PART TWO – THE EVOLUTION OF RIGHTS (A Parable)

     You’ve decided that you are tired of living under the current flawed government, and you want to put the ultimate government into place, a Utopia where no one will be oppressed, and everyone is happy. You’ve never actually drafted a law before, though, so you’ve gathered the best and the brightest to help you accomplish your goal. Your worker bees are smart and compassionate, their can-do work ethic tempered by the milk of human kindness.

     You’ve gathered the worker bees in one room, so that they can draw up the necessary rules and regulations to govern the populace and protect the citizens’ interests. The bees were raised properly, so they know the value of human rights. They believe in the sanctity of life and liberty, and that all people should be free to pursue their own ideas of happiness. You tell them that their only caveat is that one person’s liberty to swing his fist ends where another person’s nose begins. Other than that, the field is wide open. You tell them “Go!” and sit back to watch the magic.

       Being well-educated persons, they start at the beginning of the list. Their plan is to protect the right to life, and to determine the proper punishment for anyone violating that right. Their schooling tells them that any good rule begins with a definition. If we don’t know what we’re talking about, says one, it’s hard to enforce a regulation.

     So, what exactly does the right to life encompass? you ask, to get the ball rolling. The right of anything that’s alive to not be killed, pipes up one bee. But wait, says another, we eat animals and plants. We can’t have life mean ALL life, or we’d all be murderers. So the right to life must apply only to humans. But, asks another, what if someone kills an animal, but doesn’t eat it? Or, tosses in yet another worker bee, what if someone mistreats an animal, but doesn’t kill it? It doesn’t seem right that that sort of action would go unpunished. The room erupts. What about the destruction of marshes and wetlands, that protect our coastlines? And how about the extinction of whole species? The questions come fast and furious.

   Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say. I didn’t realize this would be so complex. Okay, here’s what we’ll do. For the purposes of this discussion, you proclaim, the right to life will apply only to humans. We’ll get these first few rules out of the way, then deal with the rest of the issues later, because all of a sudden, this legislative process looks like it might take all morning. 

     Okay, then, one bee says, that makes it much easier: human life begins when a  baby pops out of its mother, and takes its first breath. Wait a minute, says another, because two seconds earlier, that baby may not have been breathing, but all its other parts worked. So how far back does life go? a third bee jumps in. Fetus? Embryo? Egg? Sperm? Are any or all of them alive? And what about end of life? asks another. How about people in a coma? Should we call them all alive?, because certainly none of them are dead. Or call them viable, chimes in another, if you prefer, if you can’t consider all of them strictly alive.

     Hold on, you say. Talking about viability. Think about it. You can’t protect a sperm’s right to life, or half the population will be considered guilty of murder three to five times a week or more. After a pause and a general moan from the room, a raucous back-and-forth begins. Well, then, how about embryos? Certainly they’re alive. Then what do you do about parents who destroy their frozen embryos? How about fetuses, then? Surely fetuses are alive. Great, now we’re getting somewhere. Depriving fetuses of life will be a crime. So abortion will be illegal? Well, no, we can’t make abortion illegal, because human females have the right to liberty, which implies they’re in charge of their own bodies. But what about the caveat about the fist and the nose? Isn’t destroying a fetus going a bit further than hitting its nose with a fist? Maybe, but how can you force a human female to be an incubator for months, if she doesn’t want to be? Isn’t that akin to slavery?

     Settle down, you interject. Apparently, even this is too difficult to start with. It looks we’re going to have to find some way to balance every one of these rights against the others. Let’s start somewhere else, and come back to this later. Just move on, or we’ll never get out of here.

     Before we move on, one bee sheepishly asks, can we agree that it’s murder if a fetus is killed by someone other than the mother? Of course, that should be a crime, they all agree. There are sighs of relief around the room as the first order of business is finally completed.

     Despite the slow start, your worker bees eventually fill up reams of paper designing laws and codes and statutes. Great, says one after awhile, we’ve protected the right to life and liberty, and happiness pretty much takes care of itself. We’re done! Let’s order up some lunch.

     Not so fast, interjects a second. Speaking of happiness, what about those poor people who were swarming around me this morning on the way to work, asking for alms? One of the little buggers stained my waistcoat with his grubby fingers. What do we do about them?

