In Lancaster County where they decided that everyone had the right to fish trout. Some might object to fishing and hunting, but this is what the people of Lancaster County decided. They so believe in their right to fish trout that the week before trout fishing season opens, they import truckloads of trout and stock the stream. They’ll continue to do this throughout trout fishing season, and the stocking days are special occasions as fishermen will follow the trucks downstream and set up their tackles just past the trucks. It’s not quite shooting fish in a barrel, but it’s close.
This is the way rights and laws work. Every right has a law (or series of laws that stems it) and every law has a right that backs it…and these rights and laws are whatever we decide them to be (even if it seems ridiculous to me to protect the fishers’ rights to the point that we are bringing them fish to catch).
I’ve had many conversations with people recently about health care, gun control, and first amendment rights and the problem is when people say things like: “No one has the right to health care.” “Everyone has the right to protect their own property.” “Artists should have the right to use whatever language they want in the name of art.”
The problem is assuming somehow that rights are somehow “deserved”, “natural”, or somehow “God given”.
Rights are none of these things; they are a human invention. We no more deserve rights than we deserve to have carpentry nails. Rights are no more natural than the bow tie. God didn’t give us rights any more than he gave is the astrolabe. To move forward in the national conversation, we have to accept that rights are artificial constructs that we have given ourselves.
The question remains, “What rights do we deserve?”
None. Absolutely none. No one is entitled to any rights whatsoever. The only rights that we should have are those that we as a community can agree on. The right not to be killed by another man, for example. That’s an easy right that we all agree on, so we made murder illegal. We also agree that we should have the right to own property, therefore stealing is illegal. We agree that we have the right to practice religion without the government telling us how (and if) we should practice; therefore we’ve come up with the separation of church in state. We as a country have agreed on these things, but we could just as easily revoke any of these rights if we decide that these rights are a bad thing. Prohibition is a good example of that. In 1917 we decided that Americans should have a country free from alcohol. In 1933 we decided that was a bad idea and repealed it.
We can make anything we feel like a right.
We could decide that chocolate pudding was a right of all citizens. We could make farting illegal. We could lift the first amendment rights for cartoons. We can make anything we want a right and anything we want a law. We need to stop talking about rights as absolutes as if there was some rule or outside providence that decided for us what rights people “should” and “must” have.
Generally we decide to enact laws and rights that we decide is good for our community.
I want health care to be a right, because I admire the French system of universal health care and think that with American know-how we can improve upon the system and show the world how to heal the sick. I want marriage to be a right for all citizens regardless of sexual orientation, because I think love is the most powerful, positive thing in the world and it should be fostered at every chance we get. I want a gun ban as strong as that as they have in the UK, because I’ve never felt safer in a metropolis than walking the streets of London…even in the “bad” parts.
I want all of these things, but they shouldn’t be rights and laws until both houses of congress approve them.
I don’t deserve health care.
Gay people don’t deserve to get married.
Our children don’t deserve to grow up on streets without guns.
These things are hard to say because I want them so badly, but I don’t deserve them. I will struggle to make them happen, but there is nothing in the universe that implies any of these things should happen. We are a country governed by the people. My beliefs is that people are generally good and there will come a day that the majority of people in this country support these tings, but until that point they are not rights nor should they be.