The Health Care Trojan Horse in France

More on state-run health care as a Trojan horse for fascism, this time from France:

Writing in the left-wing Liberation newspaper, sociologist Henri Pierre
Jeudy suggested the ban marked "the end of an era" for France -- and a
danger for personal freedoms.

"Public health costs are being used to justify an ever more
coercive control over our private lives," he said, with France's yen
for smoky cafes now cast as "an unhealthy mistake".

My other posts on the same topic here.

  • morganovich

    while i am generally in opposition to the government telling us how to live our lives and what vices to enjoy - i think that the smoking bans need to be viewed in a different light.

    this is not about personal liberty.

    it is about primacy of rights.

    in paris (as in new york etc) the prevailing rights structure had been the right to smoke, even if it disturbs others. (and it does) but what of the right to breathe clean air? what of the right to be free of unpleasant externalities foisted upon you by others?

    if i walked into a bar with a skunk under my arm because it is my security animal an i like the way it smells and it sprayed you, you would be upset. it's a scent you don't like, it clings to you, requires your clothes to be cleaned etc. is sitting next to me and smoking a pack of gauloiuse really any different?

    smokers have traditionally been much more assertive about their right to smoke than non smokers have been assertive of their right to not be exposed to the unpleasant externalities of other people's choices. this all fits neatly into a coase framework. how we set up rights will determine behavior. if i were allowed to walk up to a smoker and hand him my dry cleaning bill and force him to pay it, he might take more care where he exhaled. but in practice, such a system has impossible enforcement costs, so we must chose specific rights to have primacy.

    so this is not about the reduction of liberty. it is about rights being assigned differently. the non smoker now possesses the ability to enjoy clean air. the smoker can still smoke, but must do so in a way that does not impinge upon the enjoyment of others. how is that any different from playing loud music or riding an unmuffled harley through boston? failure to put some limits on liberty causes the reduction of overall liberty. we do not have the right to force others to put up with our behavior regardless of whether it annoys them.

  • dearieme

    We'd leave it to the bar owner to ban skunks if he chose.

  • Jim Collins

    Uhhh! Hey! Morganovich! What about a business owner's right to run their business as they see fit? If I choose to allow smoking in my tavern, that should be my right. Don't give me this crap about my employee's rights. No one is keeping them chained to the floor. They are free to find work elsewhere and if I want to take the chance of losing business by allowing smoking, that's my right as well. You have the right to vote with your pocketbook and choose not to patronize my establishment. Problem is that this isn't happening here. The non-smokers are using the law to run rampant over the rights of smokers.

    By the way, I don't smoke, I never have. I'm speaking up now, because, when these zelots are done with smoking, what are they going to go after next? It might be something that I do like to do.

  • franco

    "we do not have the right to force others to put up with our behavior regardless of whether it annoys them."

    With all respect, your post kind of annoys me - I'd like to see it banned. No one forces you to go into a smokey bar. I personally cannot stand the smoke but it is the proprietor of the bar who has risked his capital to start it and I think it is up to him to decide what goes on inside, not you or me.

  • morganovich

    but what of loud music? can the bar owner blast his stereo at any volume he chooses? what about unmuffled motorcycles? obviously, liberty has limits and must have them for a society to function. the whole notion of a society is the abrogation of personal liberty for the greater good. i give up my right to theft, and in return, don;t need to guard my things all the time. i give up my right to assault people who annoy me, and in return need not fear assault nearly so much as i would. both seem to be to my benefit, but each individual cannot be allowed to participate in society without making this choice. it cannot be optional or the society does not function.

    it is not optional that if a damage your property, i am to be expected to make good the harm. this is how the majority of rights are structured. new smoking laws are very much in line with this. while i completely object to people being told WHETHER they can smoke, being told WHERE they can do so if it annoys others is reasonable. it's just like a loud stereo. play it as loud as you like, but if it irritates your neighbors, you have to stop.

    but a "hey this bothers me cut it out" discussion would impose too great an transactional burden in each and ever instance. it's just not feasible. so rights need to be assigned and protected. to me, requiring those creating a nuisance to others to find a way to mitigate that nuisance doesn't seem like the tyranny it gets made out to be. rather it's just the efficient assignment of personal and property rights. such things are essential to a functioning society. certainly, there is room to disagree over their allocation, but the overall need to do so seems unassailably clear unless you would live in anarchy.

