They come to us, through us. Let me back up, to back that up, by first ticking off two big huge camps of my fellow Americans, those who are religious, and those who claim to be scientific (with the implied assumption that the religious cannot be scientific. Quick! Someone get Doc Brown to jump in his time travelling DeLorean & get that memo back to Isaac Newton, I'm sure he'll find the charge fascinating), with an analogy which, hopefully after giving it a whirl, will help smooth a path for each to set aside their beliefs and agree upon what neither of their beliefs will see as being a compromise.
Rosy Fingered Dawn
One of the first casualties of modernity was authorship. Homer, despite what those who were much closer in time to him and to the still living traditions that were handed down to them of his being a single individual poet, modernists claimed 'Homer' to be a convenient name given to many authors, and his works are claimed to be nothing more than the contributions of many that've been stitched together under that name. There's been much analysis demonstrating one assertion after another about the author, and even more about what he (they) really meant, what Achilles really was like, etc.
One thing that is easy to say, is that those claiming this don't really know, they simply find it plausible, more plausible than one individual being talented enough to write the Homerian epics (Quick! Get Doc Brown again, this time get this memo back to Shakespeare!). But the issues of authorship is of less consequence than what else you begin seeing, that amidst all the assertions about who wrote what, all of that criticism soon begins to become criticism of criticism, and the actual text, which does exist and which sparked it all, soon becomes lost beneath the jabber about it. To the point that people of Periclean Athens, would not recognize in the least the epics or those populating them, such as the pouting, man-child in a infantile temper tantrum, which today goes by the name 'Achilles' (BTW, this book "The War that killed Achilles" does an excellent job of restoring a reasoned perspective to Achilles and to Homer, and why our ancestors found the story to be so valuable).
But whether the author is Homer, or a composite of many authors, the only thing that can be said with any certainty, is that they've all nearly lost sight of the original works of the Iliad and the Odyssey and why anybody ever bothered with reading them in the first place.
But one thing that remains available to us today, and very nearly as it did nearly three thousand years ago to those in ancient Athens, are the epics themselves, The Iliad & The Odyssey.
What's my point?
My point is that if you want to understand and get value from those masterpieces, fuhgeddaboud these unsettled, and unsettle-able distractions over who authored what, and instead, concentrate upon the valuable actual works that are available to you here and now, as they were to our fore-fore-fore-fathers, then you might actually learn something.
The same point applies in regard to our Rights. Fuhgedaboud what neither of you will ever agree upon, whether the author is God, or Evolution or something else, and direct your attention to what all of you can perceive, recognize and assess together, the epic itself, Mankind. Examine the quality of 'the book', and the author will receive all do praise from that, as Jefferson said,
"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.". Deal? Swell. So. Onwards.
As I was saying, it is self-evident
Our Rights are not Given to us by legislators, philosophers or prophets, they come to us and to our understanding, from a much more unimpeachable source than that, they come to us, through us.
Not from our minds.
Or at least not from our minds in the same fashion as ditties, poems, stories, lies and notions come from our minds; they are not the products of our wishes, fabrications or innovations but from observations of the nature of man himself; by observing our minds as situated within our bodies and within the world; our Rights are able to be derived from the nature of what makes us human beings, and as such they are equally alike, and equally present, in every person, in every way, and as such, we are made able to hold these truths to be self-evident.
Note: To my 7th grade civics teacher, Mr. McClellan, who mocked
'Self evident? Do YOU understand what they mean by that? No? Then they can't be self evident, can they?!', Self-Evident does not mean something that is brain-dead obvious or something as perceptually apparent as a cold sore. What it means, is that for those who consider and come to some understanding of a matter, certain issues become self-evident, they stand out as the rest of the information becomes better understood. Just as to the first time casual observer, the actions of people standing upon or running around bases or dashing about the field in the game of baseball, seem chaotic, but to the person who understands the game, it is self-evident who and what the Short Stop is, and why, it is self-evident who the pitcher is, and why, it is self-evident who the Umpire is, and why.
For something to be self-evident to someone, requires that they have some knowledge and understanding of the matters involved, and once understood, certain matters will become self-evidently true.
