Human Rights, Free Movement, and the Social Contract

 

TheSocialContractA libertarian’s driving concern is with maximizing the fundamental rights of all people. I often find myself bumping up against the “Social Contract,” which works as a circuit breaker to that logic. Up until now, I’ve tried to wave away the Social Contract, as most radical libertarians tend to do because of its inconvenience.

I have since concluded this is the wrong way to go about it. It’s foolish to ignore the utility of the Social Contract and the good that has come about under it, even if it is correct that it ultimately should be replaced by something better.

Part of what makes the Social Contract so useful is that it attempts to guarantee the rights of those under it. Presumably, the Social Contract does not give us fundamental rights, but instead asks us to curb some of our fundamental rights for guaranteed benefits. We give the state the power to coerce taxes from us so that it can protect us from harm and run a system that respects our private property.

The question I have is: when does the Social Contract overstep its bounds? I think we all agree that there are curtain rights that can’t be taken away (even if they can be slightly limited) by The Contract – namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So, under the Contract we are necessarily safe to travel around the land to live life and pursue happiness. But, is “traveling” a human right we had before we entered into the Social Contract, or is it a benefit? Do you have a right to travel from your private property to another’s that would accept you? Would society be justified in not letting you personally travel for any reason, as long as it properly passed a law?

If travel is a fundamental human right, is part of the Social Contract to guarantee our benefits at the expense of the rights of foreigners? Is that necessary to ensure the viability of our Contract? If a foreigner would respect your property as much as any native, does our Social Contract allow us to infringe on his fundamental human right, even if he agrees to abide by our Social Contract? An agreement most of us had no choice in?

I hope this sparks discussion because I would like to get a better understanding of what exactly the Social Contract entails.

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  1. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Mike H: The question I have is: when does the Social Contract overstep its bounds?

    All contracts are negotiable.

    But one fundamental aspect of national governments, from time immemorial, is that they begin with the establishment of national boundaries. The first step of establishing any contract is determining the participants. Who is a citizen? What property do we collectively agree to protect? Against who and what does our nation defend?

    Am I correct to assume that your question of “traveling” is meant, at least in part, in regard to immigration laws and international business? 

    Government is always an exchange of rights. The “social contract” model is useful, but not entirely accurate because we belong to a nation long before we choose one and because our relationship with that nation is mostly pre-defined when we enter into it. The social contract is more ideal than reality. 

    Civil rights are determined mostly by tradition and by power.

    • #1
  2. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of the Social Contract in and of itself, per se.

    The problems arise when the people give government monopoly power over amending and enforcing the terms of the Social Contract.

    At its core, the idea of the Social Contract is simply that the people give up some freedoms in exchange for some government services. 

    One problem is, who gets to decide which freedoms we have to give up, and what services will we get in return? 

    Another problem is that getting the consent of the governed is near-to-impossible when dealing with a federal government of a nation of over 300 million people. The solution to that problem is subsidiarity – strong local government – so people can vote with their feet.

    The libertarian response to the Social Contract could be: Legitimate Social Contracts can exist. However, for any contract to be legitimate, it must have the consent of all parties, and Social Contracts are no exception.

    Or, put another way, one might argue that libertarians believe in social contracts, but not in The Social Contract. There cannot be one Social Contract for all of humanity.

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  3. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Thoughtful post, Mike.

    Mike H: If travel is a fundamental human right, is part of the Social Contract to guarantee our benefits at the expense of the rights of foreigners? Is that necessary to ensure the viability of our Contract? If a foreigner would respect your property as much as any native, does our Social Contract allow us to infringe on his fundamental human right, even if he agrees to abide by our Social Contract? An agreement most of us had no choice in?

    Assuming there’s a natural right to free travel*, the right might well be guaranteed only within the limits of one’s social contract, i.e., within one’s country.  If travelling to another country — one with a social contract I am not party to — it stands that my actions may be limited compared to those of full-citizens of that country.