  • franco

    You are entirely missing the point - the smoking is going on in someone else's private property. There are no externalities except those accepted by entering the premises.

  • franco

    Sorry, once there is universal health care, there are externalities to almost all private behavior which is why this is going to result in a massive curtailment of personal freedom: play your stereo too loud, results in ear damage - put volume limiters on stereos, ban headphones; certain foods are bad for you - ban alcohol, ban trans fats, ban peanuts, ban coffee, ban fast food, ban cold cuts, ban mayonnaise, ban pizza, ban ice cream; If I expended it to things bad for air quality or that cause cancer or that can pollute drinking water, I'd be here all day. It is a slippery slope.

  • morganovich

    sorry to post two in a row, but had not seen all the responses.

    franco and jim - it seems to me that you are saying that the liberty of a bar owner within his establishment should be unfettered. so do you oppose health codes? shall we allow him to have rats in the kitchen and a dishwasher with lead racks? if he refused to let you have a look, you can always go somewhere else.. how about stairs built of balsa wood? are you making the argument that no regulation of businesses of any kind ought to be permitted? can i put my loud, smoky bar and all of it's patrons right next to your house?(if this is what you are saying, see below) if not, then it is just a matter of degree and your absolutist response does not hold water. it's just a disagreement as to where to draw the line.

    if you are saying there ought be no regulation consider: such a "fully free" situation is considerably less free for a patron. do you want to be responsible for checking the kitchen of each place you eat? that the water is potable and the dishwasher is safe? perhaps reputation can guide you at home, but what of when you travel? is that really your preferred world or are you just assuming the "ruleless" world would be just like this one in the way that anti-globalization zealots assume that choice would be as great and prices as low without the trade they purport oppose? life would not be so easy under this structure. it would be harder to try new places to eat. this would stifle competition etc. don't believe me? go out on a 2 week dining extravaganza in mexico city without a guide book or the advice of a good concierge.

    consider seriously the argument you make:

    either business owners may do as they please in all things and therefore all patrons must be forever vigilant as to what they consume and where they do it, costing a great deal of time and effort and making the establishing of a new business more difficult in a reputation focused less competitive system.

    or

    some rules ought to be instituted as to health and safety. if they are to be any at all, then you cannot make an absolutist argument. all you can argue is where to draw the line.

  • franco

    It may be about drawing the line but smoking is obvious to see and easy to verify. Do you really think health code are what keep you safe at restaruants? There are restaurants which pass the code that I'll never eat at. If codes work then why should I worry about eating about any restaurant in Mexico City? They have a perfectly valid health code...

  • morganovich

    franco-

    you miss my point.

    it is not that health codes are always effective.

    it is whether they are permissible and desirable.

    if, as you seem to agree, some limits on business are permissible and even good, then we are talking about where to draw a line.

    there is enormous room for intelligent people to disagree over that or even over what framework to use to arrive at a decision. coase would posit that you set up a rights structure that allows for the producer of an externality to properly face its costs so long as enforcement costs are reasonable. perhaps that is not the correct structure here. perhaps it is. this is a debate unto itself. but it is a legitimate debate. it's a rights structure argument. i cannot open a parking lot where your right to sue someone who hits your car is abrogated. i can try to limit my own exposure, but i cannot take away a right from you no matter how i would like to run my business.

    this is what i am arguing. this is a rights primacy issue.

  • franco

    In simple terms, I do not feel I have a right to clean air in someone else's private residence or private business. I have a right to clean air in my house and my business and a reasonable expectation of clean air in public places. If a bar owner chooses to allow smoking, I feel that's their right and I won't be spending much, if any, time in their establishment.

  • morganovich

    but again, this is a "where to draw the line" argument and thus one of rights and their primacy.

    saying that a municipality that issues a liquor license can't include provisions as to the behavior of the proprietor is akin to saying that a state issuing a driver's license cannot enforce vehicular codes.

    are liquor licenses desirable and needed? that's another argument and fits in with zoning and all sorts of other tricky municipal planning issues. there are arguments on both sides that make some sense to me.

    but the fact is they exist. a licensing agency can require things of you whether through health codes or issues over hours etc. this is not some unprecedented breach of freedom nor can it be viewed in an absolute sense.

    your "feel" for what is a good rights structure may be different that mine and neither of us is necessarily right. but at the end of the day my point is that it is debatable. this was not some outlandish usurpation of rights (such as kelo vs new london) but just a change in whose rights would be protected. i might feel that i have no right not to be robbed, but will have it under the law nonetheless. no proprietor of a business can make it OK to steal my wallet if i come in.

    some law will always have primacy over other law and of certain rights. such things are inevitable in a society.

