Fundamental Rights

I was thinking about this in light of some of the things I’ve been watching and reading lately and I wanted to put it down in writing before the train of thought left me. One of the biggest debates going on in our modern society today is about rights. What constitutes a right and how are we to interact with them? It’s difficult to come to a consensus on this issue.

Every issue we have stems from this very topic, from gender politics to gun control to welfare. It is the definition of a right versus what the majority of people think about it that causes so many issues. For example, the right to freedom of speech is an American value that virtually all citizens agree with. We do so because we value individual freedom and the ability to express ourselves our way without being stifled by anyone else. Very few people in the United States would disagree that self expression is an important part of a free society.

On the other side is the contentious topic of the Second Amendment. A growing portion of the country has come to feel that firearms have no place in a civilized society and have campaigned for their removal. It used to be felt that a person had the right to defend himself from any danger in whatever way he felt was necessary, but more and more the government is restricting our access to the ability to effectively defend ourselves. What was once a mostly undisputed right has now become a privilege in some parts of the country. For example, in some parts of California, it is nearly impossible to obtain a license to carry a firearm on your person (“bear arms”) in public. It is a direct infringement on our right to self defense.

The problem with this viewpoint is that we are not settling on a set definition of what constitutes a right, and that causes so much confusion in our politics. A right is something that is a default part of who we are as individuals. It is something that cannot be dictated by others. It is something that applies to every person in the entire world, regardless of government or creed or any other social construct. It is inherent in who we are.

The Bill of Rights isn’t really what empowers us with the rights we enjoy as Americans. That document can be torn up and discarded at any moment if we so choose. A piece of paper has no power by itself. What the Bill of Rights does is put down in writing what we all know to be fundamental rights attributable to all human beings. They are what we intuitively understand are part of what it means to be individuals. They are immutable and not open to debate.

You can argue the finer points of how we interpret these rights, but fundamental rights are a part of the human condition. Freedom of expression is something that every person in the world longs for. No one can seriously argue that a person has no right to defend themselves from harm, physical or otherwise. Privacy is an important part of being an individual, as without privacy you can never develop your own way of looking at the world. Individual rights are fundamental exactly because we are a world of individuals. We may come together in common cause, but at the end of the day we each make our own decisions. We are not a hive mind, and our will is our own.

The purpose of this post isn’t to extol the virtues of any one specific right, but to point out that these rights do exist and we need to understand what they are and what they aren’t. A right is something that only you have the power to exercise. It is not something that is bestowed to you by someone else. No one can give them to you. It is for you to hold them and protect them.

Things like freedom of speech and the right to bear arms are not something that anyone can give to you. You choose to express yourself or not; to defend yourself or not. No one else has any obligation at all to express your point of view for you or protect you from harm. Many may choose to, but it is exactly that they have that choice that your rights are yours alone. If you have to force someone else to do it, it isn’t a right.

An example of this is health care. Many people have come to view this as a basic right, but this is directly contrary to the idea that rights only apply at the individual level. You can’t force someone to become a doctor, and even if you tried, the care they provide would be vastly inferior to someone who had a passion for healing people. Would you jail them for failing to provide proper healthcare? What then? Who would replace them? Another person who cares nothing about medicine but is a doctor now because there is a quota? No matter how much money you spend, you can’t make someone a good doctor when he doesn’t care.

This is the problem with the idea that we can engineer a society. When you start deciding that it is necessary to impose things on people you are starting to push against the fundamental rights of those people. It is when we choose our own way that we become the best version of ourselves. The freedom to make our own choices is paramount to anything else. The attempt to force a way on someone else violates those rights.

This is not to say that certain things are not good because they put the needs of the community before those of the individual. Most people would agree that there are many things in which it is virtuous to make sacrifices for the greater good. However, it is necessary to differentiate between sacrifices made voluntarily and those that are forced upon individuals who disagree. That is what makes all the difference.

Charity is a prime example of this. When a person receives their paycheck and chooses to give a portion of it to help others, that is something almost anyone would see as a good thing. However, when the government slices out a portion of that check via taxes so it can be given as charity in the form of welfare programs, the outcome may still be good, but the method violates the right of the individual to choose to not be charitable, or at the very least choose what cause to give his money to. The decision is made for him and he has no say in the matter. And if he tries not paying his taxes because he disagrees, either his money is stolen from him or he is put in jail. His right to choose how he spends his resources has been taken away.

When we look at what it is that makes us human, we can’t ignore individuality. No matter how many of us might agree on a topic, there will always be those who don’t and it is fundamentally wrong to force our ways on them. We know this to be true because we know that we would feel violated if those people found a way to force their ideology on us. This is why we established from the outset that we would specifically recognize that we have individual rights that are encoded into our system of government. The hope was that we wouldn’t have to fight for them again because it is a default part of our nation.