    Now, between friendly countries with similar social contracts and/or long-standing relations, travel should be very free.  The US-Canadian border and the EU zone are good examples.

    * I.e., “I can go wherever I want so long as I do not impinge on the property rights of others.”

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  4. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Tom Meyer:

    Assuming there’s a natural right to free travel*, the right might well be guaranteed only within the limits of one’s social contract, i.e., within one’s country. If travelling to another country — one with a social contract I am not party to — it stands that my actions may be limited compared to those of full-citizens of that country.

    This is key.  Why would your right to travel extend beyond your own social contract?  Different cultures produce radically different contracts.

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  5. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Tom Meyer:

    Assuming there’s a natural right to free travel*, the right might well be guaranteed only within the limits of one’s social contract, i.e., within one’s country.  If travelling to another country — one with a social contract I am not party to — it stands that my actions may be limited compared to those of full-citizens of that country.

     You seem to be explaining the way things are, but I wonder more if that’s the way they should be. Is it right for all countries to reserve the “right” to be jerks to the citizens of other countries just because that’s the way things are and have been for quite some time? Of course you expect to be treated a curtain way by another country, but if they are really infringing on your rights, it wouldn’t make it OK just because you are use to countries doing that.

    If you were to accept the validity of their social contract except where it disproportionately infringes on your rights, how does that make you different than anyone who doesn’t have undue burdens placed on their freedoms in that country?

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  6. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Mike H:

    Tom Meyer:

    Assuming there’s a natural right to free travel*, the right might well be guaranteed only within the limits of one’s social contract, i.e., within one’s country. If travelling to another country — one with a social contract I am not party to — it stands that my actions may be limited compared to those of full-citizens of that country.

    You seem to be explaining the way things are, but I wonder more if that’s the way they should be. Is it right for all countries to reserve the “right” to be jerks to the citizens of other countries just because that’s the way things are and have been for quite some time? 

    In a previous thread I think you agreed that this right to travel doesn’t give you a right to trespass.

    Are there parts of France not owned by the French?  Their public lands are owned by the the citizens of France(not owned by no one).  It makes sense that all French citizens may make equal use of that land.  But why should they be required to give those who have no stake in their land free travel across it?

    This is why I am highly skeptical of the natural right you are making a case for.  I simply can’t square it well with natural property rights.  If it exists, it is a very narrow right.

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  7. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    The fundamental idea at the heart of social contract philosophy is that the state is beholden to its citizens. For that to be true, the people must maintain enough raw power (different from authority) to limit the influence of officials; and there must also remain sufficient communication between citizens and officials each is aware of the others’ standards. Both are especially difficult under modern circumstances.

    Misthiocracy: The problems arise when the people give government monopoly power over amending and enforcing the terms of the Social Contract.

    Exactly. We were wrong to exaggerate the role of police agencies. And we were wrong to exaggerate the role of politicians. There’s no putting the cat back in the bag now.

    I agree on the pivotal importance of subsidiarity. A vital question of the next century will be to what extent that strategy can be effectively scaled. The larger nations become (both in terms of population and geography) and the more diverse, the greater the challenge of subdivision. How local is local enough? How should the lowest level (the individual citizen) relate to the highest levels? Should there be any direct influence at all? Under what circumstances can or must divisions be further subdivided? Should a city of 10 million residents operate by a system similar to that of a town with 10 thousand residents?

    Misthiocracy: However, for any contract to be legitimate, it must have the consent of all parties, and Social Contracts are no exception.

     This, unfortunately, is an ideal and not really feasible at the national level. Governments are formed and driven by dominant powers. They will always, necessarily, refuse the input of exceptional parties. Some exceptional groups will be considered, while others will be deliberately and justly ignored. All should be heard, but not all heeded.

    Government is a practical exercise in a fallen world. Practically speaking, not all are capable of fruitful participation. And power trumps authority.

