The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Troy Jones weighs in!

On the "Rights Schmites" post below, Troy Jones, who traditionally posts and comments on the SDWC checked in today as follows. Note, the capital letters are edits to his reply which he asked me to make, backchannel. They are not necessarily for additional emphasis, beyond that, are they Troy?

"Bill, I hope I'm not to late to the thread to be relevant even if my comments are not relevant.

First, the concept of "inalienable rights" is rights that, if denied, is an affront to our humanity (whether endowed by a Creator or not). A government that denies "inalienable rights" ceases to be legitimate because it is an affront to humanity.

Second, when two or more people come together and agree to define the application of these rights as well as a system of reconciling conflicts in "inalienable rights" as well as provide for certain other "rights" (I don't remember the term used to describe secondary rights) THEY ARE FORMING A SOCIAL CONTRACT WHICH IS THE GOVERNING DOCUMENT OF THEIR LIVING TOGETHER. A SOCIAL CONTRACT MUST BE HONORED EVEN IN CONFLICT WITH THE WISHES OF THE MAJORITY (UNLESS AMENDED UNDER THE TERMS OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT). A SOCIAL CONTACT NOT SO HONORED IS MEANINGLESS AND THUS ABROGATES THE ESSENCE OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT AND BECOMES ILLEGITIMATE. I for one ascribe to the concept that "right to privacy" is an inalienable right but disagree that its application extends to abortion rights because of the impact on another human being's inalienable right. Inalienable rights are not always unlimited.

Third, the "wholecloth" is an articulation of the reality that no single inalienable right is unlimited but requires reconciliation wiht other "inalienable rights" and that some rights supercede other rights, ala the right to life and right to privacy.

Fourth, a social contract is not ever perfect as it is formed by imperfect humans. The failings of the Constitution to protect the rights of Black Americans.

Fifth, I don't buy the argument of "evolving rights." They are fundamental and unchanging. However, because of imperfect understanding or knowledge or the imperfection of those who author the "social contract", there needs to be a means for making adjustments that improve the application and protection of inalienable rights.

Finally, I want to stress that no piece of paper creates rights. It only defines the rights to be protected under the social contract and how they are to be reconciled. The piece of paper should never be expected to include everything but requires discernment and discretion of "inalienable rights" in light of the "whole cloth."

This said, it doesn't mean that we all shouldn't be "strict constructionists" of the document as defined. The introduction of the idea that certain components of the document is "archaic" or not relevant destroys the social contract and leads to mob rule.

Liberals have as much to fear as conservatives when the documents enumerating the social contract are not relevant. I really think they are opening a can of worms that are as threatening to their views as conservatives."

Alrightie then... welcome Troy! This discussion started on Mt. Blogmore, transferred to the Forum to get a better hearing, and has now fielded response from one of SDWC's most thoughtful and articulate conservatives. Now THAT's what the Decorum Forum's really all about! Okay, so let's discuss.


Troy Jones said...

No additional emphasis by the cap and bold. Only to make it clear to bill what inadvertently got deleted prior to posting. I had moved something around and somehow it disappeared. Just needed it to make it make sense (at least to me).

Pop: I am not trying to rehash the abortion debate. Only used it as an illustration that "inalienable rights" can be in conflict and it is necessary to have a mechanism to reconcile them or discern precedence in the situation. I used the error in the Constitution regarding Black Americans to illustrate that social contracts need a mechanism for being amended. I should have known better than use abortion as an illustration as strong views and emotions on the subject can be a distraction from the point I was trying to make.

lexrex said...

troy, i believe william blackstone referred to those other rights, simply as "alienable."

otherwise, well said.

Bill Fleming said...

Ok. let's take these one at a time, Troy.

1. I love your first point since it underlines a point that I would think everyone would agree with.

If I'm reading you correctly, it doesn't matter who the "Creator" or even if there literally was one.

There are some rights that are fundamental to what it means to be a human being.

In other words, the suggestion of divine right was perhaps just a rhetorical device, a metaphor, if you will, to indicate the most profound and serious tone possible.

And also perhaps to challenge the supposed divine authority of Old World monarchs and clergy.

If that's what you meant to assert, I agree wholeheartedly.

Let's see how my interpretation of your first point sits with you before moving on to your second point.

I'm not in a hurry, Troy.

This is important stuff, you know?

lexrex said...

bf, you asked whether "the suggestion of divine right was perhaps just a rhetorical device."

i would argue that the suggestion that our Creator God is the source of law and rights was intentional.

you cannot read locke, montesquieu, blackstone, etc without taking their reliance on God as something very real.

Bill Fleming said...

Perhaps, lexrex. Perhaps.

But my real point is that Troy seems to be arguing from a more humanist perspective concerning the here and now rather than than a theological one concerning the hereafter, at least as far as his first point was concerned.

And I'd argue that Locke probably was too.