If, on the other hand, you don't understand even the basics, nothing will be self-evident, nothing but your, and the civics teachers, ignorance. To people raised under the rule of law, living in liberty, and understanding the philosophical underpinnings of that liberty they had become accustomed to, certain truths most certainly do become self-evident. Because those who haven't bothered to grasp those necessary fundamentals, fail to see that, is not an indictment of those self-evident truths, but only an indictment of themselves.
To those well versed in the Greco-Roman-English and Judeo-Christian underpinnings of our culture, these truths were self-evident, and they were so no matter which source was claimed as the disputed authorship of Man and his nature; whether a person at the time of our founding (and still), were religious, and found them comfortably expressed in scriptures such as the Ten Commandments; or whether they were secular and found them expressed in the ideas of Cicero, Aquinas, Locke and Blackstone (or, more likely, both) - These Rights are indisputably written into our very fabric by the author of Mankind & who wielded the pen - deity or philosopher or scientist - in this sense, matters not in the least; if your concern is with what is true, then the reality of the evidence in this matter is sufficient enough, and readily available to any with a judiciously open and reasoning mind who is concerned with discovering the nature and properties of reality, and in doing so, our Rights do become Self-Evident.
So what are your Rights? Answer that, and then you will know where they come from, and what role your govt and your legislators play in the matter, but it will require compressing some time (which I've partly uncompressed before here, and here). For those Americans who are religious and accept our Individual Rights as being God Given, no further explanation is necessary - which might be fine for you, but it leaves you no common ground to meet upon with your fellow Americans. For those who are not religious, or who would also like to grasp the argument for Individual Rights from the evidence available to their own eyes and mind, the essentials can be presented briefly (ahem), and in doing that you too will be able to find common ground from which to agree with your more religious counterparts.
The Evidence of your senses - it's a jungle out there
Each of us, if not afflicted with some dread disease or impairment, each of us has awareness, and we each of us have the ability, and necessity, of making choices about what we will do with what we become aware of, which is called Free Will (Locke & others disliked the term because it is misleading, what it describes is the vaculty of volition, not that which carries it out, the Will. Locke said
" ... liberty being as little applicable to the will, as swiftness of motion is to sleep, or squareness-to virtue. Every one would laugh at the absurdity “"It is a little bit like saying you have 'Free Muscle'", it isn't the Will that is free, but your volitional ability to choose. But we're stuck with the label, a bit like Tidal Waves are stuck to Tsunami's. Deal with it.
That we have the volitional ability to make choices is a plain fact, available to any honest and inquiring mind, and with as first hand information as it is possible to get, seeing as how you are both the experimenter and the experiment, and the results are indisputable - those who do dispute it invariably fudge it with "It's as if you made a choice", which besides being a con, is a distinction without a difference. If you'd like to choose to assert your disagreement... well... if the absurdities in just those nine words aren't enough to make you feel ashamed of yourself... then feel free to go and dispute it with the likes of Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, here, allow me to give you the excuse you're looking for so you can claim that my words determined your actions, against your non-existent choice: "You're deluded or an idiot, and a dishonest one at that. Be gone."
Those of you who are still here reading, are doing so because you chose to. Those who left, chose to leave. Case closed.
There is no rationalistic fanaticizing here, and no room for it, no airy faerie conjectures are involved, nothing which some overly uneducated twit has room to say 'well, that may be true for you, but it is not for me.', no this is something which is true of every human being on the face of the earth, whether they are born and raised in New York City or in the stone age jungles of New Guinea, all men have awareness and the ability to make choices about their actions; Human Beings have Free Will. Period.
Each person is aware of their surroundings, and each must make decisions about how to respond to them, and knowledge (a contextual relation of facts which allow common generalizations to be made and from which meaning and principles can be derived, and further integrated into a wider context of knowledge) improves the quality of your decisions.
For the jungle dweller, in their awareness of being faced with a tiger, they must choose whether to run, or maybe to try and defend yourself with one of those branches you see laying near you on the ground. For the Urban dweller, if an elevator opens wide before you, should you step inside, or not? is it going Up, or Down? Will it take you nearer to or farther from your job interview? In either case you must make a choice about what to do in regards to the nature of the reality you are facing. There is no intermediary, no noumenal world, no collective consciousness to pierce, no impenetrable paradigms restraining you, and there is no escape from the necessity of choosing, there are no environmental causes that will determine a decision for you - you very well may see only one choice available but you must still make it.
