I Give Him Six Months Until He’s Dead or In Jail for Life.
or The British “Justice System” Strikes Again!

(Via Acidman, who put it: “A Clockwork Orange lives in England today.” Amen.)

I’ll buy houses and a flash car, says yob awarded £567,000

By Peter Zimonjic
(Filed: 20/03/2005)

A teenage criminal who received £567,000 in compensation after falling through a roof while trespassing boasted about his wealth yesterday, saying that he was looking forward to buying “a few houses and a flash car”.

Carl Murphy, 18, got the payout last week, nine years after being injured in a 40ft fall at a warehouse in Bootle docks, near Liverpool, prompting angry protests from crime victims and politicians.

In his first public interview since receiving the award, Murphy – who has convictions for robbery, burglary and assault – said that he did not care about the response.

“I deserve this money and I don’t care what anybody says about me,” he said. “I’m going to buy a big house so I have a place to live with me mum when she gets out of jail. I might buy a few houses – I’ll buy whatever I want.” He added: “The papers just call me a yob and a thug because I’ve been done for robbery and assault but those were just silly stupid little things, like.

Right! Now I’m in the big-leagues, and I can do stupid BIG things ‘cuz I can afford a flash barrister to get me off, like!

“I want to spend my money the way I want without people interfering and I want to have a prosperous future.

More like “prosperous 15 minutes.

“I want to take my mates to Liverpool games and get a flash car. This money is mine now and I’ll do what I want. I don’t care about anyone or what they have to say about it.”

Murphy received his compensation after suing the company that owned the warehouse. He claimed that if the perimeter fence had not been in disrepair he would not have been able to gain entry and suffer his injuries.

He is now partially blinded in his left eye and has 17 metal plates in his skull as a result of the fall. He also claims that the incident has caused him to suffer from behavioural problems. “It annoys me that people think I don’t deserve this money after all I’ve been through,” he said. “I’m going to spend my money on whatever I want and everyone who called me ‘Tin Head’ can go get stuffed.”

Residents of Bootle, where Murphy lives, said that they were too scared to speak publicly about the case but privately described him as the area “king yob”.

One said: “He shaves his head so we can all see the scars. He likes to walk around and play the big man.

“I’ve seen him yelling abuse at the shopkeepers, telling them how he is going to buy the shop with his compensation money and throw them out.

“He is a villain around here. Everybody knows him but no one wants to confront him. He has a big family and they all stand up for each other.”

Which is more than the State does for the other residents of the area. If they “stand up” the State would knock them down, and they know it.

In November last year, Murphy’s mother Diane and her partner Kevin Parsons, both 36, were jailed for three years for dealing in crack cocaine and heroin from their council house in Bellini Close.

Well! The Crown Prosecution Service was good for something after all!

A police spokesman said: “Diane Murphy was using the home to distribute Class A drugs which was bringing a large criminal element into the suburb.

“Residents in the area are intimidated. Crime is happening on their doorstep. People like Diane Murphy and others who sell drugs disrupt the decent people who live there.”

Police describe the area around Bellini Close as a “hotbed for anti-social behaviour, street-level crime and the distribution of Class A drugs”. Several buildings are boarded up and vandalised – and gangs of teenagers wearing shell suits and trainers walk up and down the street shouting and drinking alcohol in the early daytime. Police make regular rounds.

But don’t, apparently, stop any of this behavior.

Since Murphy’s mother was jailed, he has lived with his grandmother, Barbara Murphy, who keeps a rottweiler in her home on nearby Church Grove.

She said: “He never finished school because the teachers couldn’t control him. He was a nice boy before the accident but ever since the injuries he has been difficult to control. He needs this money. That is him for life now. What is he going to do without it?”

Kill himself. Or someone else.

She said that Murphy does not work or attend school. Neighbours say that they see him drinking in the park with friends on most evenings or hanging around a local cafe.

The payout has been condemned by charities, which point out that victims of crime receive far less under the Government’s criminal injuries compensation scheme.

The parents of James Bulger received just £7,500 following his murder, and the family of Damilola Taylor received £10,000 following his murder.

I find this somewhat… repugnant. “Sorry about your child. Here’s your cheque.”

Clive Elliott, the director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: “All rights to compensation should cease the moment a person breaks the law, in this case trespassing.

“Wrongdoers think they are beyond the law – and in this case they have shown they can become quite well off by breaking it.”

A nine year-old goes and trespasses, climbs around on the roof of a warehouse, falls and damned near kills himself – but it’s somebody else’s fault. Yes, I imagine it is. Like his mother’s fault. You know, the mother that’s in jail right now? Sheesh.

More Pointing to Other People’s Stuff.

