TED Conversations

retired

TEDCRED 10+

This conversation is closed.

What are 'Rights'? Are the 'Rights of an individual less than those of a collective?

Documented rights, obligations of citizens and powers of government date to around 3100 BCE, with the unification of Egypt under Menes/Narmer. The latest addition to the 'Rights' club of note is the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948 in conjunction with the UN Charter. Codes and or commandments relating to theistic belief date to around 2000 BCE and are known as the Pyramid Texts from Egypt.
Of all such attempts, with too many to mention, from the earliest civil and religious codes to the latest; most all have one thing in common; control over people for the benefit of a few. Such is consistent with the human mind in its desire to create order where nature appears chaotic or fails to accommodate human needs and to build such order as to benefit the engineers.
Most civil codes acknowledged the power of the State, as predominate over the people with ‘rights, as an issuance from the State, whereby the State was the ultimate authority. This was also true of theistic belief systems, as in the Biblical or Koran sense of ‘Commands’ of conduct under threat of physical and spiritual harm..
Arguably, it was John Locke, a British philosopher, who first articulated the rights of the individual, as an entity on to himself. Locke’s writings served to influence the move away from dictatorial rule in Europe to include The American Revolution and The French Revolution.
It was the American Bill of Rights however, that greatly limited the power of the State over the people by inserting the words, “Congress shall make no law---” No other document places the individual before the State and a collective. And in The Declaration of Independence, “When in the course of human events---“ places the existence of a government in the hands of the governed.

Share:

Closing Statement from Charles Hunsinger

In summation of the conversation it is difficult to determine any end result value. Most respondents seemed to elect an avenue that had nothing or very little to do with the stated question. There appeared to be little understanding of the practice and concept of Individual Freedom, but rather an affectionate affiliation with a disdain for the Founding Principles of America and for the success that those principles engendered.

  • thumb
    May 14 2014: Johnny Atman says:

    The rights of the collective mirror the right of the individual as the collective is a sumtotal of individuals.
    Unfortunately, the Elite makes laws what It thinks that the rest of us need, in order to be dominated and controlled.
    Where there is Law, there is no Freedom. Freedom means the ability to live according to one's Universal Conscience, and we are not developed enough to do that. So the Law has to exist as we develop to it. Unfortunately, as with anything, the Law is hijacked by the Law makers and the Rich and Powerful for their own end.
    • May 15 2014: Johnny

      In reading your Post there is a part of me that simply wants to grimace, but than some of what you say has, for me. merit.
      Before I point to those areas of agreement can you please define, Universal Conscience. I have heard many version of this, but there does not seem to be a universal agreement, as to what it is. The problem I have is that if there is no universal agreement on a definition, how can it be universal?
      I would agree that all life is in a transitory or evolutionary stage of existence, at any given time during its existence. All things change all the time. That this is true, than the universal conscience that you seek will also change, as there are no constants. Of what great value than is such an objective and should we not do our best to deal with and encourage individual freedom, as that, I believe, is the essence of what you speak?
      I take it that with with your universal philosophy you have resigned yourself from meaningful participation in the world that surrounds you, divesting yourself from any all responsibility just waiting for that day when you will be emancipated from the shackles of philosophical slavery.
      • thumb
        May 15 2014: Johnny Atman says:

        This gentleman comes close to the definition:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Theory_of_Justice

        'I take it that with with your universal philosophy you have resigned yourself from meaningful participation in the world that surrounds you, divesting yourself from any all responsibility just waiting for that day when you will be emancipated from the shackles of philosophical slavery'.

        Certainly, that is YOUR take.
  • May 8 2014: History has shown that no document protects rights unless the majority of the population supports those rights. The minority usually pays the penalty.
    • May 8 2014: Wayne

      True, but when those Rights apply to all people, as The Bill of Rights, what price is paid by the minority?
      • May 8 2014: When the Constitution is violated, it is the minority that usually pays the penalty. The best example in recent history is the Japanese internment during WWII.
        • May 9 2014: Wayne

          We could debate the internment and I think we have, but to your point, very good.
  • May 6 2014: Sorry Charles didn't mean to hijack your boyscout version of the us constitution conversation. You were fun.
  • May 6 2014: @Charles,

