. And this is precisely because of the effect the language of “rights” has on abstracting us away from the understandings they are based on, that many of us may never experience in our lives.

Until you, a presumably “good” person, knows the conflict between being fed, and stealing from your community, or peace and self-preserving violence, or lawfulness and dutiful civil disobedience, you may never know why rights exist. And that may be part of the problem. I do not think we, in the west as a whole, and definitely less so the higher up the income bracket you go, understand on an experiential level, why we have or need or should fight for our rights. Except if it’s the fight (Dun dun!) for our right (dun dun!) to parrrrrrrrrr-tyyyy! (sorry, I’m a ninties kid)

Maybe we could use a little social collapse. Show us what we’re really made of. And what happens to a “right” when you don’t put your heart, mind, and body on the line to defend it.

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