Francis Porretto, Curmudgeon Emeritus, has another of his erudite, laser-sharp pieces up on the topic near and dear to my heart, the Right to Arms. Please read Fear of Equalizers.

That is all. I’m for bed, and a few more chapters of Guns, Germs and Steel.

(Yes, I do realize what time it is.)

Another RCOB™ Moment, Brought to You by Matthew at Triggerfinger.

Take some time to read the tale of what it takes to buy a gun – legally – in Washington, D.C.; The So-Called Capitol of the Free World. (A multipart post.) Excerpt from “Day 2”:

The uniformed officer led me into the office and gave me a (poorly) Xeroxed handout that (poorly) outlined the process and proceeded to give me a verbal overview. For a first gun purchase, you take form P.D. 219 to the gun dealer, buy a gun, have the dealer fill out their portion, you fill out your portion, and then bring the completed form to the gun registration office. You then get fingerprinted, and submit the completed form and fingerprint card, take a written test, then after six to eight weeks you come back and, assuming the application is approved, you get your paperwork returned stamped “APPROVED”, and you can go back to the dealer and pick up the gun. She then told me the fee for fingerprints was $35.00 and the fee for each gun registered was $13.00. She also said I needed four passport sized photos. Now I had glanced at the handout, and the fees were listed as $26.50 and $10.00 respectively. I pointed out the difference, and she put out her hand to collect the Xerox. I handed it back, expecting her to give me an up-to-date version. She took a pen and scratched in the higher costs. (This may sound absurd, but in actuality, this woman’s action is the only example of workplace efficiency ever documented in the history of the Washington, DC government.)

Read it all. Pass the link around to your friends.


An Illustrative Example

or “Politeness and a Gun Will Get You Much Further than Politeness Alone.”

This post is in relation to the discussions below in What is a “Right”? – Revisited, Parts I and II.

As I noted, I’ve started reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, and it so happens that in a very early chapter of that book, he describes a perfect illustration of my point concerning the “realness” of rights. Chapter 2, “A Natural Experiment of History,” opens with the following narrative:

On the Chatham Islands, 500 miles East of New Zealand, centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835. On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori. Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected. An organized resistance by the Moriori could still then have defeated the Maori, who were outnumbered two to one. However, the Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully. They decided in a council meeting not to fight back, but to offer peace, friendship, and a division of resources.

Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse. Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim. A Moriori survivor recalled, “[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep. . . . [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed – men, women, and children indiscriminately.” A Maori conqueror explained, “We took possession. . . in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. No one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed – but what of that? It was in accordance with our custom.”

If rights are “natural,” real, and universal, why did the Maori not believe in the Moriori’s “right to life”? How did their natural right not to be murdered protect the Moriori, and to whom do the Moriori put their “just claim” to for the violation of this right?

Dr. Cline argues “what barbarian invading forces did is no proof text on morality.” Yet my point is that morality is society-specific. For the Moriori, what was done to them was a great evil – and I agree. But to the Maori, what they did to the Moriori “was in accordance with our custom” and not wrong. Dr. Cline postulates that “all rights are simply universal conditions ‘which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore.'” Yet the rights of the Moriori were completely taken away as their entire populace was enslaved and murdered. The question of rightness or wrongness is moot, because the Moriori were not prepared to defend themselves against an outside agressor.

Terri Schiavo.

I’ve been listening to the radio and reading the blogs about the Terri Schiavo case, and forming my own opinion on it.

Look, I don’t know what Terri would want, and apparently neither does anyone else. I do know that I would rather not live as she is living (and I intend to get a living will to make sure that others understand that – at least some good will come of this) but I am not at all happy about a judge making the decision to starve her to death over the opposition of her parents. Gerard Van Der Leun’s last post from yesterday illustrated the absurdity of the situation:


In Pinellas Park, Florida , there’s a man that has gotten the entire legal establishment of the state to help him starve his wife to death, and has arranged for the police to arrest anyone that’s trying to bring her food or water. This man is running around free and getting a lot of attention. He has a judge working hard day and night to make sure that his wife will die.

In Homosassa, Florida a man named John Evander Couey, has confessed to abducting and killing a nine year old girl. He is in jail and under suicide watch to make sure he does not die.

In Collier, Florida, Michael Lee Swails, has been put in jail charged with starving his cattle herd.

In Florida today, I score it:
Wives get to die because their husband says so.
Child killers get extra attention so they can’t just kill themselves.
Men who starve cattle go to jail.

I’m just not getting this. I’m not getting it at all.

Me either.

Mrs. Schiavo is not on a respirator. She is obviously brain-damaged, but there is more than a little question of just how severe that damage is, if this NRO column is accurate.