    As a member of the enlightenment you probably recognize the common authority of pious leadership. Catholic Spain and Catholic France pursuing the same territories would give the new government some autonomy if things went south for the fledgling government. The Bill of Rights was intended to be a fail safe for the makers of our constitution if usurped by a more organized monarchy than the British crown. But the reality at the time was to force a populist reaction to any foreign intrusion because the first procedure was to force everyone to convert to the religion and to remove their weapons. The Bill of Rights is a defensive document that accomplishes both an offense and defense against foreign and domestic enemies. It's very cleaver, legally. As far as my resume, I had an online encounter with Thomas Friedman during the last election period and want to remain anonymous, in my defense I have to say my bio reads pretty much like everyone else's descriptors of themselves.
    The basic tenet to become part of the ruling class is to pick yourself to win and mentor those who best mock your rise to success. If you had a profession or income you could command your own army or guild. Giving a non member of the ruling class "rights" allows the ruling class to maintain it's social standing as not being like a monarch but still being in control. This could explain why Jefferson kept slaves.
    • May 6 2014: Dino

      After what I just read, I think you should remain anonymous.
  • May 5 2014: Dino

    In reading your profile the first word that came to mind was narcissistic, but than we all have our problems. I have yet to encounter a perfectly human human.
    You seem to have a very, oh woe is me outlook on life for a grad student. Your first sentence is interesting in that 'Rights' were created to pick winners and losers. Consider, if you will, the Bill of Rights, lets say the First Amendment and Freedom of religion. Who are the winners here or the losers. The Second Amendment, The Right to bear arms. I would think that this Right levels the playing field against a government that has gone astray or do you see it in another light.
    Please, with reference to The Bill of Rights, tell me how any one of these picks a winner or loser or does this document give people the right to achieve their own level of success or failure?
  • thumb
    May 5 2014: Basically, we got only one right: FREEDOM
    Freedom means we are free to do everything but one: we are not allowed to deny other's freedom !!!
    Democracy is an efficient way to maintain the individual right of freedom.
    Having democracy means having a law system which seems to narrow our freedom, but actually it does not.
    Laws are boundaries that crossing them means hurting other's freedom.
    • May 5 2014: Renee

      I do not think that democracy is an effective or an efficient way to maintain something called individual freedom. When you consider that if 51 % of the people can legally stop the other 49% from doing whatever the 51% do not like, there maybe something wrong with majority rule and maybe something else should be involved.
      Slavery in the US was lawful, so is it possible than that not all laws are boundaries that prohibit one from hurting another?
      Perhaps that is why America has something called The Bill of Rights. Rights that cannot be voted on or taken away by the majority.
      There were many attempts by Christians during the writing of the Constitution and immediately thereafter to name Christianity as the nations religious belief. Obviously none of the attempts were successful, because of the First Amendment. There is a separation of church and state for a very good reason. You might look up the Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury bishops.
      Without the Bill of Rights freedom would become a fond memory of an ancient time when people were much smarter than they are today.
  • May 5 2014: "Rights" were created by the ruling class to effectively pick winners and losers. That's is probably why the "word" right's is so common compared to the words, elite, noble, monarch, dictator, poet, sculpture, artisan etc. "Collective" has the same basic word form to describe anyone and everyone whom the ruling class needs to accomplish public works projects. When individuals come before the ruling class they have to have some dignity to approach and being given rights allows for that introduction. If you are unskilled, laborer, ignorant you at least have "right's." Which allows you to freely move about your community. Collectivism means you are of the same ilk but are threatening the ruling class which is not in their best interest and are subject to being undesirable as a group until you become individual which is superior.
  • thumb
    May 4 2014: Every individual is born with this blessed intuitive primary sense of rights - as soon as one enters the society of human games one has to adjust to others, or what we may call, others' rights.

    This adjustment makes our personal space very limited.

    We cannot escape our society and must put up with some of the basic rules and codes - for our own sake.

    The most wonderful freedom designed by nature for my own rights is my mind, untouchable and ultimately free.
  • thumb
    May 3 2014: I like George Carlin's take on Rights.

    He suggest everyone take a good hard look at how, during the 2nd world war, Americans of Japanese descent who were born and raised in the U.S. were rounded up, tossed into concentration camps and had all their material belongs confiscated by the state whose corrupt officials then handed the properties over to their friends and relatives.

    In other words there are no "rights" but simply state sanctioned privileges that can be taken away at the stroke of a pen. A Right shoud be something that is continuous not contingent. . .
    • May 3 2014: If that is true, then don't bother. If that is true, then there is no need for "justice". If that is true, just lump along in the current way of doing things and stop caring.
      • thumb
        May 3 2014: I guess you would have to ask one of the legions of people ended up in those concentration camps or their descendants. Or any of the legions of poor, indigent and mentally ill being imprisoned in the U.S. these days. .
        • May 4 2014: If rights are merely made up by government and can be legitimately taken away by the stroke of a pen, then the concentration camp victims have no justification for complaining. If rights can be legitimately taken away be stroke of a pen, the NOBODY HAS ANY JUSTIFICATION for complaining about anything government does.

