Category Archives: Emergence

Emergent Principles of Human Nature; Not Natural Rights

Part 2 of a series of posts on defining Emergent Principles of Human Nature; an outgrowth of a challenge issued to me ages ago by a fellow libertarian that I “explain inalienable rights without including god” like most challenges of this type, the work is larger than the speaker or hearer understands at the time.

The title of this piece was chosen consciously and deliberately. There are many philosophers who have written over the years of natural rights and inalienable rights. Inalienable rights as Emergent Principles of Human Nature was addressed in the first piece, and will be addressed in a series of pieces that follow this one.

This piece (hopes to) explain the difference between natural rights and human rights.

I hemmed and hawed about writing this section at all.  I almost went back and re-edited the first section just to take the reference to this one out. Having written that section I was immediately faced with this problem;  Emergent Principles of Human Nature are by definition natural.  How can they not be the same thing?

The problem with natural rights as a concept is this; if rights are natural, a part of an individual, then that individual should be able to determine what those rights are. Unfortunately, human nature conspires to prevent this, making the common notion of natural rights almost unfathomable from the outset.  The limitations we face are a part of us and are consequently almost invisible to the individual. They are obvious when pointed out, but even then most people will deny that they are limited by them, never mind that there is no escaping these limitations while remaining human.

The first of these constraints is confirmation bias. If an individual believes something, that individual is going to work to confirm those beliefs, no matter what mountains of evidence to the contrary have to be climbed.  If you believe you have a right to a firearm, you’re going to find every reason you can lay your hands on to justify having that weapon.  No amount of basic logic to the contrary; say, the simple observation of how will you get it if no one can make it? will dissuade you from that belief.

If you are one of those people you are crafting counters right now, if you were even able to finish reading that sentence. However, the parameters of the argument are contained in that simple sentence. There really isn’t an argument beyond I’ll make it myself, which leads to the next constraint.

This is the fact that limitations in areas of understanding renders an individual blind to their own limitations. Also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, I wondered for years why someone I knew was incompetent in a particular area couldn’t understand why they really shouldn’t be doing whatever it was they were incompetent at.

I myself vaguely discern an echoing gulf of misunderstanding around me when I attempt to communicate with the average mundane (normal person) I simply cannot communicate in any form other than the written word, apparently.  The connections aren’t there in the brain, I can’t read faces, I have no idea what anyone is feeling at any given moment.  I have to blunder along hoping that person I’m talking too is willing to be as dead honest with me as I am forced to be with them.

The one makes essential the licensing practices we’ve come to establish over the last hundred years; and the other convinces us that we don’t need anyone to tell us what we can or can’t do.  Even though, to an external observer, it’s obvious that you (me, everybody) really do need supervision.

It is these limitations that render impotent the common sense notion of natural rights.  It is these limitations that render the individual incapable of determining for themselves what their own aptitudes are. That necessitate the requirement for testing and licensing, so that others can know without having to become experts in all fields themselves (a technical impossibility) what proficiencies someone else is trained in.

These two related constraints are hardly an exhaustive list of the limitations we flawed humans face. The briefest investigation into the subject of priming should give you pause; especially when you understand that simply mentioning firearms earlier in the article, just their reading of that word, means that a significant portion of readers have formed opinions about my goals with this manuscript. Goals that I frankly haven’t even worked out for myself.

Then we could discuss motivated numeracy and how that leads individuals to question science itself when it produces results they don’t like.  I expect that this list of an individuals potential failings will move steadily towards infinite length, the more we understand the limitations of the human animal.

Our knowledge of ourselves is flawed by our very nature; making self-doubt not just a necessity, but a virtue.  Every time that our certainties are challenged we should be willing to step back and question our most cherished beliefs. Capable of not only defending them, but of logically justifying them to the harshest critic.  It is this ability, this willingness to admit the possibility of fault, that embraces our humanity.

This was the need that motivated me to finally admit that the subject of natural rights had to be addressed. The need to point out that our nature allows for a definition of human rights, while at the same time in no way authorizes individual demands.  Yes,  Emergent Principles of Human Nature are natural.  But that does not mean that individuals are born with a right to a firearm. With the right to demand actions, services and material goods of unrelated others.

We are born with an ability to make our own way, to build upon the works of those who came before us and improve on that foundation; but we are beholden to those who contributed to establishing that foundation. We are indebted to those whose blood, sweat and tears are mixed into the knowledge that is preserved for us to utilize.  Every single individual who ever existed before you had to exist in order for you to be here, now, in this place and time with the knowledge you have at your disposal.  If you can grasp it, that is a daunting perspective to behold. The thousands of generations of creatures who had to exist just so that you could be here, now.