So what we have is a husband who apparently believes deeply (and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt – huge benefit of the doubt) that his wife would simply rather die than continue living as she is, but because of her brain damage she is unable to end her life herself. As a result, he has sought refuge in the courts, and the courts – for whatever reason – have accomodated him. Actually, one judge has accomodated him.

That’s the problem I have here. How did this end up in the hands of one member of the State?

I put myself into Mr. Schiavo’s position, mentally – at least the idealized one that he wants to present to the world. My wife has suffered a severe incident which has resulted in severe brain damage. She and I have discussed it, and I know that she would not want to continue her existance in that state, but there is no documentary evidence of this wish.

I do not believe that the State should have the power to decide that she should be starved to death. If shooting her with a shotgun would be illegal, if injecting her with poison would be illegal, if smothering her with a pillow would be illegal, then starving her to death should be equally illegal. The State ought to err on the side of life.

THEN, when all other options are removed from me, if I truly believed that what she wanted was to die, then I would have to decide whether to leave her to exist against her wishes, or I would have to end her life and plead my case before a jury of my – and her – peers.

I trust twelve average citizens far more than one black-robed tyrant.

What is a “Right”? – Revisited, Part I.

Reader Dr. Danny Cline stumbled across my early essay What is a “Right”? and had some objections to it. His opening comment:

Most of what you post on this blog seems to have the right goals in mind. However, your comments on rights, particularly what you claim about the source of rights:

“A “right” is what the majority of a society believes it is.”


“Like all “Rights of the People” the right to arms is a social construct – a declaration by a society of what is “right and proper,” and generally agreed to by the population.”

is a dangerously Marxist/fascist idea (really it is THE Marxist/fascist idea), which comes very close to a justification for those who claim to be working on behalf of the government to remove whatever “rights” (quotes in honor of yours) they want to, in the name of “the will of the people” or “majority rule.” The concept of “rights” being a “social construct” is exactly the kind of nonsense preached by the Hegelian/Marxist aristocracy in college humanities departments throughout the US, and is exactly the justification for the removal of gun (and other) rights. Furthermore, the “majority of a society” or a “population” cannot believe anything – groups have no mind. This you should know – the quote from which you gain the title of your webpage says it all here.

Whether someone can or does violate a right of yours (or mine) says nothing about the content of the right itself. It is a mistake (leading to your straying near the idea that whatever “government” does is OK – as long as it has the force to back it up) to consider the question of what is a right to be a question of what is rather than what should be. Rights are not at all like physical laws; they are answers to questions of morality, which science (the realm of physical laws) has never been able to answer. The fact that many people considered (or still consider) rape, murder, and slavery to be morally acceptable is irrelevant to the correct answers to questions of morality. Many people have incorrect beliefs regarding morality (or even regarding physical laws for theat matter), and moral questions are notoriously tricky to answer. (This is quite probably the reason some philosophers decide to eventually go with the gibberish about rights and morality being meaningless, only a result of an act of will, or a “social construct” – out of laziness.)

I’m a fan of Heinlein as well, but in the case of questions about rights and morality, Starship Troopers is not the correct novel to reference – at least not unless you.re a die-hard communist or fascist. The government presented therein is a fine example of a fascist/communist nanny-state, and its subjects/slaves are clearly worshippers of Nietzche’s “New Idol” – the state. The criticism of the rights I hold dear (and I believe from the rest of your site that you hold them dear as well) in your quote misrepresents some rights and is simply wrong on others. The “right to life” described in the Declaration of Independence is not a “right not to die”, a “right to be immortal” or anything as silly as that. It is simply a right not to be murdered – further such a right does not state that it is impossible that you could be murdered, just that it is WRONG. The fact that rights can be unjustly violated does not mean that they are meaningless or incorrect. Nor does the fact that we sometimes need to defend our rights mean that if we do not defend them or fail in our defense that they dissolve. The final quote on rights from Heinlein comes closest to revealing his mistake (and by extension yours):

“The third ‘right’ – the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.”

All rights are simply universal conditions “which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore.” Even your Webster’s definitions make this clear:

1: qualities (as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval

2: something to which one has a just claim: as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled b: the interest that one has in a piece of property – often used in plural (mineral rights)

3: something that one may properly claim as due

The words “moral,” “just,” and “properly” are the key here. The claim doesn’t cease to be “moral,” “just,” or “proper” simply because it is violated. The beliefs of the evil and the wrong do not make a thing right.

I do appreciate that you hold to a (probably) unpopular belief just because it is right (the right to bear arms). However, you need to rethink the premises you use to justify your beliefs, as they actually justify the opposite of your beliefs. Oddly enough, all of the comments your readers left were far more on the money than your article on the question of the source of rights. John T. Kennedy and Don Linsenbach in particular are spot on as far as they go. Even Rob G, who comes to the opposite conclusion from yours at least gets part of what he says right:

“what barbarian invading forces did is no proof text on morality.”

even if he reaches the wrong conclusion.