          However, if rights exist INDEPENDENTLY of what governments decide, if the stroke of a pen might abrogate rights but not legitimately, then rights are real and people are justified in complaining. It's really that simple. You are on the side of the concentration camp creators. I am against them.
      • thumb
        May 4 2014: Perhaps you can explain where else these "rights" come from if not government agencies or some other authority or institution? How do they get defined, promoted or even defended if not by some authority? Surely your not suggesting that a "right" pops out of thin air?
    • May 3 2014: William

      George Carlin was lacking in so many things, His appeal was primarily to those hippies who wanted to see the overthrow of the US, who now seem to be in Washington.
      Apparently you have not done any of your own research on the internment, as you seem to only mimic Carlin.
      I will not go into the justification for the internment, as I too, believe that in many ways it was wrong. You are aware, I am sure, that the US government paid $20,000 to each person interred. It took 20 years, but it was something.
      I would take it that you are not an American and judging by the picture you posted of yourself, you have somewhat of a cartoonish appearance and identity. You really do not add anything to a conversation and in all probability you cannot. But, again, judging by your picture I am sure that you are doing the very best that you can. So I would encourage you to keep trying. You do know the story about an infinite number of monkeys and typewriters.
      • thumb
        May 3 2014: I can see you like to leave them laughing as well :)
    • May 8 2014: I see you understand the statement - the victors write the history books and might makes right.
  • May 3 2014: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution
    • May 3 2014: Very good. The cut and paste achievement award. Do you have any other accomplishments?
      • May 3 2014: Rights are written-down laws that we - judge, jury, prosecution, defense - refer to when the few are having trouble with the many, or vice-versa, to try to keep the peace and out of court. I'm not American.
        • May 3 2014: Rodigo

          That is obvious, but then not so much anymore. Thank you for your attempt to answer the debate.
        • May 3 2014: No, rights are NOT "written-down laws". The "written-down laws" are to protect the rights that already exist. If rights are merely 'written-down laws", then there are no rights, there is no point in demanding any rights, and everyone deserves to be a slave.
      • May 3 2014: Bryan

        How do you demand rights? Write them down?
        • May 4 2014: Rights are NOT "written-down laws". The "written-down laws" are to protect the rights that already exist. If rights are merely 'written-down laws", then there are no rights, there is no point in demanding any rights, and everyone deserves to be a slave.
      • May 4 2014: Bryan

        Now I'm thinking that laws are written-down rights.
  • thumb

    R H 30+

    • 0
    May 2 2014: thanks for your well-supported question. i have only one objection, and that is your deduction that historical codes "all have one thing in common; control over people for the benefit of a few". I would say that the 'authors' of said codes would not support that as their desired end, but merely that the implementation of their codes resulted in such similar ends because of intrinsic human weaknesses. Of course, now that the common person is educated and culturally knowledgeable (historically speaking), we prefer the view of a Mr. Locke, that individuals have rights and that these rights are inalienable, and that the state exists to protect the rights of individuals. In reality, nearly the opposite has manifested - but not quite. But since this 'individual rights' experiment is relatively new, i believe it will go through many painful growth stages before manifesting in the ideal of its author. Lastly, In my view, 'Rights' are the recognition of one's self-determination. and those 'rights' are the harmonic support of the collective.
    • May 3 2014: RH

      Your points are well taken and if we would have had this conversation on 'Rights' a few weeks ago I would have agreed 100%.
      "The Rights of a citizen" granted by a State have not come (historically) because of some altruistic notion of fairness and freedom. They came in small handouts, over thousands of years, to appease and to quell the populations, but yet maintaining a totalitarian hold. I would believe that such 'rights' were the result of uprisings to include revolutions. Better to give a little then loose the kingdom.
      Where we are now is an evolutionary position, in time, based on the likes of Menes, Hammurabi, Magna Carta , John Lock and the concept of 'natural rights' and many others.
      More importantly,I think, it was the awakening of humanity, from the bonds of kingly rule and human property to the sovereignty of the individual, ultimately identified in the American Constitution. A slow and laborious process that, not to mention remains tenuous.
      To your point of 'weaknesses'. I would think that you refer to the uneducated or un-sophisticated , as compared to the ruling class. Was this not the intent of the ruling class?

