Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rights on a sinking ship

Take a tiger and shave it. (I suggest you sedate it first.) You will see pigmentation patterns in the animal's skin consistent with its stripes. Take a bird and between feathers, muscles and bones you will consistently see its wings. These traits are inherent in the animal's physical make up and visible.

However, if you strip a human being down you will not see 'rights.' Not spelled out in the pigmentation on the skin. Not etched into the bones. Rights are not written out in our DNA like the states names on the five dollar bill (in the Lincoln Memorial.) 

Human rights have no physical existence. They are a concept; an idea with no physical evidence for support. There is no proof, no scientific test, no physical manifestation, no mathematical formula that they exist.

Rights are a social construct. An agreed upon convention (in certain cultures) that allow people to co-exist in this modern world. In short, rights are a set of beliefs.

I mention this lack of physical evidence because I have often heard it contended that rights are unquestionable, unshakable and untouchable because they come from God. I've heard it argued with equal fanaticism that just by being human we're born with them. (Humanism replacing God as the ultimate source.) This is the "Natural Rights" argument. Another source is a weird blend of both those absolute convictions plus an appeal to authority; that's the founding fathers said so. ("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 ..." It's in the Constitution, doncha know?)
With this approach -- no matter what the ascribed ultimate source -- rights are unquestionable, unshakable and untouchable. 

Something with all those 'uns' may seem unsinkable as well. 

Before I go on, and for the record, rights are a belief that I heartily agree with and support. But that does not mean I forget they are a social construct -- specifically arising from modern western philosophy.  It just so happens rights are integral to a free society. Another social and philosophical 'construct' I'm rather fond of and happen to believe in.*

But the pragmatist in me says there's an important distinction to be made between physical existence and philosophy, cultural standards and beliefs. So while I believe in rights, that's also where I begin to have problems.  See, being a pragmatist, I have to consider other issues. (Like how do we get the food out of the ground and to the people in the cities? And what happens if that chain of logistics breaks down?) These are things that people tend to take for granted. I don't.

That's another reason I get twitchy about 'inalienable rights.' I recognize that a concern over rights assumes the presence of life's necessities (e.g., food, portable water, services). Having been in circumstances where those weren't guaranteed, I can assure you the struggle for them takes precedence over rights.

In other words, the argument over rights is very much a first world problem**. Between that and being both a history major and techno-fan I've learned an important concept: Society is not unsinkable. 

But if you think something is unsinkable, then often there is a resulting, "I can change things until I get what I want" attitude.

Rights, freedoms and requirements are a very complex balancing act for everyone. I've looked into the subject of rights. I can assure you, it's a lot more complicated than you think. Starting with the divisions between federal, state and individual rights.  (For example did you know it was the Anti-Federalist faction that demanded the Bill of Rights be included into the Constitution?)

Despite the pop-culture interpretation that the Civil War was about racism, do you understand the tensions between Federal Power and State's rights that existed -- even up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Do you know the difference between infringement on your free speech and where your perceived free speech infringes on the rights of others?

When you understand the 'ship is sinkable,' you always keep these kinds of things in mind.

Whereas believing there is no way the ship could be scuttled, there is no reason to compromise in your position and demands regarding YOUR rights. (Or the rights of your chosen group.) You can get what you want with no ill effect. Or if there is a negative effect, it's someone else's problem. This is one of the inherent problems of many people's current interpretation of rights. In the pursuit of their rights, they transgress on the rights of others. In their pursuit of their ideal 'free society,' they attempt to impose tyranny on others.

And why shouldn't they? God is on their side -- whether that is a religious god or secular ideology bordering on zealotry.

A free society is not unsinkable. It can be destroyed. It can be turned into a tyranny by the constant demand for the incursion on the rights of others. Rights that, as social constructs, can be eroded by those who feel morally justified in taking them from you. (Again, this sanctimonious self-appointed, moral superiority can come from religious or secular sources.) The irony of this is how many zealots are absolutely convinced they are fighting for freedom and rights.

See that's the problem with ideas with no physical existence. It's really easy to twist the definition into whatever it means to you and your group. Then try to force that onto society at large.