Perhaps you are trying to argue a different point than what I am reading, and you actually agree with what I am saying. If so, or if I have missed subtle evidence of parody or satire, I apologize for bothering you. However, if not, I think what I am saying is an important point, indeed it is THE important point in the American Revolution and all of Ayn Rand’s writings. These rights are not things that can be removed; they are innate and inalienable; they are conditions of morality itself. If one TRULY believes that rights and morality are “socially constructed” the only sensible option is to join those in power (the always present “communist masters”) and claim your share of their unjustly gained loot.

I don’t believe this – I won’t DO this – and I think (I hope) the same is true of you.

My reply:

Excellent comments, very well put. The purpose of this essay was to illustrate the pragmatic vs. the ideal. Perhaps the wording “majority believes” should have more accurately been “majority shares a belief,” but I thought it fairly obvious.

If you live in a society that does not have a majority that shares your belief in any particular right, then from a pragmatic standpoint that right is not exerciseable. You have a right to not be murdered, but if the State will do nothing to protect you from being murdered, and in fact may be the perpetrator OF your murder, what value does your right to life have?

If you’ve read the current main page of the blog, then surely you’ve seen the link to QandO Blog’s discussion of the “reality” of rights. As others have said, rights are like money: the more we believe in them, the better they work. “Moral,” “just,” and “proper” are all values, and as such they vary from society to society. For the ancient Romans, it was moral, just, and proper to practice infanticide by exposing deformed newborns, a practice that is considered criminal today.

I live in a society that is based on a concept of individual liberty heretofore unseen in the world. This belief was severely marred by its simultaneous support for slavery. We fought a war over that dichotomy, and as a result it was freedom that won out.

The purpose of this essay (and it’s unusually short for one of my pieces because – as I noted – I was restricted in length) was to illustrate to readers that if they want to preserve the rights this society is based on, it requires active involvement – because those rights are protected only as long as we protect them.

The problem I have is that when people hear about “natural rights,” they think that they’re something that is truly “unalienable” – when this is patently untrue, as history illustrates in bloody detail.

As I concluded the piece, “If you want to keep your rights, it is up to YOU to fight for them. Liberty is NEVER unalienable. You must always fight for it.”

I think the evidence shows that we’ve largely stopped fighting for it, and we’re suffering a decay of our rights because of it. If the barbarians win, our rights are GONE.

If you’d like to discuss this further, I’m willing.

Well, he did, and his reply was as follows:

I’ll try to keep my comments about what we’d discussed as short as possible, while still making my point as clearly as I can. First, I do appreciate your interest in the pragmatic side of human rights and political rights, and indeed, one should never become complacent enough to believe that another (or a group) will not try to violate one’s rights. This is without a doubt, a wise caution and an important point to make.

However, the point I was trying to make is that although such a pragmatic view is important when dealing with the realities of those who may not have my (or your, or anyone’s) best interests at heart, is that it is also important not to view such pragmatic beliefs as the SOURCE of rights. A view rights as a “social construct” or as only what can be defended is a dangerous view to have, primarily because of where it leads. If one views the only true rights are those that can be defended, as it seemed to me (perhaps incorrectly) you were doing in your article, then an immediate following question becomes apparent. Namely:

1. “Is it wrong for a thug to do whatever he (or she) wants to me or anyone else if he (or again, she) can back their actions up with force?”

Also, if one views rights as simply a “social construct” that has no meaning apart from what is practiced in the culture in question, we are again immediately provided with a question (or perhaps several):

2. “Are (or were) the governments of communist China, North Korea,Soviet Russia, or Nazi Germany wrong in controlling all aspects of their subjects lives?”

3. “Was (or is, as the case may be) slavery (or murder, or the forcible confiscation of an individuals property by a government) wrong?”

My suspicion here is that your answers to these three questions would match my own, namely:

1, 2, 3. “Yes it is (or was) wrong.”

to all three questions. However, if we view a true right as being only what can be defended or somehow tied to what a society in general believes or accepts, we are forced to accept the following answers:

1. “No, it is not wrong. Unless you can defend yourself, you deserve what you get.”

2. “No they are not wrong. (At least in the case of China and North Korea; perhaps they are wrong in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, but only after the fact.)”

3. “No, the people of the time believed it was OK, and so it was OK for them.”

