THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 793, October 19, 2014
Uncompromising advocacy of unfettered Freedom
Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
What are rights? Where do they come from? There are a few schools of thought about this idea. One view, and the one to which I subscribe, says that rights are intrinsic to human beings by their very nature. In this view, phrases like "unalienable rights" refer to the fact that human rights are part of humanity. Someone can prevent your exercise of your rights through some unjust procedure, but the rights remain your rights.
Another school of thought about rights is the view that rights come from God. It was this view which the author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, together with the continental congress that reviewed and approved his text, indicated when that document presented these ideas: "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." To the extent that a great many people believe that human nature is created by God, this idea is very similar.
Yet another school of thought takes the position that rights come from government, especially from government documents such as the United Nations Universaal Declaration of Human Rights http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ or the Bill of Rights to the United States constitution. Under this view, rights are granted by those in positions of power. Naturally, the government which grants rights can take them away. So, under this view, rights are not intrinsic. They are contained in a social order and are, presumably, purchased by the citizen in exchange for, say, tax payments, loyalty, and submissive behaviour.
There are, of course, other schools of thought. It is sometimes said of the Nazi Party that their official position was to free mankind "from freedom." Presumably they would have viewed rights as imaginary or non-existent. There seem to be a great number of people who think that governments and social collectives should have unlimited power and that individuals have no intrinsic rights. These people seem to be most content when people are most subjugated. As a result, they seem to be enthusiastic about the killing of anyone who disagrees with them.
With all these different points of view, there is endless confusion and misunderstanding. One of the people I admire with particular respect to gun rights is John Ross. His 1996 book Unintended Consequences does an excellent job of pointing out the importance of individual liberty in a great many different ways. One of the things he wrote struck a particular chord with me: "Our great economic power comes from the fact that Americans determine their own economic destiny. It is time we let Americans once again determine their own physical destiny."
That passage appears on page 490 of the hard cover edition. It is part of a little made-up speech that Henry Bowman gives to indicate what George HW Bush might have said, as late as October 1992, if he wanted to gain about six million more votes in that year's presidential election. And, if you give him a bit of a break about the idea that Americans actually determine their own economic destiny, since it is meant to be what a politician would say, you get the idea. In fact, of course, as the Federal Reserve of Dallas has indicated in great detail, more than half of the financial assets of the United States are held by just five banking enterprises which, in my opinion, constitute a cartel operating in restraint of trade. They have enough political power, though, that you won't ever hear anyone in a position of power say anything about this cartel's wrongdoings.
Even so, one wants the governments of the world to get out of the way of people determining their own physical destiny. Having tools for self-defence would reduce crime and make dictatorship much more difficult to achieve. Guns, ammo, sound suppressors, and rocket propelled grenades represent some of the basic tools that are extremely effective at establishing the individual's self-determination. Naturally, governments around the world mandate that some or all of these items are limited to only those in government, with few exceptions.
Ross, however, on that very same page, makes a pretty big blunder. He writes, again in Henry Bowman's voice, indicating what kind of speech Bush might have made to save his re-election bid, "The Bill of Rights enumerates human rights, it does not grant them." The emphasis of "enumerates" and "grant" are in the original.
Strange, though, because in the Ninth Amendment of that bill of rights, the document says, "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." In other words, the constitution and bill of rights do not enumerate all human rights. However, it is meant to guarantee those rights. In other words, while the listing of rights is significant, it is not comprehensive. Important rights are mentioned in the other amendments, and in the body of the constitution, but these are not meant to be an enumeration of all rights. There are a great many non-enumerated rights.
Think I'm mistaken about the body of the constitution? Consider this passage from Article 6 of the body of the constitution: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." The Moral Majority ought to put that in their pipes, and smoke it.
Further down the same page, Ross points out, "There is a name for a society where only the police have guns. It is called a police state." Now, a great many people seem to think otherwise. I've met many people from Britain who argue, often very shrilly, that they don't live in a police state. They admit to being disarmed, to being monitored by cameras in all major cities, to being subjugated to the extent that they are subjects of Her Majesty, but they insist that their common law and traditions prevent the police from being all-powerful. Perhaps they are content to ignore the protesters brutalised by the police.
Some people roll out the old and by now very tired theory that denying guns to the people generally is meant to deny guns to criminals. Of course, the people who break laws are quite content to break gun laws. They are also quite content to use bats, clubs, knives, and other things to commit murder, when guns aren't available to them. So, in practice, what is found is that denying gun ownership to people generally only insures that law-abiding people are denied guns. Somehow, disarming the law-abiding seems unlikely to produce a reduction in crime.
From a practical point of view, gun ownership by the population generally is a deterrent to crime. Endless statistics illustrate this point. States where concealed carry has been made legal have seen dramatic reductions in crime, especially violent crime. Rape and murder are significantly reduced where people might be able to pull out guns to defend themselves, or to defend others. There are not any states where the other result has been produced, where reductions to the limits on who may carry has produced more crime. Rather, in every single case, without exception, making it easier for people to keep and bear arms has made crime rates drop.