There is no possible way to live as a human being, without making choices based upon your awareness and knowledge of your surroundings, both in space and in time (and congratulations, we just shook off a good chunk of the accreted muck of nearly three centuries of 'modern' philosophy).
How carefully you consider your surroundings, and the decisions you make within them, will determine how effective your choices will likely be, which will also depend greatly upon the depth of your knowledge of your surroundings - the more deeply you perceive and understand them, the more likely your decisions will be able to benefit you, and to what extent; and again, it applies just as equally in the jungles of New Guinea or New York.
If in the arboreal jungle, your knowledge of those sticks laying on the ground before you, could be of life and death importance. If you simply look and pick one up at random to use as a club, that perceptual level understanding of your surroundings might benefit you... or it might lead to an ineffective struggle that serves only to whet the appetite of the tiger, an ineffective defense that leaves you dead and the tiger full. On the other hand, if you have some knowledge of the woods that those sticks are made of, and use your imagination to envision what you might do with the brittle, but hard wood, you might, by that process of Reason, select that particular stick, snap the end of it over your knee, and make it sharp enough to form a crude spear and up your chances of survival with the tiger by leaps and bounds.
Similarly with the urban jungle. The fellow that takes the elevator up to an interview, answers the questions well, just might get that job. But the fellow that takes the elevator up to the interview knowing something of the business he's interviewing for, and of the company and person interviewing him, might learn enough through questions of his own, to imagine that taking this particular job is likely to lead to a dead end position that won't benefit him in the long run, and so through that Reasoning, choose to continue searching for a better interview and position.
The seedling of our Rights is derived from that simple truth of our Human Nature, that we have awareness of our surroundings, the ability to transform facts into knowledge and the capability of imaginatively reasoning our way through making decisions that put us in command of our surroundings, and the need to be free to do so. Our Rights are those actions which our existence naturally requires us to be able to make, and without which, we could not live a fully human life. They also entail the responsibility of individuals recognizing that their own Rights depend upon not forcibly treading upon the rights of another in the free exercise of their Rights. In short, Rights are the logical consequence of creatures employing their Free Will in a rational respect for reality, where truth and understanding are your most vital tools of survival.
Something else the two jungle scenarios have in common, is the necessity of Property to the exercise of your Rights. That stick, simply by picking it up, is transformed by your effort and purpose, from detritus of the landscape, into personal property, but not simply by the action of picking it up, as Locke seemed to think, but by picking it up for a purpose, it is the intellectual actions of your mind which enable you to transform mere matter into personal property, and such property is essential to mankind in the exercise of his Right to life and living it.
If you cannot take those actions necessary to your survival, you cannot live. If you cannot retain the materials your actions bring you - your property - you will not live. If you do not extend the same understanding to those you associate with, you will have no one to live with... and a man alone is but a meal for the animal kingdom.
The same principle applies to the urban dweller, and though not as perceptually apparent as a club or a spear, his intellectual property is just as useful and the use and right to it just as necessary, as the weapon is to his cousin in the jungles of New Guinnea. Property, Private Property, is that which we transform through our actions, guided by our mental actions, and through which, if no prior legitimate claim exists, they become ours.
That 'prior legitimate claim' brings us to another key factor in Rights. Prior legitimate claims or disputes about them, are what brings us to the point of being able to lift ourselves above the level of the jungle dweller, and into civilization, but to do so we need a method - other than bashing each other's brains in - for resolving disputes, so that we can live in association with others, and benefit from doing so, and that method is the Law, along with a system of Justice for administering it.
Laying Down the Law
Law begins with an attempt at fairness: 'If you do this, I'll do that, deal?', and slowly extends beyond simple perceptual bargaining, to dealing with situations where two or more parties who find themselves in a dispute, can be agree to have a third party decide the matter for them, even though that third party won't have any way of knowing what happened, and probably won't know either party involved - that's a huge leap. Your newly elevated society, to become elevated, needs a way to examine the situation and judge whether Joe or Bob did something, even when both deny they did (how they determine that, we'll have to leave for another time). And even stickier, you need a system where Joe, Bob and every one else understands that the truth, let alone satisfaction, may not ever be realized, but you will need a system where each person can at least agree that they had as fair a shake as possible, and agree to abide by the results.