This is not to say that this answers the question of what the ultimate source of a human’s rights are. This is a much trickier question, one that is almost certainly impossible to answer definitively, though we can use questions like the one above to ultimately eliminate certain potential answers. (Here we can eliminate “There are no rights so they have no source” and “The source of a human’s rights is the will or good nature of its community or government.) If a claimed source of rights leads to a statement that violates what we know of our rights and morality in general (and I do believe we CAN say we know certain things about both of these topics), that claimed source cannot be the true source.

Unfortunately, I seem to have failed in my attempt to keep my discussion of these matters short. I guess my main point is that although it is wise to consider what one needs to do to effectively defend one’s rights, these sorts of pragmatic questions should not be confused with the source of one’s rights in the first place. I guess my answer to all of these questions marks me as a moral absolutist (which I won’t deny). Though sometimes that is hard to admit, especially as it often is viewed as implying an intolerance of others (especially for trivial reasons) that I believe is wrong, the moral relativism and moral nihilism that are the other options lead to places – bad places – that are well known throughout history, even in the twentieth century. This difference between what is necessary to defend rights and the source of rights may seem an unimportant issue to you, and admittedly, it is kind of a fine point when we seem to agree on much else. I also could be mistaken in some of my points here – the study of morality is a difficult one and I am only an amateur philosopher (though I have done a fair amount of study on my own and I do have a pretty good background in logic from my training in mathematics). However, I don’t think I am wrong in any important point.

Dr. Cline, I believe, has a Doctorate in Mathematics but not in philosophy, and I don’t have a Doctorate in anything, but his questions have caused me to reexamine my thoughts on this topic, and in the wee hours of the morning the last few days I have composed and recomposed my response in my head. (Brilliantly, I’ll have you know. Only when I wake up again at 5:40AM, I seem to have misplaced the precise points I wanted to make, and the eloquent and compelling phrases with which I was to make them.)

This promises to be a rather long piece, (I know, so unusual for me!) so I have decided to split it into two posts. I will pre-date the second piece so that it appears immediately below this one, and it will follow along (if I’m lucky) sometime later this evening. (It’s up, concluded below.)

And y’all? I expect comments.

What is a “Right”? – Revisited – Part II.

(Continued from Part I)

There appear to be at least two interdependent questions here: the “realness” of rights, and the source of rights. There is a third, associated question: the “rightness” of rights. Let me begin by stating that the original post that spawned all of this was a bit too simplistic. Yes, I did state that “A ‘right’ is what the majority of a society believes it is,” and I’ll come back to that, but I am in agreement with Ayn Rand in her statement:

A ‘right’ is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life.

That right is, in my opinion, REAL, but it can be and has been trampled, folded, torn, spindled, mutilated, and – worst of all – unrealized, for the overwhelming majority of Man’s existence upon the Earth.

The source of this right?


Or Nature. Yaweh. Christ. Vishnu, Mother Gaia, Barney the Dinosaur. I don’t know, nor do I care overly much, but reason works for me.

I believe that right is “real” because I believe that – given the chance – average specimens of humanity will conclude through reason that they are of value (to themselves if no one else), and that their physical selves and the product of their labor belongs to them and not another. However, it is difficult to build a society based on this belief alone. (The AnarchoCaptialists think it can – and should – be done, but admit that they don’t know how.)

History shows us, though, that for most of our existence this right has not been exercised. The right has been unrecognized by the majority in the societies in which people lived – from the tribal all the way through today’s modern Marxist states. The strong ruled the weak, and owned, de facto if not de jure, both their lives and their production. Again, I state: If the society you live in does not have a majority that shares and defends a belief in your rights, you cannot successfully exercise those rights. As it pertains to Rand’s “right to your own life,” Heinlein wrote, “You cannot enslave a free man. The most you can do is kill him.” Or, as the recent protest placard from Lebanon quoted Braveheart: “They can take our lives… but they can never take our Freedom.”

But the “live free or die” option wasn’t chosen very often, it appears, Spartacus notwithstanding. The majority of those societies were far too willing to accommodate.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

He and the other Founders may have held those “truths to be self-evident,” but for centuries if not millenia before they were neither self-evident nor true. In fact, even today those “self-evident” rights are not acknowledged in much if not most of the world. As Rand stated,

The concept of individual rights is so new in human history that most men have not grasped it fully to this day.

Dr. Cline wrote:

Whether someone can or does violate a right of yours (or mine) says nothing about the content of the right itself. It is a mistake (leading to your straying near the idea that whatever “government” does is OK – as long as it has the force to back it up) to consider the question of what is a right to be a question of what is rather than what should be. Rights are not at all like physical laws; they are answers to questions of morality, which science (the realm of physical laws) has never been able to answer. The fact that many people considered (or still consider) rape, murder, and slavery to be morally acceptable is irrelevant to the correct answers to questions of morality. Many people have incorrect beliefs regarding morality (or even regarding physical laws for theat matter), and moral questions are notoriously tricky to answer. (This is quite probably the reason some philosophers decide to eventually go with the gibberish about rights and morality being meaningless, only a result of an act of will, or a “social construct” – out of laziness.)

I’m not a big fan of moral relativism, but I have studied history and I think this is the point at which Dr. Cline and I part philosophical company. I’ve quoted from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers lecture on “History and Moral Philosophy” on a number of occasions – Dr. Cline objects, in fact, to my selection from that book because:

The government presented therein is a fine example of a fascist/communist nanny-state, and its subjects/slaves are clearly worshippers of Nietzche’s “New Idol” – the state.

Yet I think he suffers from what Heinlein’s “Col. Dubois” points to as the flaw in our own society:

“Young lady, the tragic wrongness of what those well-meaning people did, contrasted with what they thought they were doing, goes very deep. They had no scientific theory of morals. They did have a theory of morals and they tried to live by it (I should not have sneered at their motives), but their theory was wrong — half of it fuzzy-headed wishful thinking, half of it rationalized charlatanry. The more earnest they were, the farther it led them astray. You see, they assumed that Man had a moral instinct.”

“Sir? I thought — But he does! I have.”

“No, my dear, you have a cultivated conscience, a most carefully trained one. Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You were not born with it, I was not — and a puppy has none. We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind. These unfortunate juvenile criminals were born with none, even as you and I, and they had no chance to acquire any; their experiences did not permit it. What is ‘moral sense’? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in future generations. This truth is mathematically demonstrable, everywhere verifiable; it is the single eternal imperative controlling everything we do.

“But the instinct to survive,” he had gone on, “can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive. Young lady, what you miscalled your ‘moral instinct’ was the instilling in you by your elders of the truth that survival can have stronger imperatives than that of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale. And so on up. A scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the individual’s instinct to survive — and nowhere else! — and must correctly describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts.

I think Dr. Cline believes that man has an innate moral instinct.

The whole purpose of morals is to ensure survival, and whatever works to ensure survival is, for that society, “moral.” If the practice of slavery increases the chances for survival, then the society will practice slavery, and its members will stare at you as if you had three heads if you try to convince them that what they are doing is morally wrong. If the practice of slavery will result in the enslaving society being attacked and destroyed by the ones it enslaves, then slavery will be abandoned as not worth the effort or (if realized too late) it will fall because its morality failed. But when slavery becomes a survival-neutral activity, inertia will carry it long past the point at which it should be abandoned – because man has no moral sense. (Bear in mind that slavery was a common human condition until – as Sarah of Carnaby Fudge has repeatedly pointed out – Protestant Christians took up its abolition as a moral cause. It is still practiced in some places today.)

From a pragmatic point of view, if it works, it’s good. If it doesn’t work, it’s bad. Nothing else matters. An “incorrect belief regarding morality” means one that is detrimental to the survival of the individual and the society, nothing more. An example: the Indian practice of sati. In the Indian culture the widow of a man was expected to commit suicide by self-immolation either on her husband’s funeral pyre or separately, in a demonstration of her loyalty and devotion to her husband. In that culture, the wife’s existance was pretty much defined through her husband, and when he died she became a burden on her society. For apparently pragmatic reasons she was expected to kill herself, and for religious reasons in this specific, agonizing way. There is some evidence that not all incidents of sati were voluntary. This practice dates back to probably the 1500’s, but it was prohibited by the British in 1829.

Is it wrong for a woman to do that? Is it wrong for a society to expect it of her? The (probably apocryphal) story of its ending was one of conflict between two moralities – the Indian, and the British. The Brits declared that sati was no longer to be practiced, and the Indians protested that it was their honored and religious tradition. The Brits responded that it was their honored and religious tradition to hang people who burned women to death, so the next funeral pyre would be accompanied by a gallows, and if sati occurred, a lot of hangings would as well.

The practice of sati declined dramatically, but it still occurs occasionally – once at least as recently as 1987. There’s that moral inertia thing, illustrated. Another example? Muslim “honor killings” of women – another whole post (if not more) in itself.

My point is that Dr. Cline essentially argues that there are certain specific “true” real rights that are universal for all people at all times and places. He lists murder, rape, and slavery as examples of things that are universally immoral and violative of rights. He states:

All rights are simply universal conditions “which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore.” Even your Webster’s definitions make this clear:

1: qualities (as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval

2: something to which one has a just claim: as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled b: the interest that one has in a piece of property – often used in plural (mineral rights)

3: something that one may properly claim as due

The words “moral,” “just,” and “properly” are the key here. The claim doesn’t cease to be “moral,” “just,” or “proper” simply because it is violated. The beliefs of the evil and the wrong do not make a thing right.

