I have an aversion to the idea of rights. To me, it implies something that is inherent in the world, and being a very strong supporter of subjectivism, and something of an existentialist, I am very much repelled by such an idea.
Existentialism does not negate the validity of a belief in rights by a long way, and I am well aware of this. After all, it merely takes conviction in the usefulness of a belief to grant it what passes for validity in existentialist thinking; if you believe it is important enough to want to make it real then the existentialist will happily accept your belief. Defining your own set of truths about the world does allow for a lot of such things.
But for me, the idea that we must grant someone or something ‘rights’ as an inherent part of the world order is one that rings too much of being constructed on top of the world that we exist in. It implies the existence of justice to me – or at least the desire to fight towards the realisation of the concept of justice. That is a fight I cannot see the end of, personally. If we fight for the right of every human for food and water, the right to fair trial and so on, then we find ourselves fighting against not only against the laws of nature, which may be just to some eyes, but can never be seen under any light as fair.
A fight I believe we can win, that I can see an end to, is the fight for freedom. But then, being an anarchist at heart I would feel that freedom has more value than rights. To me, freedom is something that is far more than a purely existentialist desire to make a conceptual value into a reality. Freedom has an existence in the world already, without the need for beliefs such as justice, mercy or fairness, which are constructs purely of the human mind and require forcing onto the world.
To me, freedom is the only thing we truly have; the ability to choose is inherent in the mind of every human being, even those who choose to deny such a thing and blame others, or the world around them, for the events in their lives that are truly down to the choices they ignore. It is consciousness of choice that makes us human, that makes us able to define to some degree the path we take through life.
I am well aware of the arguments against the reality of free will, as any philosopher should be. Hume is probably one of the best critics of belief in free will, and indeed modern psychology agrees with his ideas in many respects. But even if free will is an illusion of the mind (a hypothesis I actually support) and our actions are in fact determined, in my opinion this does not negate the fact that we cannot behave in any other way than as though we do have free will. We consciously make decisions, and even if the underlying choice is predetermined, the choice is still ours. Yes, I am evoking Kant in defence of Hume’s attack on free will; though to me they are less opposite sides of an argument, but rather an establishment of the dubiousness of our free will from Hume, and the confirmation that whatever the case in that respect may be, we cannot exist except under the impression that we have free will – it is an inherent part of our psychology.
But the distinction must be made between the psychological and metaphysical concept of free will, and the political and practical idea of freedom. Even if one was to prove that free will is an illusion, categorically and empirically, without any iota of a doubt, the concept of freedom would still be a very real part of our lives. To be free to make the choices that we make and to live them out, even if those choices are an illusion, makes a very real difference to our lives. That is the advantage of seeing life itself as a subjective illusion in this instance – finding out the underlying reasons for the illusion does not make the illusion any less real: just like finding out that our vision is not what the world is like, but merely the translation of electrical impulses does not stop one from living in the world that one sees.
Ok, quick breather. I’ve established that I dislike rights, because they are a human concept that can only be made into reality by trying to impress it upon the fabric of the world we experience. I’ve also established that even if free will is an illusory experience, it does not negate the reality of freedom within the framework of the illusion in which we exist. But why should I choose to fight for freedom for all? Why should I pick the fight for freedom over the fight for rights, when in practice there is probably little distinction?
Well, firstly let me point out with a very practical example just how dramatic a difference there is in fighting for rights as opposed to fighting for freedom. I go to an LGBTQ meeting, and I come across someone who is an activist fighting for gay rights. I tell them that I fight for gay rights and for polyamorous rights too. Within the framework of rights, they have no moral requirement to support my fight for poly rights, despite the fact that I fight for their rights as a non-heterosexual. Rights are modular, to put it simply. One can pick and mix rights in an entirely arbitrary manner, and so people who one would expect to be fighting on the same side can end up disparate and confused. They also tend to be argued for and against in a very consequentialist manner; ‘if we let gays marry, then we may as well allow people to marry sheep,’ for example. Such a wide array of reasons are given for supporting this or that right – no unifying belief brings rights together and gives them any more importance than that each individual wishes to give them. And what with humans being inherently self-interested beings, one finds that most people will only support the rights that are in their own interests.
There are degrees that one can fight for freedom too, certainly. But if I come across someone who fights for gay freedom and not for poly freedom, there are arguments that can be used to point out that they have drawn a line where there is not one. That is the advantage freedom has in its grounding in reality! If I wish to fight for my own freedom to sleep with a member of the same sex, then the only true manner to do so while remaining in keeping with the spirit of freedom is to point out that what I wish to do does not infringe upon the freedom of others. This is a unique, unifying aspect of supporting freedom that allows for a common judgment of any action and whether or not it should be allowed. So when the LGBTQ lesbian disapproves of my polyamory, I can throw aside her consequentialist arguments with any effective arguments I wish, and pull her up on the very simple fact that I am not directly harming anyone with my actions as a polyamorist, just as she is not with her homosexuality. Finally, we reach common ground and can fight for the same thing! Well, in theory. In practice, people are not so easily dissuaded from their heavily ingrained social conditioning.
I’ve gone on long enough for now, I think, and made my point that the freedom is a far more realistic, far more grounded, and far less exclusive battle than the hundreds of battles for rights. But I shall close with an argument for the lazy: rights require an enforcement of someone’s right to do something amidst an atmosphere of ‘thou shalt nots’. All freedom requires is that we step back and allow people to do what they wish, stepping in only when freedom is being suppressed. I know which world I would choose to live in.