  • It is truly the end of an era about the smoking ban in France. About time it's happened though. As a non-smoker, I prefer not to be poisoned by second hand smoke, thank you.

  • Jim Collins

    Morganovich,
    The last time I checked smoking was LEGAL. You are compairing apples and oranges here. The Health laws pertaining to restraunts are to protect the public from dangers that they may be unaware of, short of going and inspecting the kitchen for themselves. By simply posting a sign saying "SMOKING PERMITTED" I can make them informed and aware. The public can then make an informed descision to patronize my establishment or not.

  • Ryan Brooks

    "i cannot open a parking lot where your right to sue someone who hits your car is abrogated."
    Yes, you can. Some refer to it as a demolition derby, but most prefer not to park there.

    "go out on a 2 week dining extravaganza in mexico city without a guide book or the advice of a good concierge."
    Two great ideas that get the job done without a health code. Add Consumer Reports and the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and we are doing pretty good.

    It is a good thing we have the health code here, otherwise Ted Bundy could have opened a restaurant with lead forks and balsa wood stairs and killed a lot more people than he did.

  • morganovich

    jim-

    smoking in the workplace is ILLEGAL.

    has been for some time. you may disagree with the decision, but no other workplace tolerates it. bars and restaurants have been an exception to the rule for some time.

    a business is a workplace unless you have no employees. then, at least in san francisco, you can smoke there.

    obviously, what is legal changes over time. changing the right to smoke is not much different than changing bar hours. it's a part of the permitting process. this is just a rights structure question, not one of fundamental liberties. if you want to have that discussion, you must first do away with all licensing agencies. this has serious cost as well as possible benefits (the right to not have a late night hip hop club open next to your house vs the ease of opening businesses etc but as i said of health codes above, many of these seem to net out reasonably well)

    ryan, your arguments just don't make any sense, so i'm going to leave them alone.

  • Bearster

    "...the whole notion of a society is the abrogation of personal liberty for the greater good."

    It seems to me that the Libertarian philosophy (and movement) is doomed so long as the above statement is regarded as debatable.

    Morganovich, what exactly do you think that we need to sacrifice? How do you define liberty, and why does society require that it be abrogated?

    Where do you think rights come from? Are they granted by government? Does any living thing (such as a plant or bug) have rights? Do rights come from the capacity to feel pain, such as animals have? Do convicted felons have rights?

    Can you enumerate man's rights?

    If a Democrat says that he wants to take 80% of your income, a Republican might respond by quibbling about 80% and suggest that 70% is better. What's your answer? Once you've conceded that government can rob people for the "greater" good, how do you draw any lines?

  • Jim Collins

    Last time I checked the reason that bars and restraunts were exempt from the smoking laws is because the people doing the smoking were the customers, not the employees. While we are on the subject of exemptions how about hotels and motels? The funny thing is that the EMPLOYEES of these businesses are NOT allowed to smoke while working. If it was decided tomorrow to make smoking illegal (ie political suicide) I would have no problem with it.

    Just because a bad law got passed (smoking in the workplace) doesn't make it a good law. When the smoking in the workplace laws first started, the company that I worked for built a small shelter, just off the employee entrance, so that smokers could use it during their breaks. This now has been declared illegal. Why?
    These laws have nothing to do with protecting the rights of non-smokers, they are just meant to harass smokers.

    Let's call it what it is. One group trying to force their ideas and morality on another. As I said before, I don't smoke, I'm just worried about what happens when they are done trampling the rights of smoker's. Who do they come after next?

  • morganovich

    bearster-

    there will always be lines and people will always abrogate liberty to government. this is pretty much the definition of government. pure liberty is the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want. this goes even beyond hobbes's state of nature. i feel his notions of "natural rights" cannot be proven or demonstrated in any way and are simply arbitrarily imposed. any limit to this limits pure liberty.

    example: the government imposes the tried and true (and generally well liked) law that states "no killing other people". this is a limit to your liberty in comparison to a full state of nature. would you agree?

    if you do, then you have abrogated personal liberty to the government and accepted their right to attempt to prevent killings and punish those who break the rule.