There are many who want to wipe out individual liberty because they feel threatened by the ideas or actions of others, or find them to be an impediment to their own ambitions. What they fail to realize is that these fundamental rights are a core part of who we are as human beings, and eventually that part of us that craves individuality will lash out when we realize that there is no other option. When we are backed into a corner and the only option is force, we will rise up against those who try to oppress us. It is just who we are.

So before you start thinking that your favorite idea is a right, ask yourself this question: is this something that someone else has to do for me? If the answer is yes, then it is not a right and it is not something you should be trying to force one someone else. Our fundamental rights give us the ability to reject the thoughts and opinions of others, regardless of the reasons, and you have no right to force your ways on others, whether that be through coercion, government, or physical violence.

You do so at your own peril.

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Racism is Back…and It Sucks Just as Bad

I have to take a break from talking about some of the more esoteric and self-motivational things I’ve been writing about lately. This morning I watched a video about the “8 White Identities“, which is basically a chart that describes what the creators believe are the different types of white people in America. It is the most appalling thing I’ve seen in a while.

According to this chart, people fall into a spectrum that ranges from full on white supremacy on one end to complete anti-white activism on the other. Among the groups included are those who are “white privileged” or “white benefited” and those who are “white confessional” or “white traitor”. There are descriptions for all of these included with the chart. The gist of the list is that at one end you are a terrible person because you love your race and at the other end you are a great person because you want to completely purge “whiteness” from society. I’m not sure how either end of the spectrum could be considered good, but racism is never rational.

The appalling part isn’t that someone created this chart and that it is making the rounds amongst the usual suspects. What’s scary is that this is being sanctioned and included as part of the New York public school system. This document attempts to convince the reader that regardless of your attitude toward racism, if you are white you are an obstacle to be overcome. Institutionalized racism has returned to not only our government, but now our public school system. Young, impressionable minds are once again being indoctrinated into the forms of racism that were once found abhorrent and evil.

This new racist movement is primarily the work of two different groups of people. The first are those who want revenge for the racism this country endured for most of its history. It is a terrible group of people who aren’t able to forgive and move on and want to force someone to suffer for what happened to their ancestors. Rather than focusing their efforts on making a better life for themselves, they would rather pull down the people around them so they can feel better about the fact that their lives aren’t what they wish it would be. It’s easier to tear other people down than to build yourself up.

The second group is even worse than the first. It is the group of people who have no moral values and are willing to align themselves with any ideology that gives them an opportunity for money or power. The first group at least has a principle they truly believe in. This second group cares only for their own position. They will do whatever it takes and hurt whoever needs to be hurt to get what they want.

When ideology meets opportunism, it becomes a deadly weapon. We have seen many times in the past how racist sentiment turned into violent action against people who were innocent and did not deserve what happened to them. After a long struggle, we finally made it to a place where racism was truly starting to fade into the past, but now it is being dragged back into the forefront to start a new conflict that will tear into the fabric of our society.

Make no mistake: racism is racism regardless of what race it is against. If your attitude is that a person’s skin color defines how you treat them, you are a racist. The idea that somehow the only way to get rid of racism is to shame white people into giving up everything they have is ridiculous. It is a ridiculous attempt to fight perceived racism with more racism. No reasonable person should ever look at any document that talks about racial equity of any kind and think it is a good thing. That kind of thinking misses the point entirely.

There is a maxim that states that two wrongs don’t make a right. Revenge is no way to move a society forward. When you hurt one group of people, they inevitably become angry and want to hurt you back. If both sides continue retaliating, things get worse, not better. It is understandable that certain communities feel hurt by what has happened in our past. There is nothing wrong with that and we should do everything we can to help those who have suffered find a way to make their lives better. Where we run into trouble is when people start thinking that we should start hurting others as a form of justice. There is no revenge in justice.

The true way to remove racism from our society is the one way that some people just don’t want to hear: remove race from the conversation. All mention of race needs to be removed from our dialogue. Our laws need to have the concept of race completely removed. There should be no structure that provides any advantage or disadvantaged based on what ethnicity you belong to. When someone brings up race as a basis for any sort of action, good or bad, they should be shamed into silence. We are human beings; the color of your skin shouldn’t matter.

Unfortunately, it seems that the fight against racism will continue on. We just don’t seem to know how to let it die. This next battle should be about removing all racial identity from our thinking, because until we are able to put aside our obsession with skin color, our society will never find any real peace. It seems that the side of hatred is making their move and it is up to those of us who value peace to stand up to it. We can’t allow this kind of thinking to become the norm.

I put it to you, reader, to examine your own feelings and decide what group you want to belong to. History will record what we do and we will be judged for the attitudes we choose to cling to. Will you push the ideology of revenge, or will you stand up for unity?

