Part 2 of a series of posts defining the Emergent Principles of Human Nature. This effort is an outgrowth of a challenge issued to me ages ago by a fellow libertarian that I explain inalienable rights without including god. Like most challenges of this type, the work is larger than the speaker or hearer understands at the time.
The title of this piece was chosen consciously and deliberately. There are many philosophers who have written over the years of natural rights and inalienable rights. Inalienable rights as Emergent Principles of Human Nature was addressed in the first piece, and will be addressed in a series of pieces that follow this one.
This piece (hopes to) explain the difference between natural rights and human rights.
I hemmed and hawed about writing this section at all. I almost went back and re-edited the first section just to take the reference to this one out. Having written that section I was immediately faced with this problem; Emergent Principles of Human Nature are by definition natural. How can they not be the same thing?
The problem with natural rights as a concept is this; if rights are natural, a part of an individual, then that individual should be able to determine what those rights are. Unfortunately, human nature conspires to prevent this, making the common notion of natural rights almost unfathomable from the outset. The limitations we face are a part of us and are consequently almost invisible to the individual. They are obvious when pointed out, but even then most people will deny that they are limited by them, never mind that there is no escaping these limitations while remaining human.
The first of these constraints is confirmation bias. If an individual believes something, that individual is going to work to confirm those beliefs, no matter what mountains of evidence to the contrary have to be climbed. If you believe you have a right to a firearm, you’re going to find every reason you can lay your hands on to justify having that weapon. No amount of basic logic to the contrary; say, the simple observation of how will you get it if no one can make it? will dissuade you from that belief.
If you are one of those people you are crafting counters right now, if you were even able to finish reading that sentence. However, the parameters of the argument are contained in that simple sentence. There really isn’t an argument beyond I’ll make it myself, which leads to the next constraint.
This is the fact that limitations in areas of understanding renders an individual blind to their own limitations. Also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, I wondered for years why someone I knew was incompetent in a particular area couldn’t understand why they really shouldn’t be doing whatever it was they were incompetent at.
I myself vaguely discern an echoing gulf of misunderstanding around me when I attempt to communicate with the average mundane (normal person) I simply cannot communicate in any form other than the written word, apparently. The connections aren’t there in the brain, I can’t read faces, I have no idea what anyone is feeling at any given moment. I have to blunder along hoping that person I’m talking too is willing to be as dead honest with me as I am forced to be with them.
The one makes essential the licensing practices we’ve come to establish over the last hundred years; and the other convinces us that we don’t need anyone to tell us what we can or can’t do. Even though, to an external observer, it’s obvious that you (me, everybody) really do need supervision.
It is these limitations that render impotent the common sense notion of natural rights. It is these limitations that render the individual incapable of determining for themselves what their own aptitudes are. That necessitate the requirement for testing and licensing, so that others can know without having to become experts in all fields themselves (a technical impossibility) what proficiencies someone else is trained in.
These two related constraints are hardly an exhaustive list of the limitations we flawed humans face. The briefest investigation into the subject of priming should give you pause; especially when you understand that simply mentioning firearms earlier in the article, just their reading of that word, means that a significant portion of readers have formed opinions about my goals with this manuscript. Goals that I frankly haven’t even worked out for myself.
Then we could discuss motivated numeracy and how that leads individuals to question science itself when it produces results they don’t like. I expect that this list of an individuals potential failings will move steadily towards infinite length, the more we understand the limitations of the human animal.
Our knowledge of ourselves is flawed by our very nature; making self-doubt not just a necessity, but a virtue. Every time that our certainties are challenged we should be willing to step back and question our most cherished beliefs. Capable of not only defending them, but of logically justifying them to the harshest critic. It is this ability, this willingness to admit the possibility of fault, that embraces our humanity.
This was the need that motivated me to finally admit that the subject of natural rights had to be addressed. The need to point out that our nature allows for a definition of human rights, while at the same time in no way authorizes individual demands. Yes, Emergent Principles of Human Nature are natural. But that does not mean that individuals are born with a right to a firearm. With the right to demand actions, services and material goods of unrelated others.
We are born with an ability to make our own way, to build upon the works of those who came before us and improve on that foundation; but we are beholden to those who contributed to establishing that foundation. We are indebted to those whose blood, sweat and tears are mixed into the knowledge that is preserved for us to utilize. Every single individual who ever existed before you had to exist in order for you to be here, now, in this place and time with the knowledge you have at your disposal. If you can grasp it, that is a daunting perspective to behold. The thousands of generations of creatures who had to exist just so that you could be here, now.
Every person longs to be part of something greater than themselves; it is through this longing that so many paths are forged. A wise man once said “No man is an island” and this is demonstrably true. Those who perceive themselves as islands simply fail to grasp the necessity of all the people who came before him who supported him, educated him and elevated him until his head broke the surface to appear as an island.
All of those people who preceded that individual human being, who contributed to the vast database of knowledge made available to him, had to exist in order for that individual to exist. If this was not so then all of us could claim perfect understanding of the universe at birth, which is demonstrably untrue.
This is the nature of the flaw in individualist philosophies. Objectivism, Libertarianism, Anarchism. All of them carry the same flaw. Rothbard, Rand and all their ideas are flawed from the precept stage of development. They assume that there is just one natural law governing man, and that that law makes itself apparent to all men. This is also demonstrably not the case. The vast majority of the world’s population simply don’t understand the notion of taxes as theft, or that socializing the healthcare system (or the school system, or whatever) interferes with the contract rights of every man, and consequently determines the paths of those caught within the system.
And yet Rothbard, Rand and those who follow their reasoning simply gloss these facts over, and continue asserting that what they see as the ultimate truth is the only apparent truth.
When I think of natural law, I see several possibilities for defining codes within the parameters of nature. The parasites’ code. The predators’ ethic. These are, of course, not correct codes, as people raised with a mid-western work ethic would conceive of them. And yet, like the misguided people who took the phrase right-to-life and perverted it into a belief system that takes away a woman’s right to her own life; so too the phrase natural rights or natural law lends itself to many different interpretations.
Interpretations that become equally as valid as Rothbard’s real intent when he crafted the ideas behind Anarcho-capitalism, or Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, because there is no central authority to determine what is or isn’t right in the natural sense beyond might makes right. Because all of us are incapable of objective certainty at any particular point in time, try as we might to maintain a sense of objectivity. It simply can’t be done and remain human at the same time.
Our nature defines the principles that we live under, but by that same nature no one individual can say with certainty exactly what rights he should be permitted to exercise.