Every person longs to be part of something greater than themselves; it is through this longing that so many paths are forged. A wise man once said “No man is an island” and this is demonstrably true.  Those who perceive themselves as islands simply fail to grasp the necessity of all the people who came before him who supported him, educated him and elevated him until his head broke the surface to appear as an island.

All of those people who preceded that individual human being, who contributed to the vast database of knowledge made available to him, had to exist in order for that individual to exist. If this was not so then all of us could claim perfect understanding of the universe at birth, which is demonstrably untrue.

This is the nature of the flaw in individualist philosophies. Objectivism, Libertarianism, Anarchism. All of them carry the same flaw. Rothbard, Rand and all their ideas are flawed from the precept stage of development. They assume that there is just one natural law governing man, and that that law makes itself apparent to all men.   This is also demonstrably not the case. The vast majority of the world’s population simply don’t understand the notion of taxes as theft, or that socializing the healthcare system (or the school system, or whatever) interferes with the contract rights of every man, and consequently determines the paths of those caught within the system.

And yet Rothbard, Rand and those who follow their reasoning simply gloss these facts over, and continue asserting that what they see as the ultimate truth is the only apparent truth.

When I think of natural law, I see several possibilities for defining codes within the parameters of nature. The parasites’ code. The predators’ ethic. These are, of course, not correct codes, as people raised with a mid-western work ethic would conceive of them. And yet, like the misguided people who took the phrase right-to-life and perverted it into a belief system that takes away a woman’s right to her own life; so too the phrase natural rights or natural law lends itself to many different interpretations.

Interpretations that become equally as valid as Rothbard’s real intent when he crafted the ideas behind Anarcho-capitalism, or Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, because there is no central authority to determine what is or isn’t right in the natural sense beyond might makes right. Because all of us are incapable of objective certainty at any particular point in time, try as we might to maintain a sense of objectivity.  It simply can’t be done and remain human at the same time.

Our nature defines the principles that we live under, but by that same nature no one individual can say with certainty exactly what rights he should be permitted to exercise.

Emergent Principles of Human Nature; Inalienable Rights

Part 1 of a series of posts defining Emergent Principles of Human Nature; an outgrowth of a challenge issued to me ages ago by a fellow libertarian that I “explain inalienable rights without including god“.  Like most challenges of this type, the work is larger than the speaker or hearer understands at the time. 

This post will be updated and reposted ahead of each subsequent post in the chain, with links to each as they are completed. A lengthy endeavor, but hopefully worth the time and effort for both writer and reader.

Throughout human history we have attempted to find meaning in the world around us.  We do this imperfectly because we are imperfect beings in an imperfect universe; perfection is an unattainable unknowable state which only the deluded think they understand.

As a group we have tried many approaches to find this meaning.  We have given this discipline a name, Philosophy, and established schools of thought within the discipline as varied and as many as there are philosophers in history.  Down through the ages we have dallied with gods and flirted with the idea of the absence of gods, and fooled ourselves that we group of blind men can fully describe the elephant with only our hands and words.

I do not harbor any delusions about the ability of one uneducated man to be able to perfectly describe the universe or establish it’s meaning; for myself, I can only hope to find my meaning within the universe.  To this end I have pursued my lifelong obsession with philosophy; and when I say obsession I do not mean that I have exhaustively read the treatises of other philosophers.  I have done some of that, but I have found that most philosophers aren’t actually interested in exploring naked truths.  They are more interested in explaining why the world is the way they perceive it.

After that fashion, I guess I’m no different than they are.

However, I think that meaning can be found that is universal, objective.  It was because of the word Objective that I first allied myself with Objectivists.  Ayn Rand in her ultimate folly thought she understood the natural universe perfectly. Her writing on the subject, compelling as it is, is incomplete at best.  At worst, her work is used as it is today; to justify horrors by those willing to enact them, citing her works in ways that the author herself would never have condoned. Her claiming of the title Objectivism for her philosophy is illustrative of the massive ego of the woman herself, made obvious by the study of her life, if you are simply inquisitive enough to take up the challenge.

Within every lie is a kernel of truth, as the saying goes, and within the brashness of Objectivism is the truth of materialism, the denial of post-modernism and it’s still-born sibling, solipsism.

The original challenge to define inalienable rights was issued because god; and yet god himself is a hopeless contradiction, a failure of man’s imagination to grasp that the complexity around us is achievable through time multiplied by error alone. The uncreated creator is a substitution for understanding, not an explanation. Accepting this conclusion, it fell to me to offer a real explanation for the concept of rights; an explanation grounded in science out of necessity, since scientific evidence is the only demonstrable way to objectively prove anything.  At least, the only way that we’ve yet discovered.

