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Saturday, August 25, 2012


Whether you prefer "unalienable" or "inalienable", the term means "not to be separated, given away, or taken away." I suspect you knew that. And, of course, you know where I got the word. It's the one found in the Declaration of Independence regarding rights endowed by the Creator.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
There are a few problems with the concept, however.

First, by "not to be separated, given away, or taken away" we cannot mean that they are not able to be taken away. I mean, look, that happens routinely. Indeed, we see it in some circumstances and applaud. We are delighted when a dangerous felon loses his rights to freedom of movement by being sent to prison. That's good! We have, as a constant and obvious example, the First Amendment right to free speech, but we cannot use that freedom to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater and not be held liable for the ensuing damages if there is no fire. The concept here is that "Your rights end where my nose begins." And, we conclude, that is good.

However, it's not only that your rights end where my nose begins. The unborn, for instance, although being humans with "unalienable rights" to, say, life, do not have that right by force of law. If it is inconvenient for the mother to bear that child for whatever reason, the mother's "reproductive rights" take precedence over the baby's "right to life", his or her nose notwithstanding. Mom's rights override baby's rights. Sorry, kid. Consider your "right to life" alienated.

Indeed, even the most basic "rights" enumerated ever so briefly by the Declaration of Independence -- a list of only three examples -- are easily alienable. This year, for instance, the state of Arizona has already executed not just one, but two murderers. Their "right to life" was terminated -- alienated. The prisons are full of people whose liberty is alienated. And, of course, based on the "Drug War" concept and prostitution laws, we do not allow "the pursuit of happiness" wherever that might lead, even if it doesn't clash with your rights (or your nose). We do not have absolute, inalienable rights to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. By virtue of being part of a society, we only have limited rights.

Despite this clear fact, we have constructed our modern culture on the premise of our absolute rights. We have a right to happiness. We have a right to health care. We have a right to "reproductive choice". We have a "right to marry". We appear to have redefined "rights" as "that which I want". If I want it, I have a right to it. The concept of privileges never seems to show. The question of morality is not a valid question. Most people aren't even willing to ask anymore, "Is it good?"

So the fight rages on for "equal rights". No one seems to ask, "So, is this really my right?" No one seems to consider "Is it actually inalienable, or is it something I can lose?" And, in all honesty, for most fighting for "equal rights" in so many areas, taking "my rights" at the cost of "your nose" isn't really a problem. My rights don't end where your nose begins; they end where I say they end. And that's just not right.

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