    but if you are like me, you probably view this to be to your benefit. not needing to worry nearly so much about your personal safety frees up a lot of your time and effort. you likely get more liberty back than you gave up as you are likely to spend more time enjoying your safety and doing productive things that you value with it than you will feeling thwarted and bitter over your lack of ability to murder the guy next door.

    this right to not be killed is arbitrary. it is an agreed upon structure. but if you accept that the law against killing is a good one, then you must accept that sometimes a government enforced reduction of "do as thou wilt liberty" is a good thing. in fact, it is the reason we create governments in the first place.

    the willful construction of rights is inherent in the basic nature of government. without such a thing, no government at all could exist. it is not practical to do everything by consent and contract. what of the one guy who does not or did not sign his consent to the law? can he be allowed to live with us given his right to kill us legally? are you proposing we move to a state of anarchy?

    i think you are confusing the notion of what a government may, must and ought to do and what it should do. minimizing government interference in most private spheres is desirable and good. but to make an argument that a priori they have no right to limit liberty is ridiculous and indefensible unless you would live in a state of anarchy.

    my whole argument here is that many of your are mistaking this a priori argument with the notion of what SHOULD be done and are arguing from a bankrupt premise as a result. i am not even really arguing with your conclusions, just with you framing of the question, which i think does you a disservice.

  • morganovich

    jim-

    i am not making a bad law good law argument. read the response i wrote to bearster. what i am arguing is that you are framing the question incorrectly. this argument cannot be won on the basis of the government not having the right to regulate unless you are advocating a state of anarchy.

    therefore, to make a consistent and winnable argument, you must argue from the standpoint of rights and which should have primacy. this has been my position all along despite this thread's ominous tendency to want to paint me as some sort of big nanny government communist because i have disagreed with their first principles argument that government has no right to regulate behavior. it does and must else it be no government at all.

    you position can be compellingly argued as a function of rights. the right to do as you wish on private property can be argued to be superior to that of the government to push workplace health. that is a potentially valid argument. but to argue that the government has no right to regulate behavior on private property is ludicrous. what if i chose to open a brothel for child sex? i know smoking is legal and child sex is not. but these laws made smoking at bars not legal. that carries all the force of any other law.

    you can ague that it is not the correct assignment or priority to rights, and may well be right, but understand that that is and must be the argument you are making unless you would live in a state of nature. there is a big difference between saying "this is a bad law" and "the government has no right to make law".

  • Jim Collins

    The government has no rights, it only has the authority that we choose to grant it. Somehow that has been forgotten over the years. I'll agree with the governments duty to protect it's citizens, but we are not talking about that here. What we are discussing is one group's desire to inflict it's views and morality on the other. Morganovich if this issue was based on your previous statements then smoking should be outlawed. My main concern with laws of this type is that they are unnecessary. We are trying to legislate away responsibility for our own actions. If my place of employment wants me to do something unsafe or unhealthy it should be up to me to find other employment. (I have done it.). If I don't like the smoke in a bar, I'm free to leave and spend my money elsewhere. The only time the government should intervene is if I don't have this choice.

    I previously mentioned a small shelter for smokers outside the plant,where I used to work. How does this shelter violate the rights of non-smokers? Why should this shelter be illegal? Forget the PolSci 101 rhetoric and answer the questions.

  • morganovich

    jim-

    i still don't think you are following me. let me try to be more clear.

    i not not advocating making smoking illegal. i don't know where you are getting that view. i am not supporting this law. you seem to feel some emotional need to see me as opposition here. i am trying to clarify thinking. i am not trying to advocate either side of the debate. i just want the question asked properly and discussed on that basis.

    what i am saying is that the arguments many of you are making against the law are not valid. this does not necessarily mean you are wrong. it is possible to reach the correct answer through the wrong process.

    i presume that you are in agreement that a government able to make and uphold laws is desirable at least to a certain degree? do you not believe in any government at all?

    presuming that you accept that government is desirable and can make and uphold laws, then do you agree that any such laws limit liberty in an absolute sense? (see the murder argument above)

    if the government can and must limit liberty, then this argument must be about extent. that makes it an argument about the primacy of rights. go do a quick read on rawls and his notions of "a theory of justice". government is essentially a list of things we want protected. there is ample room for disagreement between intelligent people as to what should go on the list. but to argue the list itself ought not exist is perilous.

    your distinction between rights and authority is a good one. but we have (and must) grant certain authority to a government. what authority can and ought to be debated. but absolutist arguments about ceding any at all are inconsistent with having any government at all.

    all i want is for you to realize that you are arguing about what ought to be on a list of government authority, not whether the list should or can exist. thus, it is an argument about how rights structures interact. a right to smoke is contrary to a right to breathe clean air and be compensated for externalities. both may be trumped by a right to certain privileges on private property. but limits to the freedom enjoyed on private property (child brothel argument above) will exist as well. this is a further rights interaction.

    does that makes sense?

    though you may not see it, i want you to win your argument. therefore i am trying to help you make it well, clearly, and with internal-consistence.