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Political Distancing

I struggle to understand the thinking of some people today. It used to be that each of us had a right to our own thoughts, and we could share those thoughts without fear of reprisal because we all understood that words don’t hurt people. The sharing of ideas is a critical part of a free society, even if they are bad ones. It is only by sifting through ideas in an objective and critical way that we come up with the most pure version of what we believe in.

The current viewpoint seems to be that we have to shield ourselves from “dangerous” ideas. Apparently the average person is so weak minded that if they even come within spitting distance of a “dangerous” idea, they will become hopelessly contaminated by it and be lost forever. It seems that the good old days of sitting down with someone and having a healthy debate about a controversial topic just isn’t something the modern American is equipped for anymore. At least, that is what many in our leadership appear to believe.

For the last year, we have been forced to live with an alternate version of reality as we deal with COVID-19. Social distancing is one of the many new buzz words that have emerged from this pandemic. Before last year, people would have looked at you funny if you said those words, justifiably confused at the idea that we have to maintain our distance from people. While I personally tend toward social distancing by default, the average person tends to want to be in close proximity to others. Social distancing is an unnatural concept for most people.

It is interesting, then, that political distancing has been alive and well for decades. We crave social interaction, but when it comes to those we disagree with, we feel a strong need to group ourselves into ideological strongholds, desperately holding on to our viewpoints in the vain hope that if we just ignore it then it will go away. Rather than sit down and work out our issues like adults, we choose to fall on the floor and thrash about like a toddler. Better to stubbornly cling to our viewpoint than risk finding out we’re actually wrong.

The current trend in media today is disturbing. There are calls by many in positions of power to start silencing people because of what they claim to believe in. Rarely do you hear anyone say that we should maybe go and talk to these people and find out who they are and what they are about. We are a society of labels, and if you have the wrong label, then you are cast out as a pariah. People clump into their homogenous groups and move further and further from each other in an attempt to avoid “contamination”.

There is another place that most of us attended in one form or another: high school. If you had anything to do with school at all, everything I have stated above should make perfect sense to you. In high school, popularity is everything. You find a group that makes you feel socially relevant. Few high school students are interested in facts or logic. The focus is on how they feel. The questions they ask are “what fun thing are we doing today?” or “who do we go pick on today?” or “what are people thinking about me?” Rarely is there ever a discussion between students about anything meaningful.

Politics today is a mirror of this mentality. When you look at what the people we put in charge are doing, it is a sad reflection of what we all went through in high school. One of the common tropes is that high school sucked for most of us and we were glad when it was over. It is curious, then, that we choose to continue that pattern into adulthood. We claim to be responsible adults, but rather than choosing sensible people who are well equipped to have intelligent debate, we elect fools who are more concerned with their own popularity than running our country in a way that reflects the values it was founded on.

The problem is mostly apathy on the part of the average American citizen. We have jobs and families and plans for our own futures, and most people rarely think about what the politicians are doing. They pass these huge packages of laws that rarely get the attention they need, even by the politicians voting on them, and most of the changes occur so slowly that we just don’t notice it. It’s like the frog in the boiling water. They turn the heat up so slowly that we don’t notice it until it’s too late.

I don’t feel like I’ve put anything in this post that is particularly controversial, yet when you really think about this topic, you should be horrified. The fact that the age of discussion seems to be over should cause you to run around in stark panic. If the days of reasonable discourse and logical thinking are over, it means we are all back in high school again, subject to the whims of the popular and in a position to be bullied by those who decide that their viewpoint is the only one that matters. It is a dangerous way to live.

The only way this can change is if we can convince the average person to pick their head up and start looking around. Whether they are Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Socialist, or anything in between, it is critically important that every person realize that we don’t want to live in a society where a small portion of the community runs unchecked over the rest of us.

In the end, these people only have the power that we give them, and it is up to us to force them to behave in the way that we as their employers dictate that they do. All it takes is raising our voices, and it doesn’t take too many to drown out these crazy people who have found ways of mooching off of our system of government for many years. There are so many more people who agree with your point of view than you know, regardless of what it is. The tactic of those in power is to get us to feel that we are alone and powerless, but the truth is that when we come together in good faith, there is far more the same about us than different. No amount of vitriol or partisanship or fear can stop Americans when we decide we are going to get something done. We just have to remember who we are and what we believe in.

We can absolutely come together to get done what we agree on, and rationally discuss the things we don’t. But until we purge the parasites from our system, we will continue to struggle just to survive. If you are reading this post and you feel alone, know that you are not. Regardless of which political party happens to be in power, there are so many people out there who are more like you than are different. Don’t allow the media to convince you that your neighbor is crazy because they think differently than you do. We are all Americans.