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  8. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Frank Soto: …I think you agreed that this right to travel doesn’t give you a right to trespass. Are there parts of France not owned by the French?  Their public lands are owned by the the citizens of France(not owned by no one).  … I am highly skeptical of the natural right you are making a case for.  I simply can’t square it well with natural property rights.  If it exists, it is a very narrow right.

     This is a good point, and a source of a lot of confusion on the subject. We (or at least I) shift between making legal and moral arguments without really noticing or clearly stating the shift.

    It’s legal for countries to bar foreigners from traveling, but legal isn’t the same as moral. I’m making the moral argument that even though we are allowed to stop certain classes of people from going about their lives when they enter our country, in most other cases we see such discrimination as evil and I think we should (and will eventually) see immigration restrictions the same way because we are causing a huge burden to humans born in the wrong country.

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  9. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller: This, unfortunately, is an ideal and not really feasible at the national level. Governments are formed and driven by dominant powers. They will always, necessarily, refuse the input of exceptional parties. Some exceptional groups will be considered, while others will be deliberately and justly ignored. All should be heard, but not all heeded.

    I argue that at that point it is no longer a contract in any legitimate sense. One cannot have a contract imposed on oneself. For it to be a contract, it must be entered into voluntarily.

    Of course, one can consent to a contract without having to agree with every provision of that contract. Also, one can consent to a contract while also lobbying for amendments and/or additions to that contract.

    If the parties to the contract cannot agree on a certain provision, then the contract must either remain silent on that provision or else the contract is rendered illegitimate.

    Therefore, a national government of a large country can (theoretically) operate according to a social contract, as long as that government is extremely limited. Citizens and leaders are still allowed to lobby for amendment and/or addenda.

    Difficult, yes, but not impossible.

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  10. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Mike H: If you were to accept the validity of their social contract except where it disproportionately infringes on your rights, how does that make you different than anyone who doesn’t have undue burdens placed on their freedoms in that country?

    I’d say the major purpose of an immigration policy is to ensure that those admitted are willing and capable of abiding by our social contract.

    Mike H:  You seem to be explaining the way things are, but I wonder more if that’s the way they should be.

    I get what you’re saying here and and I even agree with it to an extent.  The more humans trade and interact with each other peaceably, the better off we all are.

    I just think that so many things would have to happen (notably, more countries having societies similar to ours, a massively reduced welfare state, etc) before I’d consider unrestricted travel between countries.  It’s not impossible, but it’s the sociological equivalent of SciFi at this point.

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  11. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    I mentioned it in passing, but the US-Canadian border is remarkably free.  Just show a passport, answer a half dozen questions, don’t bring a handful of items that are contraband, and you’re in.  It used to be far less odious before 9/11, and I do wish we’d consider returning to the older system.

    300,000 people do it every single day.

    BTW, I do hope this gets promoted to the main board.  Getting Krikorian in here would also be awesome.

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  12. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer: It used to be far less odious before 9/11, and I do wish we’d consider returning to the older system.

    Nah. We gotta keep some restrictions in place to keep all the dirty Drybacks from stealing Canadian jobs.

    ;-)

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  13. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Tom Meyer:

    I’d say the major purpose of an immigration policy is to ensure that those admitted are willing and capable of abiding by our social contract.

     The stated or assumed purpose, maybe, but do you think it’s the result? Wouldn’t an immigrant who could secure a job (any job) here be signaling themselves as a better candidate for residency than many of our own citizens? Does the lottery system do the best to pick good citizens or could there be a much better way for picking a lot more good immigrants, from even impoverished nations, by giving them the opportunity to show they are good citizens rather than being subject to a randomized quota system?

    I believe there are a lot of “American’s at heart” who have no real chance of getting here because they are not skilled enough or their country is too poor and corrupt to give them a viable chance to live in the country they were born for.

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  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Mike H: I believe there are a lot of “American’s at heart” who have no real chance of getting here because they are not skilled enough or their country is too poor and corrupt to give them a viable chance to live in the country they were born for.

