Water of Life
I tend to get angry if a concert venue doesn’t have drinking water freely available. But does needing something for life give anyone a “right” to that thing?
I was born with a literal hole in my heart. It’s called a ventricular septal defect, or VSD for short. At eighteen months of age, I had open heart surgery to repair the situation, which left quite a gnarly scar that no one can see anymore since I’m such a burly man.
The surgery was vital to me. Were my parents entitled to have it performed? Was I?
If so, the burden of providing the surgery weighed on someone. Was it the surgeon? The assisting nurses? The hospital? The city, county, or state? America? Western civilization? This hemisphere?
If I never had the surgery and died, at whom would I have the right to shake my fist in the metaphysical courtroom of the universe for this egregious sin of omission?
Side note about baby humans at risk of death: I hear from abortion apologists that it’s alright to terminate a collection of cells when the entity is not “viable” – meaning it cannot survive without outside help. I’m not sure why many of these same people argue so vehemently for a sick person’s right to healthcare – in other words, outside help. But I’m not talking about that in this post.
Why So Serious?
Wow. I did not expect this writing session to take me where it did just then. Let’s back up to something innocuous.
Sometimes when the phrase “basic rights” is being thrown around, I like to sharpen my thoughts with a little experiment I call Ten People in a Room.
Imagine if all of America’s population were just ten people in a room. I like this because it is easier to wrap one’s mind around than 300 million people, and it seems to let me be more precise and less vague.
You Have a Milkshake, I Have a Milkshake
Here are four parameters for this version of the thought experiment:
- All ten people have the resources (if not the desire) to learn how to do almost anything. That is, they have access to the equivalent of the internet.
- I am the leader of this population of ten people.
- One of my bedrock principles as leader is that everyone has a basic right to milkshakes. After all, I have used my new power to christen my room-country “Lactonia.”
- None of the ten people in the room knows how to make milkshakes right now.
If my entire platform has been built on proclaiming that everyone has a right to milkshakes, but no one is a milkshake maker, we as a society have no choice but to coerce or conscript someone into learning that craft.
If we coerce this person, we have limited the choices available to her for her life. If we conscript her, we have removed choice altogether.
I. Drink. Your. Milkshake!
Let’s alter the experiment slightly and say that there is already a milkshake maker among us. If everyone has a basic right to milkshakes, should the milkshake maker be forced to give them away? Should those who can afford them be forced to give them to others in our group?
True “rights” mean that a person is entitled to be free from violence perpetrated by others. Free from assault. Free from thievery. Free from coercion and conscription.
Free from being run off the road like we just were on I-78.
Ethical rights are freedom from violence. In other words, they are negative by nature.
As soon as you define rights as being able to obtain something (like milkshakes), you make it necessary to rob from someone else (e.g. the milkshake makers or those who can afford the milkshakes).
If you start supporting the right to goods or services for “free,” you now believe in violating others’ rights. You no longer believe in freedom from; you believe in freedom to – the freedom to help yourself to others’ products or earnings. That’s abusive.
Question Everything, Everything
These ethical questions do not disappear if you scale the population up to 10 million or 10 billion. They are still worth asking, and those who ask them are not heartless dregs.
Violating someone’s rights is either acceptable or not. Stealing their choice – stealing their life – is either justifiable or not.
Scale down for a moment and imagine that after a global catastrophe, the world’s population has been reduced to a man and a woman who finds him repulsive. Is he entitled to steal sexual intercourse from her, even if his sole intention is to preserve Homo sapiens?
Does needing something for life give anyone a right to that thing?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I will continue to stand against rape, sexual and otherwise.
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My wife and I have a friend who is donating her 30th birthday to raising $10,000 toward making clean water available to those with no access to it, and we are planning to contribute toward this worthwhile goal. You can join, too, by clicking here!