Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Pablum rights

Add "rights" to the list of words that might as well be stricken from popular usage owing to misapprehension and gross abuse. From the Toronto Star:

The Green party wants the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms to guarantee Canadians clean air and water and uncontaminated soil.
If the Charter of Rights and Freedoms isn't anything more than a wishlist of goodies, what point is there in having a Charter at all? There's already a Parliament for that sort of populist redistribution of blandishments and procurements. The elasticized definition of "rights" — allowing political parties and activists to suggest their glad-handings are, in fact, principles on their say-so — also dilutes and serves to preclude the discrimination of those rights that are inalienable, defensible by their holders, and the exercise of which exact no diminishment of the rights of others: life, liberty and property, the protection of which a few rationalists only a couple of centuries ago had hoped that, with caution, would be and remain the only proper function of government. Well, all caution has long been abandoned.
In describing Canada as the third-worst polluter in the industrialized world, [Green] leader Jim Harris says his government would prohibit the use of cosmetic pesticides.
That should get us down to, oh, maybe about third-and-one-eighth-worst.

As an aside, Colby Cosh's Dec. 22 piece in the National Post on the Green Party is worth a read…
I've always thought of the ex-Tory Harris as being much like a skilled cybersquatter -- someone who swooped in on the valuable "Green" brand-property, cleaned it up a little, and built a means of support and publicity from the resulting electoral rent. He knew there existed a slothful, casually Earth-conscious 5% of us who would vote reflexively for anything labelled "Green," or simply for any semi-serious alternative to the old parties.

This cynical suspicion troubled me before. But, after all, the last thing I want in Canadian politics is a serious, strong, left-environmentalist Green Party of the sort that has infected the economies of the Euro-democracies with regulation and superstition. If Harris is indeed just a squatter, well, long may he squat.


bonnie abzug said...

How instructive of the right wing mind, and the pabulum it produces, to see "property" added to the list of "inalienable rights", defensible by force, as advocated by a few "rationalists" who apparently believed that these were the only "proper function of government". I mean, really, where do you get this stuff from? Never mind ...the question was purely rhetorical. We both know that this presumptive "right" of individuals to do whatever they wish with their property - to bray that one's property is one's own absolutely - is far too often precisely a subterfuge to "exact ...[a] diminishment of the rights of others".

Pietr said...

Did somebody leave the radio on?Thought I heard the villain in a true crime dramatisation.

Mike said...

far too often precisely a subterfuge to "exact ...[a] diminishment of the rights of others".

What are rights?

MapMaster said...

We both know that this presumptive "right" of individuals to do whatever they wish with their property ... is far too often precisely a subterfuge to "exact ...[a] diminishment of the rights of others".

People will do all kinds of things to exact privileges and immunities at the expense of others, but the exercises of property rights themselves are hardly to blame. The inclusion of property among the list of inalienable rights is merely a gentle reminder to the "left wing." It should not need to be said, but unfortunately it must, that the right to property is simply an extension of the right to life and the liberty to dispose of it as the individual sees fit. The socialist doctrine of confiscating or abolishing property denies that individuals have the right to dispose of the products of their labour and rational endeavours that allow them to survive — life must then exist at the disposal of others. It is no coincidence that socialist governments have been responsible for more deaths amongst their own constituents than all the wars of the 20th C put together.

The subject is not a simple one to address in a blog comment but, if you are interested in the fundamental premises supporting property rights, a fine treatment is available here.

Anonymous said...

I think think the Green Party is onto something. The soil at my house looks really ... dirty.

Sorry! I shouldn't have said "my house". How potentially diminishing of the rights of others! I meant, the dwelling which I inhabit subject to my ability to make payments to the socialist collective in amounts and at intervals of their (I mean our!) choosing.

bonnie abzug said...

MapMaster is correct. The "fundamental premises supporting property rights" is indeed complex. But attempting to raise property rights to the level of an inalienable right, of an order equal to life or liberty, would be legerdemain of the finest sort - best attempted by the flim-flam artist.

Anonymous obviously thinks himself/herself to be clever and witty. Far be it from me to disabuse him/her of this little conceit.

Mike said...

What's an example of an exercise of property rights that really gets your goat, Bella?

MapMaster said...

I didn't mean to suggest that the premises supporting property rights were complex in a "contrived" sense, only that because they no longer have the resonating cachet of other rights they require an explanation that would not have been needed some time ago, but not legerdemain I should hardly think. I'll give it another go in simplified format. I'm curious to know which points you would contend, or whether I have omitted anything.

1. Humans need material resources to survive.
2. In order to survive, the individual must have recourse to the material products of his or her labours; for example, food grown or hunted, built shelter, etc.
3. If the tools of survival are subject to confiscation or abolishment, the individual's recourse to survival is subject to the whims of others.