      "Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual".

      Ayn Rand

      The danger of your last sentence is demonstrated in the Rand quote. Your right of self determination of individual freedom cannot rest on the whims of a collective; democracy, mob rule is not synonymous with freedom. It was not that long ago when collectives burned witches and still do cut off heads.

      Are you saying then that the 'rights' of an individual are subordinated to the rights of a collective?
      • thumb

        R H 30+

        • +1
        May 3 2014: Absolutely not. I wasn't clear. You asked two questions: What are Rights, and are these Rights 'less' than the collective? My last sentence was meant to define my version of 'Rights' as the collective must recognize - above all - individual self-determination, and that each individual, at the same time, must recognize a responsibility to the collective because it is in their best interest - which would support Ms. Rand. This, I understand, is the very definition of classic democracy - an enlightened electorate. Also, to your point, since Plato the theme of 'enlightened aristocracy' has been used to support tyrannical rule. Much like religion is used to support atrocity. So while I tried to answer the question from a more epistemological (is that a word?) viewpoint, your support of the conversation is much more realistic and historically based. I absolutely 110% agree that we are now 'in an evolutionary position in time', and therefore must have clear definitions and understandings of these questions to move forward in the best ways possible. For me, freedom is everything. It is more than a 'Right', it is the basis of living. But we must choose our freedom with consideration of everyone else, because that's how humans survive - as a group. I believe even Ms Rand realized that she couldn't do it alone. Quite a balancing act, wouldn't you say?
        • May 3 2014: RH

          Epistemologically speaking, yes.( but that is not a word) "Science is everything, except for everything else." I don't think that I can better that one, but I will try, as that is my personality. Reason is everything, all else palls.

          As you state, quite effectively, we are in this together and again your opinion of Rand would, I believe, be correct.
          Would you agree that, if the individual was subordinated to the collective, we would find ourselves as serfs, defined by a State for the benefit of the State?

          As you may have noticed I harbor a great disdain for the word. 'collective'. It conjures visions of ant and bee colonies, herds of human drones marching collectively to a moronic and mournful beat. Much, as I saw teachers striking in Wisconsin.

          The US Constitution exemplifies and places individual freedom over a 'collective right', but in doing so embraces the whole, as no specification as to gender, race or economic standing is required. Admittedly, we have stumbled along the way: Can we improve the Constitution to meet new challenges? Are there no new challenges to meet only hyperbole?

          Current and past Administrations lean toward a globalist form of governance, as new directions promote a socialist or collectivist agenda based on the premise of the UN Charter and Dec on Human Rights. This however, seems to be a throw back to a serfdom mentality, as ones primary purpose is to serve others, as defined by the State. Where 'one' is identified by a collective or 'community'. Volunteerism, defined by the State, is becoming a way of life, which is a mandate of the UN. Also disconcerting is this, " Art 29 (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations."
          This is a contradiction to the US Constitution and the Dec of Independence, "When in the course of human events---"
          I look forward to your response.
      • thumb

        R H 30+

        • 0
        May 5 2014: It is a very fine line between 'collectivism' and 'freedom together'. Like two teams viewing the same game from their own strategic viewpoint. On the one side (offense) we have the UN charter defining individual freedoms as in possible conflict with social goals. On the the other (defense) we have that society must first reflect the preeminence of hard fought individual rights. Like you, I abhor the drone-like homogenization of culture and society. I feel it makes us (as a species) ultimately weaker. And yes, i too see gov't leaning towards a globalist form of governance under the guise of efficiency and mutual collaboration, yet more as a thinly veiled attempt at the control of markets and resources - using national sovereignty and security as the new religion of justified violence. But I don't feel we need to sacrifice one (ind rts) for the other (soc well-being). We do need improved and post-post-post modern charters. Our mass technological development and abilities are staggering, yet our social development and ability seems stagnant. For example: the rich are getting richer and the poor are still poor - and there's a lot more of them.
        • May 6 2014: RH

          What is meant by social well-being? You seem to say that government is responsible for the social development of the people. Am I reading that correctly?
          As you say we need more 'charters', are you saying that the Constitution should be replaced and what would these charters contain?
          In terms of social development could it be, in part, due to the fact that our educational system has failed. We now rank as a third world nation. Our higher forms of education embrace a collectivist or Marxist mentality, our media churns out a continuous array of glorified trash. We place a victim tag on anyone who refuses to function responsibly and create a government bureaucracy to be more inclusive. We emasculate the male, redefine and destroy the family structure and glorify the use of drugs. But than these are all government programs or funded by government money.
          You have me a little confused. You prefer the Constitution, but you want more government involvement in our social lives?
      • thumb