  • Reformed Republican

    A child brothel and smoking in a bar are not comparable at all.

    A private property owner chooses to allow smoking on his property. Patrons choose to use the services on that property, knowing that smoking is allowed, and that they might be exposed to smoke. There is no coercion involved. Other people may choose not to use those service because they do not want to be around smoke. Again, no one is forced to do anything. Everything is consensual.

    On the other hand, children are considered to be incapable of making a decision about whether or not to engage in sexual activity. They are incapable of giving consent, therefore they are being forced to engage in a potentially harmful activity.

  • morganovich

    rr-

    i would argue that they are. they differ in that the rights structures around them differ. a child's right not to be raped/inability to give consent (and who is to decide on consent and who has the right to give it, this is in and of itself arbitrary. why 18 not 17 or 19?) is a function of rights (right to bodily freedom and no right to give consent).

    in both cases it's what rights have primacy. i chose child brothel because it is a very clear case in which few people would argue which rights ought be paramount.

    most would agree such a thing ought not be permitted. if you believe so, then you have de facto accepted that the government can limit the behavior of citizens on private property if that's how the rights play out.

    the smoking case is obviously much less clear. but is the right to be secure in one's person sacrosanct or the right to enjoyment of tobacco? how do they interplay with the right to permit or prevent behavior on private property. there are lots of considerations here. the conclusions we come to must be based on the dispassionate application or rights and law. we cannot use one process some of the time and another the rest.

    what of a child strapped into the car seat of a smoking parent. can he give consent to be exposed to, as you term it, "potentially harmful activity"? what if he refuses to give consent? can he demand release? ought the government enforce such a request? what if it's a baby? you cannot use consent as an absolute else the baby must be removed from a "potentially harmful situation" regardless of his wishes in just the way a child prostitute would be. the question is, of necessity, more complex. it involves more rights than just consent. this is my point.

    if a child cannot give consent, then must the government protect him from every conceivable "potentially harmful activity"? i certainly hope not and hope you feel that way as well. but the only way out of that morass is the assertion/protection of various rights. consent is not sufficient.

    enshrining and upholding rights, liberties, and obligations is what government is for. how we set them up determines our society. a small number of rights are inviolate. most are not and cannot be. yelling fire in a crowded theater etc...

  • "morganovich"?

    You're a fucking idiot.

    That's all there is to it.

  • morganovich

    billy-

    thank you for your illuminating input.

    i hope you are a better guitarist than a commentator...

  • Bearster

    Morganovich: I think you missed my point. You said:

    "...pure liberty is the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want..."

    This is an unusable definition. Ergo conclusions derived from it are arbitrary or false.

    A proper definition begins by examining the full context. Do non-living things have rights? Do collectives of living things have rights? Do all living things (e.g. bacteria) have rights? What is it that's unique about man that gives rise to the very concept of rights? What are the rights? Is the list finite? Is it even possible to utter (as you did) the phrase "the government's rights"?

    "...this right to not be killed is arbitrary..."

    Is your mind open to an examination of this error? If you invested in *wanting* this to be so, then I will disengage without wasting more of your time. If you are interested in a proper, objective discussion of the concept of rights, i.e. sanction to act in a social context, then I will be happy to write more.