I can imagine a response (although I don't want to appear presumptuous) that property rights are put to much greater use — and often more nefarious use — than mere survival. But how do you abrogate harmful use? There are three methods, broadly speaking, that I can conceive:

1. Every individual must protect his or her property with only the means at their own disposal, a method with which I cannot philosophically disagree but which does not recur overly much in practice because most people recognize that their own property rights are served by assisting in the protection of others', leading to...
2. You can attempt to protect the rights of those whose property has been damaged by means of a social contract that attempts to limit terms of abuse to as objective and non-arbitrary criteria as possible, say by using the courts to uphold only the enjoyment of property rights that do not infringe upon the enjoyments of others'...
Or, 3. You can limit property rights by a political and inevitably arbitrary process of legislation or "charter rights," the attempt of which completely abrogates those rights in the first place.

No method will obtain ideal results, of course. Currently we employ a medley of all three — it is the last which contradicts its purpose and that I would like to see abolished.

By the way, no offense intended to Bonnie Abzug, but I got a great laugh out of Anonymous' comment. I'll encourage him in that conceit if it means he or she comes back!

bonnie abzug said...

You won’t be surprised to learn, Mapmaster, that I would contend each of them, but mostly the last two. Now if we were having this discussion fifty or five hundred years ago, I might feel differently. But your schema is the existential argument, and it is self-referential to the underlying ideology that informs it. The reality today is that the vast majority of us don’t earn income from our property and we don’t generate sustenance from it. The material resources we need to survive are purchased by wages we earn working for others. And our wages are mostly certainly subject to confiscation and abolishment.

If the argument was being made truly with the best interests of the individual in society in mind, that is existential in the modern sense, we wouldn’t be talking about property rights. We would be talking about pension protection and the contract between employer and employee.

Pietr said...

There's a song by the Specials-forget the title, but the chorus goes:"It's all a load of bollocks, it's all a load of bollocks, and bollocks to it all..."

This is what you should remember when a madman(or woman) tries to fasten onto your neck(like the vampire granny in that book by Zola);it's all a load of bollocks, and to enter a discussion with such a creature is to deal in degrees of insanity, a game which gives them motivation to continue, like a perpetual argument machine.
I suppose you need to experience the phenomenon of 'care in the community' before realising the utter futility of the mad.
That's why I'm diversifying my blogging subjects. Life is too short to waste on lunatics.

gm said...

Property is an extention of our life, it is not just the land my house is on but also my mind, body and all the external actions that result in material gain.Property rights are human rights to use economic goods and services. Private property rights contain your right to use, transfer, trade and exclude others from use of property deemed yours.

The fact of self-ownership also helps explain why theft is immoral. In order for self-ownership to be meaningful, a person must have ownership rights to what he produces or earns.A good working description of slavery is that it is a condition where a person does not own what he produces.

The only reason to oppose property rights is to deny the right to life. The gulag was the demonstration of this principle.

bonnie abzug said...

Geesh, kids, I'm not opposing property rights at all. And most of you take yourselves far too seriously. "The only reason to oppose property rights is to deny the right to life. The gulag was the demonstration of this principle." Are you kidding me or what?

All I was seeking is clarification of the belief (held by a great many people, it seems) that the rights to property are of the same "order of magnitude", so to speak. as those of life and liberty. This was MapMaster's claim. And I asked the question because I'm always interested in how the other half thinks.

MapMaster said...

Sorehead: I enjoy these kinds of discussions for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that until a few years ago I was myself a "progressive" or socialist sympathizer, and I had the good fortune of having a few friends who would engage in dialogue with me on the subject. Not that I mean to sound condescending, but finally examining the premises of my beliefs and changing my mind has made me a much more productive individual — I really honestly did think not that long ago that "the world owed me a living" and I was resentful of the fact that it didn't pony up. I don't anticipate changing anyone's mind in a few blog comments, to be sure, but discussion is the only way to get anything started at the least. Socialists aren't going to go away just because we ignore them. Besides, it's much more fun to discuss things with people with whom you disagree — if the only people who read this blog agreed with us, we might as well fold up. Additionally, questions like Bonnie's force me to reexamine my understandings occasionally to try to arrange and present them in a cogent manner — after a few years, I take them for granted. My thanks to gm for his succinct summation — it seemed to me more sustaining than anything I could come up with on short notice, unfortunately Bonnie does not feel the same way. Last, Bonnie is a regular commenter on my nemesis, AltLondon (yes, I frequently check out what the "proletariat" is up to in London), and a supporter of the OMB ward decision here in London that I'm always railing about — it's good to see that someone from "over there" is at least willing to slum it over on our site.