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A Life Wasted

I’ve spent most of my life just cruising along and doing whatever seemed right at the time. I avoid conflict and tend to be pretty lazy. Like most Americans from my generation, I was brought up to believe in patriotism and self-sacrifice, but that instruction came from a generation who didn’t really believe in what it was preaching. The current state of American politics today displays that very clearly. You can’t really put it on one specific political party, because one side actively works to unravel the fabric of what America was intended to be, and the other refuses to stand up for what those ideals were intended to accomplish.

For nearly 40 years I have sat on the sidelines, refusing to participate in the argument because it just didn’t seem worth the effort. I’ve never been a very confrontational person, not because I’m afraid, but because I tend to not like wasting my time and effort on things I know won’t change. It always seemed that there were better things to do with my time than try to convince someone that their viewpoint is wrong. When someone has come to inhabit an idea and choose to live their life in that house, you’re almost never going to bring them out of it. That goes for any ideology you might think of. We tend to go all in on belief systems.

As I get older, though, I’m starting to feel this need to put my thoughts out into the world. I look back on my life, and while I have done some pretty amazing things, I feel like my contribution to our country is sorely lacking. I spent more than a decade of my life in military service, and while I realize and accept that this is a positive contribution to our society, I’ve never felt it lived up to my potential as a human being. I suppose I could go out and volunteer for things, but I just can’t bring myself to go that far, so maybe dipping my toe into the arena of advocacy for personal freedom is something I can do to make a real and meaningful contribution to society.

I used to say that I am a Libertarian, and that’s mostly true, but like a lot of things in my life I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to put a label on myself. Once you’ve decided to put the moniker of an organization next to your name, you’ve railroaded yourself into a certain way of thinking, and more and more I’ve started to believe that this just isn’t a healthy way of looking at the world. It’s much better to have principles that you accept as the truth, and form your opinions with those as the starting points.

So this forces me to think about what principles I believe in. When you discard the templates and actually have to start thinking about these things on your own, how do you know what makes sense and what doesn’t? Despite what many people think, very little of it is intuition. Most of it will spring from logical thought. That doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance, because we would tend to think that truly logical thought would bring us all to the same conclusion, but when you really look at logical thought, you start to understand that logic in and of itself can never provide a single answer to any question. It is a method to get from one point to another, not a perfect formula that provides the most pure answer possible.

So before we can start down this journey of logical thought to reach a rational conclusion, we have to start with some very illogical processes. Logic will help you take the journey and find the destination, but only you can choose where the starting point is. For example, if you want to get to Los Angeles, there is a logical route to get there, but that route completely depends on where you start from. If you’re in San Diego, then you take Interstate 5 north until you get there and it’s very simple. If you’re in New York, though, then the route is much longer and far more complex. The destination is the same, but how you get there is completely different. So it is with life.

So what is the destination? I think most people would agree that it is a state in which we are filled with joy. Because we are individuals, what that means is different for each of us. No matter how much we have in common, we are each unique and we each have a different idea of what a purely joyful state would be. Joy is the destination of every human being, regardless of creed. What creates that joy is unique, but it is the one thing we universally have in common. No one wants to exist in misery.

Now that we have a destination, we have to identify our starting point. For me, it is the idea of personal sovereignty. If we are all unique, it doesn’t make sense to me that we should be promoting ideas that encourage “group think” or force people to act or live in a certain way. Like most starting points, this is a personal belief and while it does have some basis in logic, it requires that I make a decision based on what feels right to me. I can’t ignore the fact that there are aspects of humanity that are heavily influenced by social constructs, but when I pare all of those things back and look at the core, I see a world of individuals.

So now we have a starting point and an ending point. If we being with the idea that we are each individuals with our own ideas of what joy is, and the universal goal of all human beings is to attain that state of joy, then we must start applying logical thought on how to get the most people into that state of being. Many people think that by removing certain obstacles we can usher in an age where joy is maximally distributed to the largest number of people. Others think that it is the overcoming of hardships that bring us joy. The truth is far more complex than that.

I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking pretty hard to get to this point. My upbringing helped me arrive at the starting point, but upon reflection I agree with the principles that our country was founded on. It is clear that we as people fail utterly in our attempts to embody those ideals, but I believe that they are pure. Certain truths are simply irrefutable, not because you can’t come up with an argument against them, but because the way we are as humans causes those ideals to ring true in at least some part of our being. I can’t believe that there isn’t a single person in the world who doesn’t at least partially agree with the idea that a person should be able to choose their own path.

The title of this blog post is “A Life Wasted”. It may be more harsh than is warranted, but for a long time now I’ve felt like I’m just existing. A person needs to feel like they’re doing something with their life, and maybe this is something I can do that will take me into the next phase. It is my hope that this will somehow turn into a place where meaningful discussion takes place and perhaps makes a difference in someone’s life. At the far end of the journey, perhaps it will grow into something that makes a difference in the country, or even the world. That is the dream, but for now I’ll be content with just putting my thoughts into writing and hoping it sparks something in whoever is reading it.

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