  • morganovich

    b-

    i disagree that my definition of liberty is unusable. why do you say it is? you never explain that statement. you describe my "error" but then go on to reference an unexplained "full context". i feel it is in fact you who are "wanting" something to be so to the exclusion of considering other options. thus far you have laid out no actual argument apart from saying "you are wrong".

    liberty is the ability to do as you wish. therefore pure liberty is unfettered freedom of action. i am not arguing that bellum omnium contra omnes is a good thing, merely that is is the foundation upon which all must be built. fear of violent death etc.. drive societies to find ways to mitigate this condition. thus rights emerge. certain rights may emerge time and time again, but not in all places in all times and in differing ways. one could make an argument that over time the process of positive law causes natural law to emerge, but i find this unpersuasive, as who is to say what the right track is or whether another structure of rights radically different from our own might not work better. such notions of "evolving towards" as opposed to just "evolving" carry latent value judgments in them which cloud objectivity.

    honestly, i don't see how any other definition than mine could ever be universally agreed upon.

    why does anyone or anything intrinsically have rights? (i do not believe they do) how could such rights ever be "discovered"? how could they be proven in a dispassionate and impartial way that is agreeable to all? given that there is more than one religion and that some are not religious at all, god cannot provide an answer in a pure sense. (though obviously, many societies (including our own)have anchored their notions of rights in religion and an appeal to some greater force "imbued by their creator with certain inalienable rights...")

    but this does not make it a logical argument nor a cohesive system. it just ends the debate at "the almighty says..." and prevents further discussion. 10 different groups might (and have) arrived at differing notions as to just what the almighty has inalienably imbued us with. different notions of god grant different things. therefore, i see that as fundamentally just as arbitrary as any other system unless someone can prove that they are right about god.

    so all rights are arbitrary. can you prove you have a right to life? you certainly want life, but why are you entitled to it? is a lion or an antelope? whose right has primacy given that one must eat the other to survive?

    i personally find it dangerous to anchor notions of rights in "natural law". the right to life or the pursuit of happiness is not like KE = MV^2. you can't discover and test and prove it.

    systems of rights emerge and endure because they work and the participants in societies using them feel better off as a result of them. if this is not sufficiently the case, revolutions tend to occur.

    your point about the rights of government is a good one. that was a sloppy statement on my part. what i meant to convey was the authority of government. we cede some of our pure liberty (the ability to kill whom we wish) and grant authority to the government to uphold this compact. thus, while we may be slightly less free, the freedom from fear etc resulting from this ceding of freedom leaves us considerably better off. such structures arise in game theory all the time as a result of self interested behavior. we enshrine them as rights so that they don't need to be constantly renegotiated and so that opting out is not an option.

    but it's still all arbitrary.

    can you give me an example of a non arbitrary right and how it can be explained/demonstrated/proven to be so without making an appeal to religion?

  • Bearster

    morganovich: I asked if you were invested in the notion that all rights are arbitrary because that would be a truly horrible state of affairs with the consequence that might makes right (or any majority vote, which is the same thing), which means there is no such thing as a "right" at all. In fact, this argument began because you defended government intrusion into private affairs on the basis that we all have to cede a little liberty for a little security. In fact, there is no way to draw a line. Your defense begins with the straw man of "pure liberty" which you say we must surrender, but the realworld example was that the government forces private citizens not to engage in purely voluntary behavior that they otherwise would have engaged in. It seems this is quite unnecessary to avoid anarchism--but it is a quite necessary corollary of your position.

    This is why I said that your view of rights is rationally unusable--it is a view that says might makes right, or any vote of any majority makes right, and there are no rights that cannot be abrogated.

    Here is my argument, in briefest outline. Of necessity I have to omit a lot of detail. First, we begin with ethics (I assume that you accept that reality is real (and universal and absolute) and reason works. If not, then I have nothing to say to you and no way to say it--and you are stuck in the position of depending on the very conceps you would attempt to deny.

    OK, all living things have something that all non-living thing lack. This thing can go out of existence. Their lives.

    This is the source of values: that which a living being acts to gain or keep.

    Man is different from all other living things in on key respect. Other living things act in accordance with their nature, as they evolved to survive (or die if they are put in a situation outside what they are adapted to). But man has a choice. He can act to destroy himself or he can act to gain and keep the values necessary for life.

    In essence, man can choose to admit that he knows what he knows, or he can try to evade it. This is the fundamental moral choice that all men must face constantly.

    OK, I confess. I've done it. You were (I assume) expecting me to either make a circular argument or to depend on something outside my system that I cannot prove). I've just done the latter. I assume you value your life. If you say you do not, then you are either about to expire or you are lying.

    So the rest of this discussion is--explicitly--only applicable to people who want to live. Are you still with me?

    Note the connection I discussed above between values and life. Proper values are not arbitrary. While it is possible for a man (but not a dog or an insect) to choose to value that which will kill him, it is easy to see that this is an improper value.

    A simular argument applies to rights.

