Rights (you don’t have any)

George Carlin is one of my favorite comedians and social commentators. I remember one of his bits in which he says that there is no such thing as rights. It was a rhetorical statement, meant to be a sardonic poke at the fact that the US government has and does infringe on human rights from time to time. Carlin says, “If someone can take them away, then they aren’t rights! They’re privileges!”

While Carlin was poking fun, I’d push further in all seriousness to say that I don’t believe in rights. That statement is almost sacrilege in the US, as we are taught from a young age that we all have “unalienable, God-given rights.” I’ve been watching and reading a lot about modern day slavery and conflict lately. I’ve also been reading about the organizations that fight such injustices. The “rights” model is useful, as it sets an expectation of civil and moral respect, but I can’t help but notice that people throughout history have put forth monumental effort to establish and protect rights. If “rights” we’re the natural order of the world, then they wouldn’t be so difficult to maintain and no one would need to establish them in the first place.

No, “rights” are a convenient model for a society to promote individual freedom. Individual freedom is an incredible boon to a productive and free society, but that doesn’t mean that “rights” exist. No, a society with mechanisms in place to prevent oppression is a society of privilege–privilege afforded by struggle, bloodshed, and technological innovation. I would venture to say that when technology provides an abundant resource, that resource becomes a right. I would consider health care and Internet access to be a right in the modern world.

That’s all for the moment.

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