    So, why would you want to take away the opportunity from thousands of generations to come in that country.  If the “Americans-at-Heart” must stay, maybe it will provoke an American-style revolution in the country they were born in.  They can make it so that all of their people can have American-style freedom.  But can they do that from here?

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  15. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Arahant:

    Mike H: I believe there are a lot of “American’s at heart” who have no real chance of getting here because they are not skilled enough or their country is too poor and corrupt to give them a viable chance to live in the country they were born for.

    So, why would you want to take away the opportunity from thousands of generations to come in that country. If the “Americans-at-Heart” must stay, maybe it will provoke an American-style revolution in the country they were born in. They can make it so that all of their people can have American-style freedom. But can they do that from here?

     Because no one should be forced to take on that burden against their will. People are their own selves; they belong to no state. This line of argument disgusts me, actually.

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  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Mike H: This line of argument disgusts me, actually.

    I like poking you with a stick.  The most interesting things come out.

    More seriously, I see governments as being very much like companies.  There are some, like our republic, which are corporations.  Some (monarchies) are sole proprietorships  Others might be companies that were once corporations (republics) that were taken private through a hostile takeover (dictatorships).

    In a corporation (republic), we, as shareholders (citizens), have some control over corporate policy, including policy on who will be allowed on corporate premises and who will be allowed to buy shares in the corporation.  We can even control whether they have to sell their shares in other corporations before buying shares in ours.

    But what about those sole proprietorships where the people are only there on sufferance of the “owner.”  Or the limited partnerships where a small party controls everything?  They make their rules differently, and because they are the owners of their company property, what are we to do?  Do we force them to comply with our rules?  Forcing other “companies” of this sort to do what you want them to has a name: war.

    We need to fix this disparity first.  How?

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  17. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    @Arahant

    Even a company, within their right to discriminate based on class, would be a horrible company to evoke that right. Why should we be a horrible company?

    “We need to fix this disparity first.”

    Why first?

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  18. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    We get back to practical solutions here.  When you can give me a practical way to implement it that will not hurt Americans and that will account for all the world’s bad actors, the Mariel Boatlifts, for example, I’m willing to listen.  But so long as your solution is the fantasy world, “Let’s just open the doors!” I’m skeptical.  There is also the sort of problems the UK has had because of being part of the European Union.  Squatters from East European countries come, park a caravan on somebody’s property, and the law doesn’t allow them to be evicted.  That is the sort of thing I worry about.  You have an ideal world idea, but the real world is a complex and messy system where tweaking one thing can expose the weaknesses elsewhere.

    You don’t like the current laws?  Come up with new laws and sell them to the American people.  Personally, I don’t mind the current system.  I just think they need to actually enforce the laws.  Enforcing the laws is a practical solution.  It does not do what you want, but it is practical.

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  19. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Aaron Miller:

    But one fundamental aspect of national governments, from time immemorial, is that they begin with the establishment of national boundaries. The first step of establishing any contract is determining the participants. 

    You know, it’d be nice if the damn block quoting worked correctly.

    Look, two things about this comment, Aaron.  
    1. The social contract is a social one, not a legal one.  So it extents to everybody, not just whoever the state determines by its decrees to be a citizen.  
    2. The concept of the nation-state, with its fixed immutable boundaries inscribed as holy writ in stone with power over all who dwell within, is a modern one.  So, not, not from time immemorial.

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  20. Proud Skeptic Inactive
    Proud Skeptic
    @ProudSkeptic

    In 200 words?  LOL!

    The Social Contract exists because people believe it exists.  It is, to a great extent, the extension of JudeoChristian morals into law.  One problem with the concept is that it is malleable and can therefore be whatever anyone wants it to be to suit his purposes   As I told a friend when he once asked me to define a “right”…A “right” is whatever someone really wanted when they woke up that morning.

