Pat Richards    

  Rights and Relativism


these are notes, not polished articles, on:

Rights are just a state of mind


Rights are just a state of mind

In the beginning, I think it's safe to assume that no one had any rights. The
natural world does not provide any rights.  In a primitive-man state, "might" may
have "made right" and secured some privileges, but it did not make "rights"
because the second you turned your back or got injured or grew a little old you
lost whatever privileges you had forced from others -- and there was no "right"
that protected you from that eventuality. Basically, I think it's safe to say that
human beings are the only things on this planet who even have such a concept as
"rights" and that rights are something humans have created in relatively recent
times in an attempt to make life a little more "fair" and bearable as their
numbers increased to the point where they began to start living in large numbers
in permanent locations.

The documents which have survived of ancient history back 2,000 to 3,000 years
show that way back then "rights" were something that wealthy or powerful people
(usually royalty and/or priests) took or purchased for themselves, usually in some
kind of uneasy agreement with other wealthy and powerful people. Regular folks
didn't have any rights. Even in the ballyhooed ancient Greek democracies, "rights"
were only for a relative few. Actually, you can make an argument that Rome, at its
height, extended more "rights" to more people than at any other time besides
fairly recent history (but even then, it was still a relative few people who
enjoyed them).

After the fall of Rome and the plague years there was nuclear winter for "rights",
even for the wealthy and powerful. The Catholic Church was the only organization
than managed to hang on to them much, and they were reserved for initiates only
and were enabled only because the "church was God" and was the only thing left
after the rest fell apart. So that's probably where the God connection with rights
took hold in the human psyche.

Even as recent as 400 years ago, rights were still something that only a few
people had -- by "birth" as royalty or conqueror or religious status and also by
"birth" to a few upper-caste members in the caste systems in Asia (which is
religion-based... another "god connection"). But most people still had no rights
of any kind. Then, in Europe it seems, merchants who had no rights started
excising their newly-acquired financial clout to negotiate a few "rights" for
themselves with those who already had them: the royalty and later the Church
itself. The beginning of the middle class was the beginning of the extension of
rights to more than a just few select, lucky people.

The most wide-sweeping creation of rights that I'm aware of is, in fact, our own
much-maligned constitution with its accompanying "Bill of Rights", which is only
slightly more than 200 years old. While it boldly declared that every man (not
every woman) was endowed by "God" with "certain inalienable rights" that was a
bunch of hooey at the time it was written. They were making that stuff up and they
knew it. Up until the time they wrote it and "declared" it, nobody but a few
philosophers had ever postulated any such thing! But the idea had legs and caught
on.

And so, for the last 200-odd years, lots more people that usual have been
debating, aruging, negotiating and fighting over just what "rights" they have.
It's a see-saw effect, and there are times when rights won or negotiated get worn
away slowly or even taken away quickly (as in war). Right now, we do seem to be in
a waning period after a brieft spurt of "rights assertion" in the 1950s through
the 1970's. That brief "springtime for individual rights" was almost certainly a
reaction to the horrors and rights-abuse of the Second World War. But after 25
years or so, the rights fervor has faded quite a bit, people have become fat and
complacent, and now rights are being eroded away fairly rapidly -- this time for
the mere sake of a little safety and convenience, of all things!

Which, as the man said, is a really revoltin' development...

more to come