I would like to stake a claim towards being a dedicated supporter of human rights but I'm a little (okay, a LOT!!!) apprehensive about it. Being misunderstood bothers me sometimes and I want to be very careful about being taken in the same light as the Generation Snowflakes that are currently falling throughout the country.
Where the current crop of Snowflakes have it wrong is they have no understanding of what rights really are and their relationship to our responsibilities. From my own point of view I can’t see how it would ever be possible to have rights as a human being here in our world without the corresponding responsibilities. There seems to be a lot of muddled thinking on these lines, some of which comes from both sides of the isle and all points in between.
By analogy you could say that it is yellow snow which I refuse to eat.
Just as an example let’s take healthcare. I sure do have a right to healthcare. I also have the choice whether to exercise that right or not. Guess what, that also makes it my responsibility! How could healthcare be a right if I, by law, am not the one making satisfactory arrangements to maintain it? That would make it somebody else’s responsibility to maintain my healthcare. If someone else is responsible for my healthcare, and I’m not, how could it possibly be my right? I would be completely out of the loop!
I gotta’ love these people who chomp at the bit screaming “healthcare is not a right!” Yet I can’t even imagine how loudly they would scream that it’s a violation of their rights if some tyrannical big government guy were to say “Okay, since it isn’t a right we’re going to make it illegal for a doctor to treat people like you!”
The issue has been missed entirely in my opinion. The question isn't whether the maintenance of our own bodies—healthcare—is a right or not. Unquestionably it has to be if we are to have and exercise our right to life. The question isn't if healthcare is a right or not and it is a mistake to frame the issue that way. The real question is who is responsible for paying for it?
I’m not going to attempt an answer to this question at this time. The healthcare discussion is just a handy tool to use to lay the obvious groundwork of thought for the association of the two distinctly different yet interrelated concepts of rights and responsibilities.
A lot has been said about these two concepts in the past ages of man. Evidently the debates rage on as the issues regarding what they mean and what they are remain unresolved.
What gives any man the authority to establish responsibilities or rights for any other man? Well, these things seem to just naturally grow out of our own existence and they are either enhanced or encumbered by our own actions.
It is a right for me to worship as I choose. If I wish to exercise that right on a long term basis I have to take some personal responsibility for it. Because I live with people who may not agree with my religious philosophy I have the responsibility to honor the right of others to worship as they see fit.
It is my right to speak—especially politically, which is what the 1st Amendment is really for. Therefore it helps me to protect that right if I defend the speech of others, even if I strongly disagree with what they’re saying. The former is the right, the latter is the responsibility. Given the alternatives related to the suppression of other's disagreements, I would rather hear what someone has to say so I know who and what they are.
I have the right to pursue happiness but it is important to understand that there is no guarantee of achievement here. Happiness is gained by overcoming obstacles towards a known goal. Think about that. Any time you were really happy in life was when you overcame something that was blocking you from something you wanted to do. Happiness cannot be given to you. You have to take it for yourself if you want it. Nobody can ever be responsible for your happiness. They can help you. They can inhibit you. But achieving it is totally up to you.
I have the right to liberty but that is an extreme generality until you define what liberty really is. When you come to that definition for yourself things start to occur to you, that you wouldn't otherwise consider, as to what liberty is composed of.
I once had a conversation with a fairly well known Libertarian where I claimed the right of "motion" and he objected saying that I have no right of motion. Okay, let's create a practical demonstration. I have the right to liberty, according to him, I have no right to motion. Therefore the government could toss him from the neck down into concrete and keep him from moving, because he has no right to motion. See? One of the components of liberty is the right to move. Obviously. But how could that be a right if someone else is taking the responsibility for how I move?
The same principle applies to the right to life. Life is composed of a bunch of other smaller things necessary to its maintenance. If you have the right to live, for that to be truly a right, you have to have the right to everything necessary to its maintenance. Again I had a conversation with someone on this line who claimed that I had no right to salt. The fact is that I would die, and you would too, without salt because it is a basic component of blood. What she was really trying to say is that I had no right to expect someone else to pay for my salt. We all need a lot of things to live; food, clothing and shelter being the most basic of them. Because those are rights it is our responsibility to take adequate care of them or face the imminent threat of death. All choices and payments for anything regarding the right to life have to be our own responsibility or they demonstrably cannot be defined as a right.
People should be responsible for their ethical behavior, not only to themselves but to other people. This is the world we are trying to fix and as such we have to encourage people to take the responsibility of fixing it. Thus we shouldn’t be accountable only to the government for our ethics, but to other people, our families and groups we belong to as well. The government cannot take responsibility for fixing your rights without taking them from you.
The maintenance of your rights is up to you because nobody else can do it for you. All any government can do—in terms of rights—is keep themselves and others from interfering with your life and let you get on with it.
Responsibilities, especially when dedicated towards matters of a voluntary and ethical nature are very difficult things to declare. The mere declaration or enforcement of responsibilities very emphatically does not establish them as truth nor make the recipients any more responsible.
I would love my daughter to clean her bedroom. If I declare that she’ll clean it, who is it that’s taking responsibility here? I am. This does absolutely nothing to get her to take the responsibility for it herself. While I could enforce it by grounding her until she is thirty-two if she doesn’t clean her room, the second she is un-grounded the room will be trashed again. What have we gained? Nothing!
Responsibility can only truly be taken on an individual basis and thus can never be declared by one for another. Only if this happens can we have true rights that are worth a damn.