Bonnie: I am a bit surprised that I am arguing from an existential model, but only because I have no formal education in philosophy. Happily, that ignorance hasn't stopped me! Nevertheless, that my argument is self-referential to an underlying ideology is hardly surprising — I can't imagine an argument that isn't. I really regard my argument as being referential to two points: that individuals have the right to life, and I presume that we share that assumption without going into that; and my first point, that as humans we require material resources to live.

I do find it interesting that your beliefs might be different if the discussion had taken place in the past. Is this because morals change with intellectual fashion, or with circumstance? In the case of the first, it is beyond my capacity to successfully argue against moral relativism, and although I reject it, the discussion would probably have to come to an end at least on my part. In the case of the second, however, only the appearance of the application of morals to circumstance actually changes.

I am not suprised that you would contend with the second two parts of my argument, but I am astonished to find you would contend with the first. Is it incomplete in your view? Humans do need more than just material resources, of course, but that is not relevant to the question of property rights and in any case the pursuit of non-material objectives need not impinge on the exercise of property rights. But I cannot imagine that you would disagree that humans need material resources to live — at the barest minimum, food and, at least in our climate, clothing and shelter. There may be a few Buddhist monks that claim to live on nothing material, but even if true they required material sustenance to grow from infancy toward their exalted state, and at the very least they need some piece of land to stand on! In any case, socialist arguments for abolishing property rights are based on a material (mis)understanding of the world. Interestingly, no communist government has ever eradicated all property — they've only collectivized certain types of property, like land and "the means of production."

Property rights are inalienable because, although property itself may be sold or exchanged, only the property is transferred, not the right to own and use property. That they are of the same "order of magnitude" as life or liberty I think is well addressed by gm — one can add the qualifier of "extension" of the right to life, but that does not make it any less important than the right to life itself. Nature does not provide us with survival itself, only the material resources that make survival possible. It does not plop food into our mouths or drape clothes on us — even the most rudimentary survival requires some effort. That many people have invested their effort and rational endeavours into creating a more comfortable survival does not negate this fact. Whether people require no more than material resources to survive, or whether they require other non-material things, does not matter — the judgment of what constitutes a life worth living can only be made by the one doing the living (oh, I suppose that might be existentialism, but I don't know or care). Now, by property it would appear that you are speaking of land. I am speaking more generally myself — food that is grown or simply harvested, coats and hats that are manufactured, CDs, televisions, planes, trains and automobiles, etc. Land itself is not a special case — it is a material resource used productively for these purposes like anything else. It does not matter whether the individual makes those material goods or buys them. Either way, someone is making them and they are the property of the maker until he or she sells them (an essential condition of property rights is the ability to dispose of property as the owner sees fit, including the ability to exchange or sell property). If one has money to obtain property, or exchanges property for money, one is simply exercising property rights — money is only a promissory note representing property. The thing that rankles some people, as I see it, is that many people in a highly specialized economy like ours do not actually own the products of their labour but receive wages instead. But that is merely a rental of one property (labour) for another (goods by promissory notes in the form of money). In the absence of slavery, labour itself is a property of its owners, the workers. As with all other property rights, they have the right to dispose of their labour freely by either withdrawing their labour or renting it to other bidders. The consequences of withdrawing labour, I have heard one Marxist say, are too onerous because survival depends on wages. That's just tough luck because that's nature — a rudimentary survival is, I'm sure, available to anyone who does that with a minimum of effort, but a more comfortable existence requires work without confiscating the efforts of others. Fortunately, capitalism has made comfortable existences available to most people with much less effort than ever before — the benefits of creating inventions or factories are redistributed disproportionately away from the "creative" and "capitalist" classes toward the "working" class by the sheer weight of numbers and the efficiency of negotiation within the marketplace itself, and there's nothing wrong with that.

[O]ur wages are mostly certainly subject to confiscation and abolishment. I certainly can't argue with that, but that's an abrogation of property rights — that it takes place doesn't make it right. Given that property does exist, the onus to dismantle property rights, or to confiscate or abolish property, should, I think, rest on those who wish to do so. If there is any way to do so without either tyranny or without placing individuals at the whims of arbitrary political gamesmanship, I'd be curious to hear it.

bonnie abzug said...

Now that was well done, MapMaster. I'll have it give the points you make some thought before I respond. Just a couple of quick points before I sign off for now.

If you follow the posts on altlondon, you'll know that I get just as incensed at fuzzy thinking from those on the left. Serious issues are involved and words have power.

While I would term myself a "progressive", I have never felt that the world owes me a living. If this was the defining belief informing your progressivism, then your friends on the left did you a disservice.

gm said...

Bonnie, perhaps I was a bit rash in saying that zoning by-laws will lead to the Gulag. (just kidding)
I was attempting to connect the property issue to life and liberty. If we are owners of our-selves then it follows that we own the product of our efforts.