Aristotle’s unmoved mover may indeed exist, the god of scientists and philosophers, the natural god, but that god does not offer explanations beyond mere existence itself.  It falls to us to explain what things mean to our own satisfaction.

The title of this piece was chosen consciously and deliberately. There are many philosophers who have written over the years of natural rights and inalienable rights. why what I am writing about cannot be simplistically pigeonholed as natural rights will be discussed in the next piece. This piece hopes to offer up a bare bones explanation of inalienable rights, and their grounding in science.  The planned series of posts to follow will embroider nuance into the bare structure I’m presenting here.

The theory of emergence  provides the grounding for inalienable rights.  While rights are vested in the individual, it is only through seeing the interactions of individuals that the pattern of rights becomes clear. There is no concept of property when alone on a desert island (where Rothbard’s simplistic outline of rights fails) all of everything the sole inhabitant of the island touches is his property by definition; but the individual marooned on a desert island cannot hope to do more than survive while his health endures, alone on an island.  Simple survival is the least of any of our human aspirations.

Most of the concepts we deal with on a daily basis emerge from our interactions with others.  Money is a concept that becomes useless in a social grouping small enough to provide for it’s own needs. Families everywhere struggle with introducing money into the social structure of the household, grapple with educating children on what money is, what it means, what is it’s value. If you corner any given individual and challenge them to define money, most of them will be unable to do so beyond showing you a physical representation; which is not of itself a definition.

In groups large enough that the contributions of the individual cannot be valued and compensated accordingly, money becomes a necessity. How else is the individual who makes widgets all day to be afforded to directly purchase food and shelter for his continued existence? When the value of the widget cannot be directly translated by the average person into a quantity of food, the quality of shelter? Money makes that possible, however it is defined. Money is an emergent system, an outgrowth of human interaction.

But rights are not systems themselves. Rights are principles that systems are based on.  Like systems which emerge from human interaction, the principles that those systems are based on are also emergent; revealed through the interactions of individuals.

That money should have a definable value to the individual is a principle (albeit flawed) of the monetary system.  All of the systems around us that we take for granted are based on these principles that most of us never even bother to seek out, let alone question.  Jefferson’s (through Locke) immortal listing of Life, Liberty & Pursuit of Happiness is, as it says in the Declaration, truncated. There are many other principles that can be inferred from the interactions of individuals, there for anyone to see if they simply take the time to look.

Which is why what we are wrestling with here is Human Nature, not ideology, theology, or the natural world as revealed in the study of other animals. How we as humans value each other, or fail to value as the case may be. The nature of the human animal, as it relates to other human animals within the structures we create for ourselves. As I observed in my first outing on this subject;

A prisoner has rights. Not because we ‘allow’ them; but because his [human nature] enables them. The fact that there are prison breaks is merely proof that the prisoners maintain their rights in spite of the full force of government and the people being intent on denying them the exercise of same. 

In the broadest sense, Emergent Principles of Human Nature represents what most people mean by inalienable rights; what has been lacking up to now is some way of objectively defining why rights cannot be separated from the person; this is satisfied in the concept of emergence.  They cannot be separated from the person, because they are only revealed through common interactions with other individuals. Without them, survival in a group is impossible because the basic needs of the individual cannot be met; and any system created that doesn’t take them into account will fail through the actions of individuals intent on fulfilling their own needs.

Rights are not listed on some government document. They aren’t granted by sovereignty, even your own.  They emerge from the requirements for human life, and the process of securing those requirements on an individual basis.

I finished my first entry on this subject with the observation;

That’s about as far as I’ve taken it. Much more to be written…

Apparently I have the gift for understatement, as the length of the many posts to follow should reveal.

Inalienable Rights Defined

(Originally posted here)

I had a request the other day to elaborate on how I would define inalienable rights without including god as the architect. This is a summation of what I’ve posted before on the subject.

Simply put, You exist. You exist as a individual, capable of sustaining your own life. The requirements for you life to continue can be conceptualized into ‘rights’ that you possess as a living, thinking being. You have the right to continue in your life, since you are capable of sustaining it barring intervention by others. This right is secured by the rational capacity of the individual, linked to the corporeal existence/free will of the individual, which manifests as actions in ‘self defense’.

