A right by any other name

What is a right? Stop and think about it for a second. How do you define it? The word “right” gets thrown around quite a lot these days. Everyone, it seems, has a right to something. A right to education, a right to healthcare, a right to feel safe, a right to defend themselves and on and on. So how do you separate a true right from a want?

The definition of a right has expanded over the last several decades. Lawyers and politicians have certainly helped in that expansion. And with that expansion has come misunderstanding. A true right is something you are born with. It is yours simply because you exist in this world as a person. The other aspect of it, and the one that is often overlooked, is that it is also free. It costs nothing. Think about the Bill of Rights of the United States. Arguably one of the most important documents ever written, and one that most people know at least a little bit about. What do each of the first ten amendments have in common? They belong to everyone at birth and they cost nothing to be granted. In fact, the only time they have a price tag is when the government tries to fight against them or tries to levy charges against citizens.

The first amendment, which guarantees your right to say what you want, worship who you want, and be around who you want, costs nothing. You can do all those things without costing another citizen a single cent. The same can be said for the second amendment, which is the right to keep and bear arms; it is also free. If you want a gun, you can go purchase one, but no other citizen is forced to purchase one for you. The list continues with the third amendment, the right to refuse to allow the government to use your home to house soldiers, the fourth amendment, which is essentially the right to privacy, the fifth amendment, etc. In fact, the only rights in the Bill of Rights that cost anything may be the sixth and seventh amendments which deal with the right to a jury trial and an attorney. But even then, it only costs something if the government attempts to charge you with crimes. Essentially, it is a fee imposed on the government to take other rights away, i.e., your freedom.

There are arguments and laws in the modern era that also follow this pattern. A great majority of fighting for civil rights had to do with equal treatment under the law, which again, is free. It doesn’t cost us citizens, or any government entity, a single thing to apply laws fairly across all citizens.

So why list all of those and note their cost? Because frequently the things that people clamor for, like healthcare, education, and universal income are not actually rights. They are wants. And while they are legitimate wants, and ones that we should strive for in our society in terms of education and healthcare, they can never be classified as rights. To classify something as a right means that a person has it at birth and can use it at will. With healthcare as the example, this is impossible to guarantee because it costs resources. It costs money in overhead, it costs labor in nursing personnel, and it costs specialized knowledge in doctors and surgeons. To classify something like healthcare as a right, means that technically the government could force the providers to give it to the citizens under any circumstances.

So, when you hear someone says something is their right, stop and ask yourself if that’s really the case. In a situation where someone else must provide the goods or services for a “right,” the government could force that person to provide those goods or services under any circumstances it sees fit, and for whatever payment it thinks is fair. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the common term for this sort of arrangement is…slavery.


Created Equal

Contrary to some of our founding documents, not everyone is created equal. Yes, we are born with the same rights, but we vary in size, strength, speed, and stamina. For a long time in human history those who were blessed with size and strength and the mental capacity to use it were often able to exact their will on others, for good or bad. If you were female, a minority or simply small in stature, you were automatically at a disadvantage.

Then a tool of wood and steel and fire was invented – the musket. This tool could sling a lead ball faster and farther than someone could shoot an arrow. These long arms were a game changer, but they were still heavy and cumbersome. They also still required a certain amount of skill and strength to load and fire with any effectiveness.

Then, in 1835, a man named Samuel Colt filed a patent for a percussion cap revolver. It was smaller, lighter and faster than a rifle. It could be fired even by small-framed people and it carried six shots instead of one or two.

This invention altered the landscape of liberty forever.

From there, in 1860, the first practical repeating rifle was produced by Benjamin Henry. Carrying fourteen shots in a tube under the barrel and operated by a lever, it paved the way for most of the iconic rifles of the Wild West. Gun technology evolved rapidly from there, often spurred by conflicts and wars. Then, with the commercialization of polymers in the first half of the 20th century, it really took off.

In 1963, the US military adopted the M-16 as their main rifle and selected Colt (old Sam Colt’s company) to produce the rifles. This opened the door to the popularity of one of the most recognizable, loved and hated rifles to ever be – the AR-15.

The point of the history lesson is this: a few hundred years ago being a woman, being small, being slow, being black, being Indian, or being on the wrong side of any number of governments meant you were going to be relegated to a subpar existence, if not completely annihilated. These days, however, a 90-pound woman can purchase an AR-15 rifle for $500-$600 and be on par with any other person on this planet in terms of lethality.

Yes, the AR-15 is intimidating, but it has a job, and it does it well. Its job is to be a sentinel that watches over its owner and family. This is a scary concept for some, and understandably so. People naturally don’t like to think about bad things. They don’t like to think about armed intruders kicking in your door at 2 a.m., or a rogue state usurping your freedom, or a foreign invader attacking your neighborhood. But just because one doesn’t like to think about these things doesn’t mean they cannot happen. Even in recent history there are examples of this – the USSR, Nazi Germany, Venezuela, etc. When people lose their sovereign right of self defense and preservation, bad things happen.

