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.