This especially becomes a problem when someone exclusively judges everything from a moralistic or idealistic perspective. Everything in life is about whatever the person has obsessed on (rights, sexism, racism, religion). This is of particular interest because one of the clinical standards of paranoid personality disorder is this kind of oversimplification. Nothing else is as important. At the same time, this kind of person comes across with complete conviction and confidence about their beliefs. They know this is the ultimate truth. There is nothing else of equal importance. Knowing this, you can begin to spot such true believers by how fast they dismiss other considerations -- like expenses and the rights of others.

Just remember folks, the ship isn't unsinkable.  If you want a free society, the preservation of rights has to be fought for. But at the same time, there are other considerations and services that must be maintained. While most of us are trying to just get by, it's time to look up and see the damage the zealots are causing -- especially to your rights in the pursuit of theirs.


*The quotes around the word construct are because it's commonly used as a dismissive in some circles. ("Social roles are made up constructs. So we don't have to follow them, neener, neener, neener!"). Having said that, the core contention that many behaviors and ideas are social conventions is technically correct. They just have a track record of working.

 ** Where things get really silly is the argument over positive and negative rights -- especially when it comes to technology.  Stop and think about "People have the right to clean water."  There are all kinds of assumptions behind that statement.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

"We don't know each other well enough for you to try to control my speech."

That's a useful phrase to have.

Relationships are economies.   When I talk about economies, I'm referring to a back and forth of goods, services and emotional investments. Both parties are benefiting, both parties are active participants and -- most of all -- it's give and take. (For years I had a deal with the women I lived with. She cooks, I'll do the dishes. Together we got it done via this equal division of labor.) 

We do more for those inside our family/clan/tribe than for those outside. While we may do random acts of kindness and charity to strangers, mostly, we reserve our good deeds, empathy and concern for 'our own.' It's a very inside kind of thing.

Outside, there are certain social standards that allow strangers to -- if not get along -- get through their day and take care of business. These are kind of broad, general standards that do have some specific application -- like you behave differently in a church than you do in a restaurant than you do walking down the street. People are generally expected to understand these unwritten rules in order to get through the day.The point is, these behaviors are kind of standard and really shouldn't have to be explained to adults. As an added benefit, extra courtesies are gifts (e.g., holding the door for someone, giving an elderly or infirm person your seat on public transportation.)

That's a bigger picture to frame this concept. One of the largest differences between strangers and those inside our circle is how much we care about their feelings. This to the point that it influences our words and behaviors. (For example, you're more likely to call a fellow driver an asshole over a mild annoyance than your spouse.) Our concern, compassion and desire not to emotionally hurt someone is primarily directed to those we have relationships with. It's a big part of keeping that economy flourishing.

I want to talk to you about strangers who want to exploit the concern for feelings -- specifically by telling you what you can and can't say because it offends them. Or far worse, that  it 'might' offend someone

It's somewhat in order to control you, but mostly it's trying to get others to change without the investment of a relationship. But no matter how you cut it, it is totally selfish. I say mostly, because it's not exactly control. See, it's about reducing you to background -- meaningless, harmless, not-their-responsibility background. See actual controlling of someone requires work. Like it's a full time job. You gotta actively participate in a relationship with that person. (Granted, it's a one-sided power dynamic, but that's another topic.) When you're background, you're nothing more than a servant, if not a slave or more commonly, a non-entity. Even being a hated enemy is higher status than background. Because if you're background, you're just there for their comfort. How much obligation do you feel towards a chair?

Or to use another analogy, how much concern do you have for the feelings of a stray dog that comes onto your property and craps? I ask because this is often how strangers who are offended by your word choice behave. How dare you crap on THEIR property! 

Well except... Precious ... this ain't 'your property.'

Someone's word choice in a public forum or place are dictated by the environmental standards, not yours. Again, think of the rules of behavior in a church vs. in a strip club. Both places have very distinct rules -- but in neither place are they dictated by just one person. Way too often, these people try to make demands that are way above and beyond the general standards of the environment. There's a difference between someone saying "Don't drop f-bombs in the middle of church services" and someone telling you not to use an innocuous word because it offends them. 