I know anti-gun forces can quote statistics to support their cause just as pro-gun forces can do the same. However, it is not just about statistics, but rather principles and what you believe in. Freedom is sometimes messy, hard work. Our founders knew that to preserve our freedom and ensure its advance we would need the capability to defend ourselves, our families and our liberty. As it was understood and predicted by our founders, guns have gone hand in hand with the preservation of freedom and liberty since their invention centuries ago. They have fought back in the hands of Jewish and French resistance fighters against Nazis, they stopped a Russian advance across Finland, they liberated a race during our Civil War, and they birthed the greatest country in the world during the American Revolution.

Our founders knew an armed citizen can never really be forced to do anything they don’t want to do – they must be persuaded. The government, or any evil doer, could try to force them, but it will result in a fight. And yes, the aggressor may win, but then again, they may not, and that makes them nervous. Any student of history knows that almost every time evil on a massive scale has taken place, it’s been preceded by gun control and confiscation. That is because, in the end, the right and ability to keep and bear arms guarantees all other rights. Remember that the next time someone demands you give that right up.

A man’s rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.

Frederick Douglass

MLK, Jr.

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1958

MLK made an excellent point here. It’s a point I’ve made before, as well. It’s rare that I run across someone who WANTS to take another citizen’s liberties just for the sake of taking them. Those people are out there *cough* government *cough*, but they are rare. Instead, most people I’ve met that have a view that seems anti-liberty hold those views because they fear something. They fear each other, they fear their own rights will be taken if they don’t strike first, or they fear unknown circumstances. MLK’s reference to being separated is in reference to segregation, but, ironically, we are just as separate today. Urban vs. rural, poor vs. rich, black vs. white, female vs. male vs. everything else, and so on. We think things like 24/7 communication via the news cycle or social media has eliminated our separation from each other, but it’s made it worse. We sit behind keyboards and screens and put others down and stir up fear and hate towards one another. All the while, those who would indeed have your freedom for the sake of more power gleefully watch as we destroy each other. Remember that this MLK Day.


Bonus Civis

Bonus Civis – “Good Citizen” in Latin. What does it mean to be a good citizen, really? I believe part of our current situation is the decided absence of good citizens, or at least a temporary absence. The hallmarks of a good citizen are many, but a few stand out above the rest, and ironically do not necessarily coincide with being a successful citizen, as we know it. Sure, making a ton of money, driving a nice car and having a big house are great and we should strive for our goals, but I’m not so sure we should elevate those goals above all else. So again, what makes a good citizen?

Neighborly – A good citizen is a good neighbor. Not just to those who live next door, but to everyone they encounter. They are polite, pleasant and respectful. They think about how other people feel, and they try to take that into consideration when making decisions. They are also quick to lend a hand when needed, but do not constantly rely on or require help from others. They look out for their fellow man and wish success on all.

Civic – Civics was once taught in grade school, and it may still be in some places, but it is a very important facet of the good citizen. When I was a kid, I remember that my dad went to several club meetings each month for the Lions Club, the Lodge, and a couple of local clubs as well. He also worked charity events and helped out at things like the local rodeo, even though I’m pretty sure my dad couldn’t ride a horse to save his life. But that didn’t matter because the rodeo was important in our town, so he helped out. Being involved and knowledgeable about what goes on in a community is a cornerstone of being a good citizen, and I know this is where younger generations fall short, myself included.

Principled – This is a difficult attribute to explain and grasp. On the surface, it’s pretty straight forward, but ironically, it’s more nuanced than people give it credit for. Often if you ask someone what their principles are they will give you their opinions or even talking points. However, they miss the underlying reason as to why they have those opinions or listen to those talking points. Knowing your principles and what you stand for is integral to being not only a good citizen, but a good person overall. Without principles it can be hard to know where you stand, and more importantly why you make your stand there in the first place.

Spiritual – A good citizen is spiritual. Not religious, but spiritual. This spirituality is personal and varies, but in the end, it means the same thing. It means that a good citizen knows there is something bigger than themselves. They know that what they do in their lives reflects in eternity. For me, personally, Christianity has guided my decision making and how I view the world, even when no one else is around. It also reminds me that we all come from the same place as human beings, and it helps me to maintain empathy and compassion towards my fellow man. In recent years spirituality has been slowly replaced with humanism and materialism. I am guilty of it, too. But without spirituality everything in life is relative, and it becomes more difficult to maintain the other characteristics on this list. Without spirituality and faith, we are lost. Without it, being a good citizen is often done for the wrong reasons, or it’s done in a wrong way. 

Notice that monetary items are not mentioned anywhere above. A good citizen is a hard worker, and a good provider, but without the characteristics above, the success is empty. I’m an accountant by trade, and I’ve looked at the world through dollars and cents since I was in college, so it took me a little while to come to that conclusion, but it’s true. When we get back to being good citizens, we will see the change in this country for the better.


