The Wrong Idea of Rights

The idea that your life is solely your own is based on the right of personal autonomy, which I have challenged in an earlier post. I will now go further and challenge the very nature of rights themselves.
All of us like the rights we have, and we regard them as sacrosanct, but we perhaps forget where they originated. Some have existed for centuries while others are recent, but none of them were created by you. An isolated and self-sufficient person could create a long list of rights, but none of them would mean anything in a solitary life. All your rights are privileges created by the society in which you live, and they only have meaning in that context. You have no automatic right to education or healthcare or justice; you are just fortunate enough to live in a society that has come to recognise the collective benefit of such things and agreed to provide them. Common consensus has defined these privileges as sufficiently important to be enshrined in written law, which is itself another gift that only a society can provide for you.

The opposite side of this coin is the notion that you are not entitled to anything. This leads us to the concept of gratitude – for everything we have – and that runs counter to the culture of self-centredness that celebrates personal autonomy and the right to have things the way we please. To claim our rights without giving any thanks for living in the society that granted them is to be like petulant children. Yet we do not encourage children to remain childish as they grow older, we teach them to grow into adults who can see further than their own desires. Only when we look at our rights in this way can we call ourselves worthy members of a society. If you look at your rights in the wrong way, you can make decisions that seem best for you while neglecting the effect on everyone else, but without everyone else you have no life at all.

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