(Although I do know this outlaw minister...).

Let me again stress, they don't necessarily want to control you -- that's too much work.  Nor are they interested in creating an economy -- that also is too much work A good chunk of it is about chasing away things that make them 'uncomfortable.' They want the negative stimuli to stop. And that's where things get kind of tricky...

I say that because this includes self-soothing by attacking others. (Negative reinforcement, their self-misery stops temporarily when they attack others). I always liked the rephrasing of "Misery no longer loves company, these days it demands it." Often such folks aren't just in self-generated pain, they insist on spreading it around. This upgrades you from meaningless background to elected whipping boy for the moment. After they get their nut, they're done with you and you go back to meaningless background status.

Kinda makes you feel cheap and used don't it?

The fact that they know "attacking people is wrong" is why they need to find some kind of rationalization or justification. They need an excuse to do what they want to do, but at the same time do something they know is wrong. And that is where being offended by your word choice (and what you're saying) comes in so handy. With complete and total self-righteousness they can say, "That term offends me." Or, if they want to bump up the credibility, they can claim the term is offensive to a particular group. Now, you've just offended a whole bunch of people

Or have you? As in "Wait a minute, fella ... are you claiming to speak for an entire group?" (Hell, even if it's a micro-group making up only 1% of the US population, did those 3,189,000 people all elect you as their spokesperson?) Pretentious much?

Although to be honest, hiding one's bad behavior under the guise of a greater cause and number (rather than your own little duck feelings) is a useful tactic given the exploitation I'll address in a bit. Ah why not? Let's do it now.

The reason I'm telling you all this is that the terminally offended are using both a natural tendency and the exploitation of a cultural norm against you.
Both the tendency and the cultural norm are, in and of themselves, good things. The tendency is the empathy, concern for feelings and willingness to change our behaviors for those we have economies with (our family, group, tribe).  The cultural norm is to be polite, non-aggressive and cooperative (within limits) with strangers inside your society. The exploitation is the conditioning that you have to be concerned what everyone else thinks of you (it's the basis of advertising and marketing). It's now not just the tribe, it's EVERYONE! That's another issue, but it's germane to this topic because -- using computer terms -- the Trojan tricks the user into installing the malware. The outraged person is relying on you buying into their pain and suffering caused by your words. The exploitation and conditioning we've endured about 'what other people think of you' makes us vulnerable to this approach -- from a stranger.

Understanding that, you can install protection against this malware attack by simply asking yourself "Do I have a relationship/economy with this person?"

Yes, you should adjust your conduct when it comes to people you have economies with. You do this in order to perpetuate the relationship. Be concerned with how your actions improve or decrease the feelings, quality of life and well being of those in your group. You do so because you (hopefully) have a healthy economy with them. As you give you receive. Also there's a good build up of credit for when times get difficult. Caring and compassion are wonderful to have in your life -- especially when they are two way streets.

No, you don't have to adjust your conduct when someone you don't have a relationship comes up and tries to bully you with political correctness or offense.

This especially, if you are behaving within the acceptable standard of the environment. Now you don't have to be particularly rude about not accepting delivery about (That is the other trap. If you do get rude, you have violated the standards of the environment.) That's why a simple, "We don't know each other well enough for you to try to control my speech" is usually enough.

It calls the ball on the fact that it is the other person who is being out of line without you crossing the line as well. That keeps the situation from deteriorating into Asshole #1 and Asshole #2.  If the person flips out, everyone in the room knows who the problem child is -- and it ain't you.

Oh and in closing, something to watch for in situations where you either want to or have to establish a relationship with said person. Consider such statements as early warning signals. As in Mr. Frog, y'all might want to check the water temperature with a thermometer instead of your perceptions of 'what's normal.'  A lot of times the same kind of people will take your acquiescence to such matters as the go ahead and start adding on more and more restrictions onto your behavior. This comes in the form of gradual indoctrination and increase in demands on how you MUST behave. Remember, healthy economies are two way streets.