‘Capitol’ offense

In the past few days, we have seen many unprecedented things, not the least of which was protestors storming buildings at the capitol. The reactions to these events have been almost as unprecedented. One such reaction was the rapid purging of certain conservative figures from major social media platforms. Another was a large portion of the media and political class calling the protestors and their figure heads domestic terrorists.

While the reaction is understandable, is it the right one? The companies that have made these decisions are indeed private entities and are free to do as they please within the law. The media and politicians are trying to gain viewers and votes, and they are free to do that as well. However, I think there is a lack of understanding about why the protests and rioting took place, and understanding is not to be confused with condoning. 

When people feel hopeless and desperate, they are willing to do things that they would not normally do. I have always argued that World War I is what started World War II. The Treaty of Versailles essentially laid the entire blame and punishment of the First World War on the German people. Some might argue they deserved it, but what was the result? Desperate, hopeless and resentful, they turned to a charismatic leader and were willing to do whatever it took to be out from under the punishment laid on them by others. This is not to imply that anything that has taken place so far is akin to Nazi Germany, but this behavior and ostracizing is what leads to those kinds of situations.

With that said, think about how the bulk of the protestors felt. It’s difficult, I know, but don’t just think about the fact that they let an overzealous speech rile them up to the point of storming a federal building. Instead, think about how average Americans could get to the point of thinking that’s a good idea. Why would soccer moms, business owners, blue collar workers and an assortment of all other kinds of citizens show up in the middle of the week to start a riot? I know the instinctive response to that question is, “because Trump told them to,” but again, why was that possible? It’s because there is a huge contingent of the American population that feels hopeless, desperate, and even resentful.

So, if we have a group that feels that way and thinks that the most powerful people in the world are against them, do we think it’s wise to literally turn against them? To remove them from social media? To call them domestic terrorists? These people are our neighbors, our friends, and our family. We may not like it, but it’s true, and I hope people remember that. Sometimes we get too focused on winning or score keeping and getting even, and we forget about the humanity in a situation. We forget that everyone has hopes and dreams as well as fear and anxiety. We forget that helping each other gets us farther than fighting each other, and, most importantly, we forget to ask “why?”

I don’t pretend to have the answers. People are complicated creatures, and the majority of the issues we face have been building for a long time. What I do know is that times like these call for rational problem solving and decision making as well as empathy for our fellow man. We can be better – on all sides.

A long year

It’s been a long year. I don’t think anyone can argue otherwise. It’s true that it’s been tougher for some, but as a nation we’ve been hit hard. We’ve been hit hard before, though. Every generation has had their challenge, and sometimes more than one. And every generation so far has more or less risen to the challenge. This year has been exceptional, though. The pandemic, a contentious election season, and all with no good stress outlets for the common citizen like sports or bars or movies. 

Our leaders and media, both news and social, have been in constant turmoil. Of course, they’ve done this for years, but 2020 seemed to be particularly bad. It’s hard to turn on a news station or scroll through Facebook without seeing neighbor attacking neighbor, and even families deciding not to talk anymore over ideological differences. 

But do we really have that many differences? Are our wants and needs as citizens so different that the threat of civil war looms in the air? 

I’ve traveled a lot across the US and lived in small towns and gigantic cities. I also count my friends group as very diverse, ranging from Nepalese immigrants to East Texas “good ol’ boys.” Through my travels and friends, I’ve discovered that our wants and needs are not as different as our elected officials would have us believe. We all want the opportunity to make a living how we see fit, we want the safety to raise a family, and we want the freedom to do what we think is best in our lives. Sure, there are fringes at the left and right, but the bulk of people want the things listed.

Being an American is in the heart. It doesn’t matter what color you are, where you are from, or even what language you speak. It matters that you work hard, you help where you can, and you don’t let anyone push you and your neighbors around. America was meant to be the best of the world.

However, lately it doesn’t seem that way. Everywhere you turn is negativity and someone wanting just a little more control over the common man. Personally, I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods the last few decades by people whose jobs depend on chaos and discord. The sales pitch is always “give us just a little more power and we will guarantee your safety from whatever.” But the irony is, most of the danger in your life comes from the very entities and people selling that so-called “safety.” Which brings us to our conclusion…

As noted before, most people don’t want to take the rights of others. They only want to guarantee their own rights. Those in power have clued in on this and preach that if you don’t do what they say, then the other side will get one over on you. Neighbors helping each other and getting along means the politicians and talking heads could be out of work, or have their station lessened – and they certainly don’t want that.

So the next time you hear this trope, stop and think. Think of your neighbors, even those who live a different lifestyle, and think of what they actually want out of life. I doubt you will conclude that they mean you any harm. We decide every day what kind of country we will live in. We decide with our actions and how we treat others. Twenty-twenty was a long year, but it taught me the value of my friends and neighbors, not the value of the government. The only way we move forward is together. Don’t let politicians and the media take that from you. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.”