Telling a murderer that he is violating your rights won’t stop him from doing it, and if he kills you is he not “taking away your right to life”? The question I have is: the claim to whom? Who do we go to with our claims to our proper rights? It isn’t God, obviously, because if so, He hasn’t made His annoyance felt at any of the more egregious mass violations of individual rights, not to mention the plebeian everyday ones. To the populace of the society that has perpetrated the violation of rights? Fat lot of good that will do, as historically they’ve been complicit in the violation.

“All rights are simply universal conditions ‘which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore’?” I don’t think that’s true, and I think human history illuminates that point with a million-candlepower floodlight. But as we’ve progressed through time, changes in technology and the advantages these changes have given us have allowed us the freedom to think and to develop that newest of concepts: The Individual Right. And technology has given us, as I detailed in Those Without Swords Can Still Die Upon Them, the individual ability to defend those individual rights against infringement by others.

Dale Franks in his QandO Blog post Natural Rights? said:

If rights are natural, then why do they not arise spontaneously? Indeed, for rights to even exist for any appreciable amount of time, they have to be reinforced with a massive hedge of social, legal, and political buttresses. We employ thousands of individuals as police, lawyers, judges, and politicians. That seems to be a pretty complex life support system for something that’s natural.

There are, of course, societies that exist without this life-support system. Somalia, for example, is a country in which everything it is possible for people to accomplish with guns has been accomplished. The only “rights” that exist there are those that the inhabitants can defend by force. So, why, after government collapsed in Somalia and the country devolved into anarchy, didn’t the recognition of “rights” spontaneously arise?

Let’s say you and I lived in a state of nature. What stops me from killing you? You have no recourse to the protection of the law. No community of fellow citizens who are pledged to protect you. There’s just you and me in the forest, and I don’t want you there. Where are your rights now? What protection do they afford you?

What you have is the ability to defend yourself. If you’re lucky, the fear of your ability to protect yourself might deter me. It might not. But the only thing that keeps me from killing you and taking your possessions is your ability to defend yourself. Your “right” to live is irrelevant. The only “rights” you have in nature are those you can secure for yourself by force. Your “rights” certainly won’t prevent me from bashing you over the head with a rock.

That “(t)he beliefs of the evil and the wrong do not make a thing right” may be true, does not stop the tyrant from acting. The only thing that can protect you is if a majority of the populace agrees on what are or are not “rights” – in this case, the right to live – and the willingness of that majority to act to defend those rights. If both of us agree that killing the other is wrong, we’ve just formed a society in which the majority (all both of us) holds a common belief system. If not, one of us is likely to die – and there can be no “proper claim” filed in protest of that fact. Further, any protestation of the “wrongness” of the act is meaningless.

So, in answer to the question, “Is it wrong for a thug to do whatever he (or she) wants to me or anyone else if he (or again, she) can back their actions up with force?” I must reply that the answer is dependent on whether this action occurs within a society that deems such actions to be wrong. If so, yes. If not, the answer is not “no,” the question is moot. The answer to the question “Are (or were) the governments of communist China, North Korea, Soviet Russia, or Nazi Germany wrong in controlling all aspects of their subjects lives?” is much easier. Those actions all took place long after the concept of individual rights was firmly established in our society. Yes. They are all wrong. But that fact didn’t stop those governments. The rights of those individuals were all violated by their own governments through the actions of individuals in those societies, and the majority of those societies did not act to stop those violations – so what good were their rights? If they believed in their individual rights, yet did not defend their individual rights, how is this pragmatically different from their not having those rights?

In answer to the question “Was (or is, as the case may be) slavery (or murder, or the forcible confiscation of an individuals property by a government) wrong?” – again, it is wrong by our standards of enlightenment – but that alone does not prevent the actions from occurring.

This, then, brings us to the question of the rightness of any particular right. As I quote Rand above, the only fundamental right is a man’s right to his own life. All others are its consequences or corollaries. Chris Byrne of AnarchAngel divides rights into inherent and constructed. Inherent rights, he says,

are those rights we posess by virtue of being sentient beings; constructed rights, are all other things, taken as rights, which are not inherent rights. They are rights by law, but not by nature

For example, inherent rights would include, among others:

  • The right to not be attacked or killed out of hand by your fellow man.
  • The right to own and hold property
  • The right to defend ones life and ones property against others.
  • The right to determine the course of ones life through free choice
  • The right to be judged fairly by ones actions (that one’s a bit fuzzy)
  • The right to think those thoughts that you wish to think
  • The right to speak those words that you wish to speak; presuming they are not, in effect, actions infringing the rights of others.

Inherent rights cannot be taken, or limited; but by force, or willing consent.