Pietr said...

No worries, Map. My best and oldest friend is still,today,and always has been, old Labour socialist.
But he isn't mad.Unless it's the same way as me. Maybe the Canadian paradigm is vastly different, but I can generally tell the difference.

Pietr said...

Oh and BTW, when I hear somebody claiming that 'words have power', they should be saying 'words have meaning';people who think that 'words have power' are hoping that utterances possess a mysterious totemic ability to alter reality.
Practically this is achieved by controlling people.

bonnie abzug said...

Soreheaduk, I sit corrected. Words have power but they also, as you correctly point out, have meaning. Sometimes they have both. And occasionally they are indeed used in the hope they "possess a mysterious totemic ability to alter reality". The words "trickle-down theory" come immediately to my mind. Followed by, in all fairness, the word "victim". There. The two totems of right and left. Shibboleths both.

MapMaster said...

Thanks for coming back, Bonnie. I admit that when I read comments on AltLondon I don't pay too much attention to the names — the tar-brush has been put away.

Undoubtedly the power of words lies within the receiver to interpret and act on them. Unfortunately, enough people have relinquished this power to others — witness the reception demogogues are given. It's at least wise to used words judiciously. I did not do so when I used the word "progressive" (so many words, so little time). It's a poor choice of words itself — what does it mean? Progression towards what? Is the progression good or bad? I could consider myself progressive in a sense as well — my brand of conservative libertarianism or libertarian conservatism or whatever would certainly be construed as a radical departure from political norms to some. In a sense closer to the word as it is usually taken, I am progressive in the sense that I accord respect and rights to everyone regardless of race, religion, gender… all the usual suspects. Oh, I employ collective terms pejoratively myself some times, just for the sake of ease, but I'll always meet an individual on equal terms until they fail to respond in kind. What I meant by "progressive" in the previous comment, I suppose, is what is commonly understood to be activism for redistributive schemes in the name of better ideals.

I wasn't very intellectually honest back in my socialist days. While the sequence of thoughts and philosophies is now hazy, I wouldn't be at all surprised that my desire to be lazy made certain aspects of socialism appealing. The socialism of contemporary European and Canadian-style democratic socialists certainly didn't discourage my desire to have others fend for me on my behalf. "Progressiveness" certainly had nothing to do with my wish for entitlements.

Pietr said...

'Trickle-down' is a lovely example of politicians and economists begging for my life (not in my name)by trying to shackle the self-interest of 'others'(who are of course 'below')to my pursuit of my self interest,so that their benefit is supposed to be a justification for my self-chosen freedom.
As it happens,my pursuit is being turned into a values strike by the general bigotry of the society I am in(but it wouldn't be an easy pursuit in any case).
I am currently producing no surplus.
But I do buy food and so on.

Another mealy-mouthed,coward's slogan is 'rights and responsibilities', ie you only have freedom in principle, not for actual use.

bonnie abzug said...

"Rights and responsibilities" is not nearly as mealy-mouthed and cowardly as when either is used separately without the context provided by the other.

Also, soreheaduk, I've tried to process the ideas contained in the first paragraph of your last post. I'd be the first to admit I'm not the crispiest chip in the bag, but did you just stand trickle-down economics on its head?

Aren't we having such a swell time?

Pietr said...

Well, Bonnie, I'm not sure I stood 'Trickle-Down' on its head, but 'trickle down' is a cynical attempt to make people feel less 'guilty' about doing well; which means that there is an implied presumption of guilt contained in the attempt at irrelevant justification.

The creators of the idea have surrendered the moral argument before even getting out of the starting block.
So 'trickle-down' is onto a loser straight away.

Pietr said...

And, Bonnie, there is nothing mealy-mouthed about the exclusive promotion of genuinely consistent rights.
'Responsibility' is something introduced by political bludgers after they have played multiplication games by introducing loads of bullshit 'rights'.
They do this to destroy rights, like they destroy money(Gresham's Law),but when the idiots find that people are taking all these supposed 'rights' seriously, they introduce 'responsibility' as a means of spreading the hate.

bonnie abzug said...

Ah, of course, soreheaduk, if you had said "Another mealy-mouthed,coward's slogan is 'genuinely consistent rights and genuinely consistent responsibilities', ie you only have freedom in principle, not for actual use." I most likely would not have reacted at all.

bonnie abzug said...

Though the topic of "bad" money and the types of "political bludgers" who facilitate its exchange politically might be an interesting discussion.

Pietr said...

The point is that any talk at all of 'responsibilities', when associated with Rights, is a complete redundancy.
Rights which are fully consistent are by definition incapable of violating themselves, in the persons of two or more people.
So responsibility is a completely redundant term.
For example, the man who said "The rights of one man end where the rights of another begin" was right.