Your ‘right to life’ leads to corollary rights. Existence is measured in time, and time (spent wisely) yields game/crops/shelter or ‘property’. You have a right to (justly acquired) property because your continued existence (your ‘right to life’) depends on being able to dispose of your property (the manifestation of productive life) as you see fit. Following this type of chain, you can produce several ‘rights’ that a person should reasonably expect to be ‘allowed’ to exercise. Liberty is the corollary right that ‘allowing’ falls under, since there would be no question of the free exercise of your rights if you did not have others with equal rights to contend with.

Since we all equally exist, we should all have ‘equal’ rights. The rights are inseparable because they stem from what we are. A prisoner has rights. Not because we ‘allow’ them; but because his free will enables them. The fact that there are prison breaks is merely proof that the prisoners maintain their rights *in spite of* the full force of gov’t and the people being intent on denying them the exercise of same. The unjustified killing of a person is therefore a destruction of a value equal to your own, and should be dealt with harshly by those who value the rights they possess.

That’s about as far as I’ve taken it. Much more to be written…

Mea culpa review, 2017. I haven’t updated the page recently, but if you go to Emergent Principles of Human Nature you will discover that my mental obsession with this topic has produced some fruit. Fruit of questionable value probably, but something at least. 

Children’s rights, drugs and school

From the Archive…
There was a proposal a few years back by a nearby school district to require drug testing for all children engaged in extra-curricular activities. As a free thinker and a libertarian, I had a problem with this (as you can imagine) I don’t know if the proposal was ever adopted; I do know, however, that my mind remains unchanged on the subject.

Let me frame this correctly:

I am the guardian of my children’s rights. To submit children to drug testing without probable cause violates the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments to the constitution, just on the face of it, no matter what the Supremes say.

I find it offensive that the school has decided to exclude my children from extra-curricular activity over this issue; I say this because I will not allow my child’s rights to be violated, and they will not be allowed to participate without ‘testing’.

If I feel that the evidence warrants testing, rest assured I will see that they are tested. But the state has no business getting involved in this issue. My children will not be involved in extra curricular activities if testing is required. My children will not be in school if testing is required of the entire student body.

Further, anyone who submits to a drug test for ANY REASON when not under arrest is abdicating their rights under the constitution; is admitting to guilt until proven innocent.

There comes a point where you can yield no further ground on an issue. That point has been reached. If you want to end the threat of drugs in the school REMOVE THE PROFIT, LEGALIZE THEM.

It really is that simple. Prohibition does not work, we proved that nearly a century ago…

Some one argued, at the time, “are you willing to open that can of worms [children’s rights] for the liberals?”

It’s not a can of worms, because you are mis-construing my post.

The child has no rights directly (again, in spite of what the supremes say) They are not adults, they do not comprehend actions and consequences as a general rule, and they do not think at an adult level. However, as the parent, I am charged with guarding the rights of my children. It falls to me, and to no one else, to do this.

If someone fails in their duty as parent, the child should be free to seek whatever shelter can be found; be it private charity or gov’t action. If the child can prove that he/she is able to function as an adult, then he/she is no longer a child and should have the ability to seek redress for harm done like any adult.

The child does not stay a child, they become adults. Parents who fail to realize this natural order of things (and I know a few who fall in this category) deserve whatever comes to them when the adult who was their child takes offense at the liberties taken by negligent, or even over-protective, parents.

Religion is no excuse for mistreatment of a child; there is, in fact, no excuse.

The CPS and the payments their agents get for stealing children is another story all together.

Further argument was offered:
“…as far as I read it you were stating it’s a violation of the children’s rights to be drug tested. But as you just stated the children do not have many rights by law. So you’re saying its ok for a parent to violate a child’s rights but not the government’s right [to do so]?”

The government has no rights, only individuals have rights. Some will tell you that the gov’t is an illusion like the spoon in ‘the Matrix’. But I digress.

I’m always amazed at the confusion most people exhibit when the subject of rights comes up. Amazed because the first document of a free America proclaims the existence of ‘inalienable rights’; and amazed because the concept is so clear to me.

To put it simply: Children are potential adults; if they succeed in reaching maturity, then they *are* adults. All adults have rights, they are the same rights no matter where you live (despite what the Chinese premier thinks) because they come from what makes us living, thinking individuals. Children have potential rights, and these are vested in the guardian or parent whose job it is to ensure that the child matures into a responsible adult.

A parent can violate a child’s rights. Negligence, abuse, or some other failure of guidance should be seen as a breaking of the trust that is parenthood.

In demanding drug testing, the gov’t and the school have determined that all the children are guilty until proven innocent. Any parent who yields to the pressure and allows their child to be tested in this fashion allows their children’s rights to be violated, and in so doing, abdicates their right to be called ‘parent’.