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  • Thomas Hallifax

Better Defining Natural Rights

It seems very weird that the average person doesn't know what rights are. In a given circumstance they might say "I have a right to x,y,z" or what have you, but see if you can get them to describe the rights that all people have, all the time. Press for a clear simple definition; ask what a right is, and see what they say.

Let's define a right, and then dive a bit deeper into the reasons why understanding them seems so murky. A right is an action. To be a right it must be an action that does not harm, threaten, or impose on another persons freewill. In essence, any action that is not harmful to another person is a right. This basic understanding of what a right is happens by default in the vast majority of peoples behavior. Most people then have at least a subconscious understanding, yet the above definition still eludes them.

The next part in understanding what a right is comes down to the reason for why that is what a right is. The fact of our existence and ability to interact with the things around us is the first thing that we own. These two things are the first rights. The reason for why is that they don't belong to someone else. Nobody sees through your eyes, or experiences your life, except you. This fact of owning your own experience and the ability to choose what to do with that experience means those rights are yours to keep.

Where rights begin to get murky in peoples minds is the fact that we don't live on a desert island with one other person besides our self. The fact of greater numbers of people creates the illusion of complexity. We have a lot of individual actions all being driven by thoughts and emotions; when these run against each other we see conflict as a result. The complexity and the conflict all stem from one source: not understanding the basics. Regardless of number, the instinctive action of the average person is to live and let live. This basic metric of doing what you want as long as you leave other people alone is the foundation of true freedom, and of true rights.

Numbers of people are not entirely the reason for an elemental understanding of rights being lost. Words are one of the most powerful forces to wash away understanding. Words can just as easily build amazing levels of knowledge as they can become blinders that ruin it. Words that hold big ideas such as: society, government, or authority, blanket a more fundamental understanding of individual liberties. In the mind they create a scene like a movie, but not crisp or clear. Like a blurred fish-eye lens; words can hold a sweeping, hazy image of what is really there. These big ideas (though useful at times) are not reflections of principle but a distributed term that helps to define a larger area of thought. The blurry big ideas of a distributed term like "society" acts a lot like what the dark does for kids; it makes it easier to imagine your fears with less distraction. In the word fog of terminology it's easy to lose a simple definition.

On the topic of imagining fears; another hazy idea that muddies the freedom water of understanding a right, is the illusion of safety. This is a popular illusion because on the surface it looks reasonable. A right being any action that doesn't harm others brings with it the possibility of danger. Sadly because many people fear the possibility of danger they rationalize the removal of, or limitation on a right. It should be obvious by now that this claim over other peoples rights is bad, and that "prevention" doesn't work, but still people insist that it does. There are actions that do pose a danger to many other people. Once again prevention and punishment do not work. If they did there would be no more dangerous actions taking place. This illusion of safety is too big a topic for just one paragraph so it's best we move on to what propels the illusion of safety.

The final piece in learning what makes rights hard to understand is the illusion of authority. Many people will correctly state that nobody has rights over anybody else, this is true. A clear understanding of what a right is comes with the territory of acknowledging that we all have the same rights. The idea of authority crops up in peoples minds as a total contradiction to what they might say they believe at the start of inquiry. Appealing to fear and the possibility of danger "authority" lays claim to the "right" of "prevention" and sadly people fall for it. The same people that will say that we all have the same rights will in the second breath say that some authority is given more rights to "prevent harm" or "protect society" from the small handful of actually bad and or dumb people. When in fact each person is in charge of their own destiny and the rights of all people are the same.

With a better understanding of what everyone's rights actually are we can move more in the direction of freedom. The mental tricks and appeals to fear that obscure the clear fact of the freedom of action are a small barrier. Most people already have a desire to live and let live. It is only these seeming complexities of understanding, and small fears that thwart the natural progress of real freedom.


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