Now, is that very important? Since I believe that all rights are intrinsic, whether they are listed in a government document, whether they are enumerated in a constitution, whether they are mentioned in Holy Scripture, it doesn't matter to my view of rights whether rights are also practical. I believe that I have the right to keep and bear arms without regard to how that right impacts crime. It happens to be the case that the rights I have are also very, very practical.
You have a right to speak, to assemble with other people, and to do so at any place, at any time, without restriction, for any purpose, and so do I. I have that right whether or not the people in a city government believe they can require me to have a parade permit, a meeting permit, or pay a fee for these things. After all, the same people in government seem to think it is okay to impose a poll tax on voters, and we've seen again and again that even the hint of such a fee for voting has been ruled unconstitutional. One of the recent rulings of a federal court indicates that requiring voters to produce government-issued identity papers is a poll tax, since there is a fee for obtaining those identity papers. Not that, as an anarchist, I believe voting is ever going to accomplish anything: no matter who you vote for, the system wins. But I am definitely against poll taxes, literacy tests, and parade permits, just as I am against marriage licences and institutional racism.
You have the right to keep and bear arms, and the constitution says it shall not be infringed. Now, to me, that means it cannot be taxed, either. Like taxes on newspapers, which have been ruled a violation of the First Amendment, taxes on guns are clearly an infringement and a violation of the Second. Now, as an anarchist, I don't actually believe that a constitution protects rights. And, indeed, considerable evidence has accumulated to show that constitutionally guarantees mean very little. If you mean to be free, you should never allow anyone to disarm you. Being disarmed brings you considerable harm because you are the best person to defend your freedom, your life, and your property.
You have a right to privacy, to being safe in your person, papers, and home from all searches, including unreasonable ones. You have a right to remain silent, to refuse to testify against yourself. You have a right to be safe from torture, from cruel and unusual punishments, and you have a large number of rights related to being accused of a crime. Of course, you cannot possibly expect to keep these rights if you won't use tools for defending yourself, including tools for defending your privacy.
For example, you should definitely get and learn to use an e-mail encryption system. The global standard is Open PGP or "Pretty Good Privacy," first developed by Phil Zimmerman. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Zimmerman I've used PGP since it was a DOS-only command line application, meaning that you had to know a long string of commands and arguments in order to encrypt or decrypt anything. Today, I use Enigmail as a plugin for Thunderbird. There are also plugins for webmail that work with Firefox web browser, and there are plugins for some other e-mail clients besides Thunderbird. The point, of course, is that if you don't encrypt, you have no control over who can read your e-mail messages. Open PGP is an open source protocol and an open source application. Enigmail is open source. Thunderbird is open source.
Similarly, for chat, I recommend Jabber and XMPP using a client like Spark, which can accept the SilentVault plugin. SilentVault Spark allows individuals and groups to chat using "off the record" or OTR as a protocol. Again, these are open source software applications and protocols. You should really take some time and look into them.
Why? You should look into open source software because you don't want to have to trust Microsoft and other government contractors with your freedom and privacy. You might want to look at who sells what to the government, or at least look at whether the people who are selling you software are also working for government agencies. You definitely want to know what the software on your computer is doing.
Similarly, you want to know what a web page is doing, so consider a plug-in like "No Scripts" and something like Certicate Patrol. You want to validate whether the secure site you are using is secure, or being mimicked with a man-in-the-middle attack, and Cert Patrol can help in that area. No Scripts can let you limit what web pages run which scripts. Other software can help you eliminate the storage of long-term cookies that eliminate your privacy on some web sites. Further to this point, you should seriously consider editing the about:config for your browser. Simply go to the location window (where web addresses are shown) and type about:config to get started. You should probably turn of geo-location, for example, so your browser does not scream your GPS coordinates to every web site you visit.
Do all these steps sound like a great deal of work, not to mention technical jargon? You bet. But, it is your privacy, isn't it? If it isn't your personal responsibility to learn how to protect your privacy, whose responsibility is it? If you know someone who is a good technical expert about computers, you can definitely ask for help. Similarly, when you were first learning to shoot a gun, you had some more experienced person, or people, to help guide you. If you went to a gun range of any sort, there was probably a person in charge of range safety who would, at least, help you avoid major blunders and unsafe actions.
Since rights are intrinsic, they are your responsibility. I am willing to help you defend your rights. Given the opportunity to use my technical or shooting skills to defend someone who is being attacked or investigated by someone else, I will do what I think is the right thing to do. But you ought not to rely on me, nor on anyone else. I'm not always going to be available to help you. So, please take charge of your own destiny.
You'll be glad you did.
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