    Man is not especially quick or ferocious. He can't store food or water for 6 months in his back. He can't grow fur to survive an arctic winter. If he is to survive, it is only by means of his mind.

    If a man does not have the use of his mind--by right--then he is unable to live.

    Further, this does not mean merely to think without action. He must act as his mind concludes.

    Further, this does not mean merely to act on the range of one moment, but to plan and act long range. To produce by his mind and his labor property which he owns.

    These are man's natural rights: his life, his liberty, and his property. I say "natural" not in reference to some supernatural thing, but to man's nature.

    There is a lot more that can be said about rights, but I'd like to leave just one thought (it's almost midnight as I write this). Notice how these rights can be applied to everyone equally. Unlike, say, a false demand to make health care provided by some a right for others, these rights don't involve holding anyone up at gunpoint.

    The definition of rights is: a sanction to act in a social context.

    Note that this is inapplicable to animals which lack reason. A dog is capable neither of granting nor receiving sanction. It acts as it wills, except where it fears a greater force.

  • morganovich

    i see where you are coming from bearster, but i think you have included some assumptions in your thinking that twist the conclusions.

    pure liberty is not a straw man. based even upon your own arguments about being free to chose what we value, we may choose not to value life or to value it quite differently. such constructs of extreme zen and so forth are likely quite foreign to you and i, but this does not make them invalid. pure liberty is the inevitable starting place of the war of all against that provides the foundation upon which anything may be built. other animals apart from humans develop societies to mitigate this same issue. some do not. but everyone starts there. it how we get away from it that gives a society its character.

    your argument that if there are not intrinsic rights then only might and majority rule can make right seems inaccurate and circular. you speak of life, liberty and property. all these things are values, but how do you prove they are a right? i value my life, but why does that give me a right to it except inasmuch as we all agree that the world is better if we establish such a thing? a group of people act in their self interest, and the invisible hand leads to a social structure that works. rights may just be an equilibrium. why does there need to be an underlying intrinsic aspect of rights? if i am mauled by a tiger, has it violated my rights? how would you convince someone who argued that there is no right to property? being free not to have in is no freedom at all if it is all then appropriated by others. (for the record, i believe firmly in property rights, but it think this poses an interesting example)

    and how do you decide which rights go on the list? is it just those 3? what does liberty mean? as above, is property a right, or a nice to have? certainly the world seems to work better to me (and i presume you) with private property, but that depends a great deal on what "better" means. it is easy to forget the assumptions we make about that.

    what i think you are really saying, is that you like the world better when we all agree to call such things rights and act to see that they are protected. such a construct as a function of government need not be tryanny of the majority. have you read rawls and his work on a theory of justice. while his notions of property are likely anathema to you and i, his notions of arriving at a just social contract by negotiating fair and meaningful assignment of rights and obligations through "veil of ignorance", which is to say you make the rules before you know where you will fit into a system. if you knew you were a CEO vs an assembly line worker, you might act in self interest rather than fairness.

    i am to a great extent in agreement with your notions of "what are good rights to have". i just differ with you over from what they are derived. perhaps we are using a somewhat different interpretation of the word rights and this is something of a semantic struggle, but what i hear you describe as rights sounds a lot like "things one values" to me, and there i agree wholeheartedly, but you never explain how this value becomes a right.

    then you go on to say that "proper values are not arbitrary". but you have said nothing to defend this. what i think you are really saying is that not all structures of rights work well and some tend to function better than others. here, i agree, though precisely what "better" means can certainly be a subject of lively discussion. do we mean physically, spiritually, economically... hence, there will be a certain level of arbitrariness. could one argue that no society that does not enshrine the right to life will endure? perhaps. but many have (particularly those only negating such a right for a portion of the population.) certainly, we may call them unjust and poor distributors of equal access to what is valued,
    but again, a line must always be drawn somehwhere. you have shown that such a set of rules seems a good one to live by and work well if established as rights and that you prefer the society that results from such sanction, but this does not mean that all such sanction is necessary nor inevitable unless you can find a blanket definition of better that everyone agrees upon.

    i also take issue with the blanket notion that choosing what will kill you is always an improper value. choosing to die to protect a child or the freedom of a society that is threatened by external forces is, in a certain sense, the very highest of values, that of the other over the self. humans do it, other animals do it as well. but this is really a side issue and not germane to the discussion at large.

    these are getting long for the somewhat clumsy interface, but i'd like to continue the discussion via e-mail. mfrank at mgfund dot com