The Nature of Rights Isn’t Necessarily to Be Natural

I wanted to blog this earlier in the week, but couldn’t: On Tuesday, Jamelle had an interesting point about human rights when he wrote:

The reality is that our conception of “rights” changes and expands with time. For a large chunk — if not most — of American history, for instance, voting was understood as a privileged extended to certain classes and not a right to be exercised. And the same can be said for the right to a quality education and the right to reproductive freedom. Sure, you can argue that we did fine before either of those was a basic human right — and we did — but as we recognized their importance to human flourishing, we accorded them to standing of “rights.” In much the very same way, the internet is becoming an important part of human flourishing. Since its creation, the internet has revolutionized human communication, and is an increasingly critical part of global finance and governance. The internet is an integral part of billions of lives, and I can easily imagine a future where internet access is a virtual (no pun intended) prerequisite for meaningful interaction with with society, both locally and at large.

Right. There’s a tendency in certain circles to think of human rights as being “natural” rights, or rights that somehow existed prior to civilization. You sometimes see this used as an counterargument against the concept of positive rights; most recently the positive right to some basic level of health care coverage.

But I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to talk about natural rights. The right to vote that Jamelle brings up is a pretty good example of why; does it really make sense to talk about the right to vote existing prior to anything to vote for? Can someone have the right to a fair trial before the existence of a criminal justice system?

As a result, I think it makes more sense to think of rights as something that are produced as the result of an interaction between man and society. That doesn’t mean I think they’re completely relative, but it does mean that our conception of rights must necessarily expand in tandem with society’s ability to provide for basic needs.


One Response

  1. […] friends Ned and Jamelle together make an intriguing argument about the internet: it could become a human right. Now hear me out here. The internet is becoming […]

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