The alternative is robbery, assault, feuds, clan warfare and Hobbes's war of all against all. The Law is your escape from the Animal Kingdom, to a Humane society.
You cannot live without making choices, using your mind to enhance and defend your life and provide yourself with the means and material required for living - your Rights, in raw form, are those actions which your life requires you to choose to perform, and what results from them, in order to to live life as is natural as a human being - that is the basis for Natural Rights, or Individual Rights.
You cannot live well, however, without doing so in association with others, and the price of that association, society, is that each person agrees to delegate their use of force against another, or their possessions, to a set of rules, administered by a widely respected few who are trusted to treat all comers fairly - that is the basis for Natural Law, and your Individual Rights find their support and defense, in it. Through Natural Law, your right to take those actions you deem necessary for your life, and which do not infringe upon another's rights, those requirements of Human life, are elevated to become Rights to freedom of speech, liberty of action and association, and a right to the property which results from those actions, and for which those actions are taken in the first place. From an earlier post:
"That delegation, is the true, and only sense, where the community and the individual are mingled into one collective body. It is through Law, and the system of Justice which it serves, where the One in the Many, is actually found.Your presence in society, as opposed to living secluded in a cave, is your private assent and signature to that societal contract.
Good Walls Build Good Neighbors
It is important to also keep in mind that Rights are the societal recognition of barriers between individuals, which must not be crossed without invitation and consent, they are the political equivalents of walls and doors, and breaching them either individually or on the part of society (which would then reclassify itself as a mob - collective action without reason) should be viewed in the same light as physical trespassers and burglars.
More so. The violation of Rights, properly understood, is not just a violation of custom, but of reasoned rationality itself, to the safety and well being of the polity, and opposition to reality and its requirements. Rights are not permissions, having to ask permission to exercise your rights - the requirements of human life - makes you less than human in your attributes, and yielding them makes you a slave.
Where Law unites all of societies individuals into One body, Rights provide the separation which preserves them as Individuals, the Many.""
"Wha?! I didn't sign anything?!", yes, you did, and no it doesn't require your physical signature, anymore than you need to explain to each person you meet
"Hi! I've chosen not to not punch you in the face.", it is the default, if you are going to live amongst others it is 'self-evident' that you must do so reasonably and peacefully, it doesn't require your acknowledgment, only your implied consent.
And the maintenance of that contract, as the long pitiable history of man has shown, had better be carefully tended to by those entrusted with societies power, the government, and by those members of society who entrust government with their power - or that power will be abused. Individuals have Rights, States have Powers, and through carefully written, clear laws, their balance must be maintained, or Power will seek to serve itself at the people's expense.
The nature of Power is violence. The nature of those possessing Power, is the urge to use it, for 'good reasons'. As the apocryphal saying goes,
'Power, like fire, is a useful servant, but a fearful master."Recap - Our Rights come to us, through us
We are not given our Rights by legislators, philosophers or prophets, they are written by the author of Man into our very nature as human beings. Man, by nature, has free will, he Must choose in order to live and his reason enables him to, and requires him to do so, and for his choices to be effective, they must be in accordance with what is in reality, true - when that is understood, then certain truths do become self-evident:
"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. "It would be as offensive to the laws of 'natures God' to pluck the wings from birds, as to forcibly deprive a man of his choice to act, speak, associate, produce and preserve what his very nature requires of him, what "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them", to be able to do in order to live a fully human life.
It doesn't get much more God given than that, and not believing in God is no escape from realizing it; it is just as clearly spelled out for the scientist & Darwinist to see in the empirical nature of man, as can be grasped by the philosopher's concepts and principles, or through the words of the Bible.
To choose to breathe water is to choose to die, and though its impact isn't as immediately visible, to choose to live a life that denies or mocks morality, whether it comes from the Ten Commandments or the philosophers Ethics, is to make the very same choice - they aren't true because they were written, they were written because they were true - to turn away from that... even in a secular world, the wages of sin is slavery and death.
What was never theirs to give, the legislators, philosophers and prophets have been doing their very best to take away from us, attempting to transform our Rights into simple entitlements, benefits and privileges, which is exactly what modernism does, and the first casualty of modernity was Free Will , then Private Property, then Knowledge, and then Morality - next on their agenda, are our Rights, and we will find out today, with the Supreme Court decision on ObamaoCare, how successful they've been.
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