    My favorite example of this is a fire department.  A town gets together and decides for the good of everyone that it needs a fire department to be better prepared for and have better success at putting out house fires.  They all decide to kick in money (taxes).  Some people have little money.  Others have a lot so the more wealthy people kick in disproportionately more.

    After several years, the fire department simply exists without recollection of the basis upon which it was funded.  The poor person who gets his house fire put out for almost  no money gets a benefit at the expense of the rich folks.

    In return he owes gratitude…THAT is the other side of the contract.

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  21. Jager Coolidge
    Jager
    @Jager

    Mike H:

    It’s legal for countries to bar foreigners from traveling, but legal isn’t the same as moral. I’m making the moral argument that even though we are allowed to stop certain classes of people from going about their lives when they enter our country, in most other cases we see such discrimination as evil and I think we should (and will eventually) see immigration restrictions the same way because we are causing a huge burden to humans born in the wrong country.

     It maybe possible to see the moral argument from the other side. Is it moral for a person to show up in a country uninvited and demand that by virtue of having arrived they are to be given the same rights and privileges as those people who where there already or were invited. What moral right does a person have to demand entrance into a country or social contract. Is it possible for it to be immoral to exclude someone but also immoral to demand  entrance?

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  22. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Jager:

    It maybe possible to see the moral argument from the other side. Is it moral for a person to show up in a country uninvited and demand that by virtue of having arrived they are to be given the same rights and privileges as those people who where there already or were invited. What moral right does a person have to demand entrance into a country or social contract. Is it possible for it to be immoral to exclude someone but also immoral to demand entrance?

     Not if you see what they are “demanding” is common courtesy. Just treat them like you would any other stranger from your home country. No privilege. Just a chance to live in the same general area and not bother you, just like any current native.

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  23. Jager Coolidge
    Jager
    @Jager

    Mike H:

    Jager:

    Not if you see what they are “demanding” is common courtesy. Just treat them like you would any other stranger from your home country. No privilege. Just a chance to live in the same general area and not bother you, just like any current native.

     Common courtesy is fine. But that is not what they are getting. The people in a country have invested in governmental and non-profit services and in public and private infrastructure. Your argument works fine if the person is going to live in a secluded cabin with no phone, lights or plumbing and no roads or mail service and is just asking that their neighbors be kind.  

    Each immigrant, like each native, has the chance to pay in more to society than they take out or to take out more than they pay in.  So eventually they may be paying for things like police services when they are the victim of a crime or an fire department but on day one, they are not and have not paid for these things and are demanding the right to use other people’s investments, without invitation to do so, to start their new life. 

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  24. Jager Coolidge
    Jager
    @Jager

    Mike H:

     Does the lottery system do the best to pick good citizens or could there be a much better way for picking a lot more good immigrants, from even impoverished nations, by giving them the opportunity to show they are good citizens rather than being subject to a randomized quota system.
    I believe there are a lot of “American’s at heart” who have no real chance of getting here because they are not skilled enough or their country is too poor and corrupt to give them a viable chance to live in the country they were born for.

     So what is your solution to this? Simply having “open borders” and letting any one in that wants does not solve this issue. How does a poor person from the other side of the world get here? 

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  25. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Jager:

    … Your argument works fine if the person is going to live in a secluded cabin with no phone, lights or plumbing and no roads or mail service and is just asking that their neighbors be kind.

    Each immigrant, like each native, has the chance to pay in more to society than they take out or to take out more than they pay in. So eventually they may be paying for things like police services when they are the victim of a crime or an fire department but on day one, they are not and have not paid for these things and are demanding the right to use other people’s investments, without invitation to do so, to start their new life.

     But that’s true about every native from birth, and each additional person adds a trivial amount to the cost of infrastructure after it’s already been built. By your logic we should kick young adults out into secluded cabins until they’ve payed in.

    Oh, newborns have parents that pay in? Well, then what if we charged immigrants for their infrastructural use up front? It would be a nominal fee.