Constructed rights would include the right to privacy, the right to vote, the right to marry (civily), and others.

Not a bad list, as every one of those “inherent rights” can be seen as a corollary to “a man’s right to his own life.”

Professor Randy Barnett devotes a chapter of his book Restoring the Lost Constitution to “Natural Rights as Liberty Rights.” In it, he discusses the difficulty of identifying all the Rights of Man, beginning the chapter with the words of James Irdell from the North Carolina ratifying convention, July 29, 1788:

[I]t would not only be useless, but dangerous, to enumerate a number of rights which are not intended to be given up; because it would be implying, in the strongest manner, that every right not included in the exception might be impaired by the government without usurpation; and it would be impossible to enumerate every one. Let any one make what collection or enumeration of rights he pleases, I will immediately mention twenty or thirty more rights not contained in it.

Barnett argues that the reason no complete list of the “rights of the people” was included in the Constitution is precisely the reason given by Irdell: such a list would be impossible to construct. First off, you could never get any group of people to agree to them all, and second, the list would be endless, trailing off into absurdity. But the point I was making in What is a “Right?” was this:

  • This nation was founded on the belief in a certain set of rights.
  • Those rights are based on the foundation of certain individual liberties heretofore unpracticed by any other society.
  • That foundation (for want of a better source) is Rand’s single fundamental right, come to by the power of REASON.
  • These rights were codified into the founding legal document of our nation.
  • The preservation of these rights requires active participation in their defense by the majority of the populace – else, rightly or wrongly, they will cease to be protected and will vanish as if they had never been.
  • The day after I put up that first post, I found a quotation by Antonin Scalia that pretty much said it all in a paragraph:

    To some degree, a constitutional guarantee is like a commercial loan, you can only get it if, at the time, you don’t really need it. The most important, enduring, and stable portions of the Constitution represent such a deep social consensus that one suspects if they were entirely eliminated, very little would change. And the converse is also true. A guarantee may appear in the words of the Constitution, but when the society ceases to possess an abiding belief in it, it has no living effect. Consider the fate of the principle expressed in the Tenth Amendment that the federal government is a government of limited powers. I do not suggest that constitutionalization has no effect in helping the society to preserve allegiance to its fundamental principles. That is the whole purpose of a constitution. But the allegiance comes first and the preservation afterwards.

    I came to be an activist because I recognized that fact, just from looking at how the Right to Arms has been steadily chipped away. This has happened because much of the society has lost its “abiding belief in it.” It is hardly the only right so affected, enumerated or not. I’ve had this conversation before, as detailed in the post Engage, or Disengage? I’m at somewhat of a loss over what to do about it, other than to try my damnedest to educate people so that they see it, too, before things get too far out of hand. I call that “trying to teach the horse to sing.”

    My objection to the position that Dr. Cline takes is that it encourages members of the society to disconnect. If you believe, as Dr. Cline believes, that “All rights are simply universal conditions ‘which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore'” then why would it be necessary to defend them? But I think that sooner or later you will discover that the result of such a belief is finding a tyrant violating your rights is pragmatically no different from not having them at all.

    UPDATE, 3/21: Solarvoid posts on the topic from the “sunny rose colored Jesus glasses” perspective. (His words!) Good piece.

    Here I Am, Still Posting via Mordor!.

    At least according to Donald Sensing.

    Blogger has become the Mordor of the blogosphere

    Yes, Blogger has been unstable as of late, and yes, it’s irritating as hell, but it’s orders of magnitude better than it was in May, 2003 when I started using it. And it’s still free. And I have yet to see that big, flaming eye.

    My lack of posting this week hasn’t been due to Blogger’s stability problems, but because I’ve been busy and both my wife and I have been ill. She’s got whatever creeping crud is going around and has been trying to hack up a lung for about the last nine days – usually between 2 and 4AM. (A five-day course of Zithromax hasn’t produced all that much improvement, IMHO.)

    I’ve got my annual Springtime allergies.

    Oh, joy.

    So, for those of you who have been visiting repeatedly looking for new site content on the hot topics in gun control, like the DEA agent who said “I’m the only one in this room professional enough, that I know of, to handle this Glock .40” – just before shooting himself with it unintentionally, or the whacked-out asshole who shot up a church service or the whacked-out nutjob that shot up an Atlanta courthouse:

    Did I have something to say about these? Yes, I did. Did I get it said? No, I didn’t.

    But hey, this service is free to you, so sometimes you get what you pay for.

    In the mean time, I’ve been trading emails with a couple of people, and I’m working on another one of those thesis-length tracts sure to draw scathing comments about the size rather than the content, so bear with me.

    Oh, and I’m still doing a lot of reading. I’ve started Guns, Germs and Steel.

    Thanks for visiting.