Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Rights and Freedom

So there are some basic human rights - things I believe philosophically and theologically and existentially are owed to every human being by virtue of being alive. I've stated them here before, but simply, people deserve: nutritious food, a safe place to lay their head, education, basic health care, a meaningful day's work, and a loving community.

I believe a society (however one defines such a thing) is obligated to provide these things to everyone within the society or sacrifice mightily in the effort. That doesn't necessarily mean a government is obligated to provide such rights, especially if society has other means of doing so. However, governments, in a modern sense, are all-encompassing; they claim sovereignty over borders and all (human or otherwise) that lies within. To me, and I understand where some might disagree, this obligates them to be rights-provider of last resort.

Hear me: I don't think a government has to be all-encompassing. In fact, on the political spectrum, I'm much closer to a true anarchist than anything else. However, where a government makes such a claim without any major resistance (such as in the US), certain responsibilities come with such claims.

That's sort of the round about way to get to where I'm trying to go today - how I've come to, shorthand, claim that people living within the US deserve certain things - not because citizenship or residency automatically earns such things, but because their humanity demands them and their government, in a roundabout way, inherits the responsibility for ensuring they're provided.

I'd be all for society structuring itself in ways that provide for basic human rights without the need for heavy-handed top-down intervention. But until we have those systems working consistently and near-universally, responsibility remains. If you want the power, it comes with (Spiderman-like) responsibility.

Problems come when we focus our society around freedom. Yes, we like the wind-in-our-hair vitality of choosing our own destiny; and we love to have that coupled with the security of a nanny state. Make all your free-spirited decisions and trust that the social safety net will be there to catch you. It's the glory of celebrated self-sufficiency. Freedom is only real if we're capable of being self-sustaining individuals of true independence. I'm just not sure how anyone can believe that's the real state of humanity. It's wonderful wishful thinking and it might make for top-notch idealism, but a great ideal is not something you can eat for dinner.

I like the classic philosophical argument for the existence of God that says God is that of which nothing greater can be conceived. It's beautiful in its simplicity - the point being that while we can imagine the most gracious, benevolent, loving cosmic being, a real one is infinitely greater than the one in our head. That assumes, of course, limitless possibilities. It fails to take into account the very real world in which we live.

I have always considered myself an idealist. Those who (appropriately) nicknamed me Debbie Downer might disagree. However, I like to say I work my idealism within the parameters of reality. I believe the world contains greater things, profounder possibilities, and more infinite beauty than our senses can currently conceive - but that doesn't make the world completely open, because it still contains us and all our feeble human frailties.

We have and need rights precisely because we cannot achieve our aims, wants, and desires by ourselves. Self determination most certainly exists, but freedom does not. Our self-determination always comes with a cost and is contingent on our willingness to pay. That's precisely why we must secure, confirm, and provide these basic human rights to one another: because we can't supply them for ourselves.

We want to conflate rights and freedom, but really they're at the opposite end of the same spectrum. One is all about individualism, while the other is communal. As much as it would be nice (speaking as an introvert) to be able to wall ourselves off and survive, reality is as reality does, which means we're stuck with each other - for better or worse.

I choose better.

No comments: