The Cost of Rights

Human rights are ever-increasing. In the Glorious Revolution in England, 1689, John Locke rode the same ship as soon-to-be Queen Mary, a Bill of Rights was established. One hundred years later, America passed its own Bill. It was John Locke who gave substance to the concept of rights. But rights are intangible, simply a concept that – if they are real – they cannot be proven or even logically justified. They are simply declared. Why does that matter? It matters because all of the involve people must agree about ephemeral ideas, with no fundamental basis other than, “Yeah, that must be correct.” So there is no known limit to Human Rights, we just accept them as they are largely declared. When it comes to specific interpretations of rights, there is little unanimity.

Universal human rights were declared and passed in the United Nations right after the Second World War. These rights included life, liberty and security of person, freedom from slavery and torture, equal treatment before the law, right to trial, freedom of movement within a state, assembly, and more. Even more specifically, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” And, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”

Every modern national constitution declares human rights.

Nowadays, the public sphere is debating the right to Health Care, at what point a fetus has rights, disability rights. We debate about gun rights, the extent of freedom of speech, religion and assembly too. Rights can clash, too. The press loves to report stories where one person’s freedom of speech impinges on another’s right to freedom of belief, and all sorts of other cases. The right to security certainly has clashed with the right to privacy and expression.

Is there a right to freedom of space and a clean environment? Will our right to a planet not overpopulated trump the rights of certain individuals? Society is providing for and giving more rights to people with disabilities. That is great. Or shall we look to limits of what resources we can afford to realize these rights? It sounds Darwinist, but do we encourage people with every gene pool to reproduce and have rights?

This is at issue now, in schools, where so much money and other resources go towards special education. Better health care for children is surely associated with the increases we see in autism various allergies, and asthma. How about Rick Santorum’s baby, carried to term and lived for two hours? How about all of the resources devoted to end of life care?

The expansion of Human Rights generally leads to an increase in population diversity and quantity. I see a clash of these titans ahead of us. An appeal to who has what right is not an answer this, we need a level playing ground to discuss and debate the issue. I declare our right to it!


About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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One Response to The Cost of Rights

  1. JP says:

    Well said, Jim. (And pertinent right now with what is going on in Florida. Where does the right to “defend yourself” end a committing a crime begin. Will be interesting to see how it all plays out.)
    Your post made me think of one of my favorite, most hopeful books of all time. The sociologist Philip Slater came to fame in 1970 with his excellent book “The Pursuit of Loneliness,” which is still one of the most clear sighted looks at American culture that has ever been written. The Slater book I’m reminded of here though is 1992s “A Dream Deferred: America’s Discontent and the Search for a New Democratic Ideal.” It’s hard for me to make a list of the five or ten non-fiction books that have most influenced me without putting this near the top of the list. It is a long look at history showing that slowly and surely, the world is ever moving towards greater democracy. If you’re not familiar with it, take a look. Here’s the Amazon link:

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