        R H 30+

        • 0
        May 7 2014: Friend, either I'm still not being clear (which is very possible) or you're not paying attention. I'm addressing fundamental philosophical definitions and you're referring to gov't documents, administration, and a critique of values. So let me try another approach: We Americans have been blessed with individual freedoms and have a 'Bill of Rights'. That means we can choose our own way to live - as long as we're good citizens otherwise we forfeit our 'rights' via 'collective' enforcement - and herein lies the rub. Right now their are over 7 billion people n the world and soon their will be over 9 billion with the majority living in major metro areas. Throw in racism; exploitation; the businesses of weaponry, drugs (which you mentioned), and technology; religious militarism; every nation exercising its 'right' to self-determination (via resource allocation); and every individual exercising their individual 'rights' and you have constant conflict. So while in theory individual 'rights' may be intrinsically paramount over collective ones, you asked what those terms now mean and how they relate to one another. I believe those terms have evolved, and that we need to take a hard look as to how they now apply. How do I keep my individual freedom and appreciate that everyone else is keeping theirs while we may have diametrically opposed values in all things? What does 'control' mean - from an individual's point of view? What does 'freedom' mean? Let's not get into the law, founding documents, or our opinion of other's choices in managing their lives. Because if we can no longer define how our individual 'rights' are the foundation of well-managed global society, the global powers-that-be will define it for us all in the name of social well-being. I hope that's clearer because I've run out. Thanks again for the interesting questions.
        • May 7 2014: RH

          As we all possess preconceived ideas and, perhaps, sorting through those notions is what this is all about.
          This is precisely the conversation I have been looking for. Philosophy only has value when it is manifested in action, otherwise it is academia or as I was once instructed, mental masturbation. The philosophy of individual freedom, self governance, was manifested in the american revolution and the US Constitution, law. This was not a blessed event, it was a human, bloody and hard fought war.
          To your very valid point of, "How do I keep---" You cannot. The opposite of individual freedom is, at best, a collective freedom based on the definitions and worth of the collective. The individual no longer exists. At worst it is the secular theism of Marxism or other governmental system based on a theistic notion of omnipotent supremacy as in Sharia law or the Dark Ages of Christianity.
          What does 'freedom" mean? What does it mean now? What does it mean in 2 or 300 years.
          What of human achievement? The right to achieve is embodied within the concept of individual freedom or is such achievement by a collective definition only, to be decided and defined by a collective or as a democracy, the mob? Should we look to human history for a glimpse of the future. What philosophy brought the greatest achievements in all things?
          I am at a bit of a loss, as you throw in racism. Please explain what racism has to do with individual freedom or that it diminishes the concept?
          Perhaps, if you are inclined, we can examine one microbe at a time, one assertion at a time.
          I was enamored with The Republic of Plato in the quest for justice. Is freedom like justice, that which is in the interest of the stronger or that which prevents one from meddling into the affairs of another? Is this where we are at? If we define rights then we must stand on a principle. Do we also defend that principle against those who are in opposition?
          Enjoyed,
      • thumb

        R H 30+

        • 0
        May 8 2014: I believe I may have been a bit harsh in my last response. My apologies. You handled it well. A couple of minor clarifications: I did not say the American Revolution was a 'blessed event'. I said "We Americans have been blessed..." meaning we are fortunate to be enjoying our level of freedom in the USA. Also, 'racism, exploitation, religious militarism, etc.' were meant as examples contributing to constant conflict which exacerbates the exercise of personal 'Rights' from many fronts - including governance. Let me state plainly - Here's how I see it, the 'Right' for an individual to be self-determining is the fundamental basis for successful human living - individually and collectively. All else follows. How we accomplish that, how we administer that, what 'rules/charters/declarations we create for that, starts with THAT as its bedrock. THE NEXT LAYER is the individual's respecting the other individuals 'Right'. After that it's negotiation. Then frustration. Then power. Then mania. Then fear. Then collectivism. Then the idea that the individual is part of a greater whole. Then the individual as a token contributor. Then ultimately individual meaninglessness as their are so many, and the collective 'idea' has become its own entity and rules all.
  • May 2 2014: "Rights" are whatever we agree that they are. Essentially, "rights" are an agreement.
    • May 3 2014: Barry

      What does 100+ tedcred mean?

      What Rights have you been asked to agree on?