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  26. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Jager:

    Mike H:

    Does the lottery system do the best to pick good citizens or could there be a much better way for picking a lot more good immigrants, from even impoverished nations, by giving them the opportunity to show they are good citizens rather than being subject to a randomized quota system. I believe there are a lot of “American’s at heart” who have no real chance of getting here because they are not skilled enough or their country is too poor and corrupt to give them a viable chance to live in the country they were born for.

    So what is your solution to this? Simply having “open borders” and letting any one in that wants does not solve this issue. How does a poor person from the other side of the world get here?

     As best they can. People are able to save surprising amounts of money with enough incentive. We’re only responsible for not allowing people in, not the natural barriers that may prevent some.

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  27. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    This is a really tortured way for you to advocate for illegal immigration by declaring it “moral”.

    The first purpose of government, at any level, is the continuation of the polity of which it governs. I go into depth on this in my post here. To draw a quote:

    In short, as a friend of mine said “Government is our collective effort to thwart time and space by erecting a body that can help shepherd our culture into the unseen, unknowable days to come”.

    On Open Borders:

    Note this also applies to the subject of open borders. The people of a polity have an interest in who moves in next to them. Part of keep up home values is making sure the guy next door does not turn his home into a dump. Thus, there are rules in a homeowner association. At the national level, the people have an interest in who enters the nation. If you have a population of 300 million, adding another 50 million people in a two year period would change the character of the nation. Part of maintaining the nation is regulation of immigration.

    I encourage you to read the whole thing, as they say.

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  28. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    This is a really tortured way for you to advocate for illegal immigration by declaring it “moral”.

    On Open Borders:

     …The people of a polity have an interest in who moves in next to them. Part of keep up home values is making sure the guy next door does not turn his home into a dump. Thus, there are rules in a homeowner association. At the national level, the people have an interest in who enters the nation. If you have a population of 300 million, adding another 50 million people in a two year period would change the character of the nation. Part of maintaining the nation is regulation of immigration.

    I encourage you to read the whole thing, as they say.

     It looks like I did already. I engaged you on that thread. But I did read it again. The crux of the matter is I do not think open immigration poses an existential threat to our way of life. It might pose an existential threat to the historic universal society you want, but that’s happening without immigration, so I can understand how frustrated you must be.

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  29. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Proud Skeptic: As I told a friend when he once asked me to define a “right”…A “right” is whatever someone really wanted when they woke up that morning.

    The definition I use is: “A right is something that cannot be taken away from you, no matter how hard they try, so there is really no use bothering to try.”

    For example, freedom of speech. Even if your throw someone in jail for speech crime, they can still smuggle messages out. If you take away their writing instruments, they can smuggle messages out verbally. If you remove their tongue, they can tap messages out in morse code or write on the walls using their own bodily fluids.

    Trying to suppress free speech is ultimately an exercise in futility, so you might as well just allow it.

    IMHO, anything that doesn’t meet this criteria can be a “good”, but is not truly an “inalienable right”.  At best, it can be a “legal right”.

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  30. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Misthiocracy:

    Proud Skeptic: As I told a friend when he once asked me to define a “right”…A “right” is whatever someone really wanted when they woke up that morning.

    The definition I use is: “A right is something that cannot be taken away from you, no matter how hard they try, so there is really no use bothering to try.”

    For example, freedom of speech. Even if your throw someone in jail for speech crime, they can still smuggle messages out. If you take away their writing instruments, they can smuggle messages out verbally. If you remove their tongue, they can tap messages out in morse code or write on the walls using their own bodily fluids.

    Trying to suppress free speech is ultimately an exercise in futility, so you might as well just allow it.

    IMHO, anything that doesn’t meet this criteria can be a “good”, but is not truly an “inalienable right”. At best, it can be a “legal right”.

     Capital punishment isn’t much more burdensome to the state than mutilation, but it is pretty effective at ending communication. Where do you derive your unusual theory of rights from?

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