Rights vs Duties
When everything is a right, nothing is
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– William Yeats, The Second Coming
It seems that human history evolves in continuous cycles of birth, growth, decay, and destruction, with the shoot of the next society emerging from the ashes of the last. As western civilization dives deeper into the cycle of decay, the mechanisms of propaganda are in full force, as competing tribes increasingly and blatantly use emotional manipulation to drive the populace in the direction they want. As the volume and vitriol rise, polarization increases until there is no longer a center, and even the possibility of dialog and debate is inconceivable.
In such times, where “rights” are increasingly debated and used as clubs against opposing tribes and viewpoints, I must remind myself that “rights” are a fiction. Regardless of how universal they are touted, rights have no meaning outside of the society that has granted them and that has the means and will to provide and enforce them.
My “rights” to life, liberty, health care, or a universal basic income are meaningless unless some group is willing and able to provide these services or opportunities. An earthquake will not respect my “right” to housing any more than cancer; a mugger, or war will respect my “right” to life. Rights themselves are increasingly being fabricated from thin air and used as weapons, with the “right” to not be offended being used to stifle the “right” of free speech for example.
As societies evolve and decay, the focus seems to shift from fundamental duties toward proliferating rights. As more “rights” are created and promised by those in power, it increasingly distracts individuals from their obligations to perform their fundamental duties for themselves, their families, and their communities and increases their dependence on those who provide these “rights.” As duties are forgotten and rights multiply, the barter and promise of competing rights become the public debate, and the social progress of the society grinds to a halt as real outcomes are replaced by noise and fury.
Instead of reminding individuals of their obligations to provide for themselves and their families, the state promises “rights” of healthcare, housing, jobs, and income, until individuals no longer have the will or knowledge of how to perform their duties if they want to. Thus through small steps and supposed good intentions, free men are transformed into vassals, as their existence is now controlled by the state and can be manipulated by providing and withdrawing those things they no longer have the knowledge or ability to provide for themselves.
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