     Do about them? asks the first. What do you mean? Did you give them some alms? After all, you’ve got enough and to spare.

     Give them alms? Didn’t you hear me? They should be punished for staining my–

     Waistcoat, we heard. Still they must be suffering, or they wouldn’t be begging. Don’t we have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than us?

     That’s what charity is for, isn’t it? the second protests. I’m talking about ruining my private property–

      Charity must not be enough, the first bee interrupts, otherwise they wouldn’t be begging. We need to do more. We should all help them out.

     Well, I’m not going to give them any money, a third shakes his head. They need to go out and work and make their own .

     But maybe they’ve tried! chimes in another. Maybe they don’t have the skills, or they’re sick, or they just can’t find a job. We can’t just let them starve to death. That isn’t right.

      And all the worker bees look to you, because after all, this whole mess was your idea. Okay, you say, make some provision for the poor, the sick, the disabled, the unskilled, the people who can’t find work. Now can we do lunch?

     But I said no! I don’t want to help them! shouts the third bee. I already contribute to my church. I don’t want to give any more. I’ve got my own financial problems to deal with.

     Too bad, says the first. We took a vote. Pay up, or we’ll put you in jail.

     What about my right to liberty? the third complains. I thought we were building Utopia here, where no one is oppressed and everyone is happy. I’m feeling oppressed, and I’m definitely not happy.

     Well, replies the first, turns out that the poor will feel oppressed and not be happy unless you help them out. And since you have the ability and they have the need, we’ve decided that it’s your responsibility to provide for them. One thing we’ve found out is that it turns out individual rights don’t exist in a vacuum—we’ve got to balance your right to liberty against the good of society, and it seems that you’re coming up short.

     Wow! I can’t believe it! you exclaim. We went from Utopia to Communism before lunch! I want a do-over!

1 Comment

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One response to “PART TWO – THE EVOLUTION OF RIGHTS (A Parable)

  1. Bobby Williams

    Wow! What an interesting writing style choice for the subject at hand. The subject of human rights is usually discussed in serious and somber tones (especially the right to life) from serious and somber people such as those who are wont to address the United Nations on the subject. But you chose to address the subject in a manner so full of sweetness, cheer, and hopefullness that the folks over at Pixar were reaching for the sugar bowl to get their next movie up to your standards.

    At the outset I was so filled with optimism that we were going to get this rights thing, this proper government thing, done with a minimun of effort. Just put a few of our brightest bulbs in a room for a few hours and presto chango, here’s your utopia. And even by the end of your parable my optimism was still there, undaunted by the outcome. Oh sure, we got communism instead of freedom, but what the heck, we still get to go to lunch, right?

    But after thinking about it for a few minutes I changed my mind. After seeing how easily and cheerfully (worker bee #3 notwithstanding) and quickly you went from freedom, nearly un-fettered human rights, and a government whose mission is to protect that freedom and those rights to slaverly and trampled rights all at the hands of the very people (government) charged with doing just the opposite. That’s when I realized that you had actually written one of the darkest tales of human rights and government power ever written. Especially is that so when you realize how easy is the comparison of your parable with the reality of the U.S. today.

    Our grand experiment has gone from a government endowed with only merest amount of power necessary to ensure the rights and liberties of the people to a government that is so over-reaching, so life-suffocating that it’s only mission seems to be a steroid-induced extension of that old adage: …robbing Peter to pay Paul, then robbing Paul to pay John, then robbing John to pay Mary…(you get the picture). And the truly scary part is that we, the people, have stood on the sidelines and cheered them on and optimistically thought that whatever the government did was really for the best even while it put hancuffs on our wrists (insane reulations), shackles on our feet (confiscatory taxes), and duct tape over our mouths (trampled rights [think drone strikes on American citizens]). But we get to go to lunch, right? And Uncle Sam is paying. Hooray!

    But tell me, please. Restore my hope, my optimism. Are there truly no rights that exist in a vaccuum? I’m not talking about the enforcement of those rights, simply their existence. For I truly believe that if there are no Creator-endowed human rights, if all our rights emanate from the government (and can just as easily be un-emanated) that our Republic is in peril and we are doomed.

    How’s that for cheery?

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