I just have threads of ideas, but I want to get them out, write them down, and look at them. Something like an outline.

I’ve been thinking about human rights. It seems to me that there is a big difference between what might be considered “rights” in the classical Western sense – liberty, property(?), justice – and “rights” as the word is increasingly used, particularly in developing nations, to refer to material necessities – sufficient food, clean water, etc.

It strikes me that it is very dangerous to confuse the two.

I would argue that rather than clamor directly for the latter, it is more important to demand the former as the means of obtaining the latter. If one argues directly for the latter, one encounters several problems. The existing state apparatus might capitulate, and the result is often a state of patronage/dependency/dole/welfare which engenders contempt in those who pay and resentment in those who receive along with hosts of perverse incentives and poisonous inversions of pride. Or rather than capitulate to demands, the state might answer them with increased oppression, and the result is war, each side fighting for its own interests. Right demands might, and the principle at play is power and the ability to wield it. Or, more commonly, a combination of the above – bread and circuses to buy out the majority of the public and silent, virulent repression of those voices that still resist.

And if the revolution succeeds, the only way to take and hold power is to use violence and repression – the new state protecting its own interests the same as the old state. Some reshuffling, some redistribution, but the tendency is to follow all the old patterns worn by power.

It strikes me that the latter definition of rights is all about interests. Yes, we all have an interest in food, shelter, clothing, water, environment, education, culture… But it strikes me that very quickly this line of thinking expands into absurdity, for one thing, and doesn’t do anything to address the obvious problem of conflicting interests, for another.

Now, the classical sense of “rights,” on the other hand, deals with abstract concepts. How one defines each particular right can very well be up for debate, and doubtless the concepts can be abused, and conflicting interests is still a problem – but at least the concept itself doesn’t imply that one’s material needs should automatically be met independent of any effort on the part of the individual or community, often at someone else’s expense.

I really think that many leftists who argue for material “rights” have nothing but good intentions, but they don’t see how irreparably damaging it is to a society, at every level, to divorce gain from work.

They’re confusing the results with the tools.

This is what I think is needed: A genuinely representative government, staffed by elected professionals, engineered to be as money/power-independent as is possible.

There would still be conflicts, of course, but the playing field would be more level and would lend itself to reasonable discourse.

How exactly this would function I’m not certain, but there are plenty of ideas.

I feel that the question of big government would largely become irrelevant if people felt that the government actually functioned well and was not corrupt.

The Rule of Law wouldn’t be a code for the repression of the poor by the powerful if the laws actually represented the full spectrum of society.

There would still be instances in which no compromise is possible – but I would bet not nearly as many as there seem to be now.

I imagine a large, over-arching government with a few key laws protecting key rights – and then leave it up to individual communities to conduct their own cultures.

Speaking of which, questions of assimilation, both internal and external. Questions of assimilation should really be questions of values. Forget cultural relativism. Distinguish what you prefer from what your core values are and fight to promote those values (for instance, the right of a young woman to marry whom she please – a choice that may or may not correspond with the choice of her parents, vs her preference for or against wearing a head-scarf – imposition of culture or the right to choose).

Questions of consent.

Questions of changing culture.

What distinguishes a formal legal system from an informal culture? When should a value become a law?

One could say that, ideally, the former protects minority positions from the tyranny of the latter.

In order of decreasing power and increasing size: Constitution – Legislation – Culture.

Human rights (in the classical sense) at the head of them all?