Troy Jones said...

It was not a metaphor nor was it unintentional by these authors. They believed these rights are given as component of being human and they were given by God, the Creator.

However, they presented the political thought in a way that it could be accepted by those who are unbelievers. Our Constitution and the social contract it embodies applies to all (regardless of religious beleif). Whether or not an unbeliever accepts there is a Creator is not relevant to whether or not the rights apply to them and whether or not they must accept these rights apply to others.

Bill Fleming said...

Troy, just because somebody believes something doesn't mean it's a fact. That's surely not what you're trying to say, is it?

Bill Fleming said...

Personally, I think people use metaphors when they are trying to express something that is difficult to say in words. Typically something otherwise ineffable.

There's no shame in it.

Language is at best an imperfect communication vehicle. And poetry — metaphors — far from degrading a thought or written or spoken piece, oftentimes improve the value of written communications by opening them up.

In fact, that's why Jesus spoke in parables, isn't it?

Troy Jones said...


Humans have dignity that is inalienable and fundamental to the rationale of the social contract. Period. A ruling entity or policy which denigrates dignity is illigimate. Whether one believes they are endowed by the Creator or not doesn't change the reality that it is a fundamental component of the social contract.

Bill Fleming said...

Yes, absolutely. I agree with you on that completely, Troy.

Bill Fleming said...

I think it's interesting that we reached general agreement on that first point via such a brief set of exchanges, Troy, and notice that it's taking quite a bit longer to cover what is essentially the same ground in the "Nature, Nature's God and your Creator" post below.

In short, it doesn't matter whether you believe in this particular god, or that one, or any of them at all, what is, is.

And liberty and other "Natural Rights" are a priori facts of human consciousness, largely due to our species ability to reflect and reason. An animal running on pure instinct is not free. Like moths attracted to a flame, they have no real say so in their behavior.

You can call that cognition, gnosis, and consciousness whatever you please, and believe in it or not as you please, but the fact remains, it is what it is. And it is what makes us, us. So yes, it's our endowment. An artifact (blessing?) of our creation.

Anyway, on to point two, I tracked you all the way to the point where you brought up the abortion dispute, Troy. I'm prepared to argue your point with you if you like, but I'm wondering if you wouldn't perhaps prefer to use a different example instead.

Your call.

Troy Jones said...

I selected that example for two reasons.

First, not all inalienable rights are specifically delineated in the Constitution. As a conservative, I thought it significant to say that I believe the "right to privacy" is one such right. I could have picked a different example but it might have been less "significant."

Second, I think it is a good example of how inalienable rights are not always wholly without conflict in certain situations and thus discernment of precedence must occur.

I'm not looking for a hijacking or argument about the abortion issue. If you believe that the "right to privacy" supercedes the "right to life" while I believe otherwise, that isn't the point of the discussion. Just that no right is unlimited nor is it not to be considered in light of the "whole cloth."

That said, I'll give you a different example. The right to freely express myself (free speech) is too an inalienable right. However, it doesn't give me the right to tell untruths about another, incite violence against another, etc. because such speech is a violation of another's right.

(Bill, while a different example, I still don't think it is quite as powerful to make the point of all rights must be considered with the whole. My second example requires more introduction of "facts" for discernment of the situation. My first example is more clear: The "right to privacy" and "right to life" are inalienable rights and easy to see with less gray. Yet even so, they can be in conflict.

Bill Fleming said...

Well, ok Troy, but I think we have some precedent to the contrary. For example, you can use deadly force on a person breaking into your house. You can be executed for spying and kidnapping. You can shoot your rapist.

Did you read the post and take the "Ticking Time Bomb" poll I posted a few days back?

We discussed moral relativity there a little bit. That IS what you're talking about (in a roundabout way) isn't it?

If you've not read it, I hope you do. There's a link to the post above the Ticking Time Bomb poll in the right hand column.

Regardless, I do take your point, kind sir.

The classic example of course is yes we have free speech, but you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. (I've often wondered if "free popcorn" would also be frowned upon.)

Troy Jones said...

In the common vernacular, "moral relativity" is discussed in the subjective realm, i.e. one might think pedophilia is wrong while another thinks in good. In the reconciliation of conflicting inalienable rights, we are speaking in the objective realm where facts and circumstances are the measure and not opinion.

For example, the right to free speech is limited to the extent it doesn't directly result in the violation of another right (yelling "free popcorn" in a theatre)

Bill Fleming said...

Ok, let's go with the "free popcorn" idea so we can move on then. I agree, in principle. There are limits to our right, this being when they butt up against the rights of others. This is the social compact.

So, on to point three, I think the word "wholecloth" was used in order to degrade the veracity of the argument in this instance, and as such, in light of all we have discussed thus far, is inaccurate and indefensible.

You and I together here have cited plenty of precedent. We may not agree, but neither of us is pulling anything out of thin air.