Thinking about Rights and Claims
Most of my social acquaintance are hard left-wingers. It is my lot to listen to them expound about rights. "We have the right to tax the rich... to reproductive rights... the Jews have no right to Israel." If I were to dispute these assertions on a political or historical basis I would be treated to withering condescension. But most of my friends fancy themselves thinkers, and they will listen to philosophical notions. So I challenge their political beliefs obliquely, through a model about the difference between rights of human identity, which are directly given by God, and claims to tangible possessions, which are manmade contrivances.
Unalienable human rights are based on ineffable experience that our Creator values our life and therefore we need to value it too. The rights associated with being human are eternal and imperishable, truth beyond imagination. People try to capture these rights with words like the right to life, to liberty, freedom, to find meaning, to pursue happiness, to express individuality. And all are true. I prefer the term "self-realization," the process of uncovering and living in the truth within. The "pursuit of happiness" sounds a bit like chasing something. (Psychologists favor the term self-actualization, but "actualization" suggests the need for activity, and human activity is subject to inequality.) But whatever words one prefers, God-given rights are the only manifestation of perfect equality in a world of perfectly unequal forms. They can't be recorded in a ledger or held to any measure. Accepting our rights is an aspect of faith in God.
The unique quality of God-given rights is, "I can only use mine and you can only use yours." I can't use your right to life and you can't do anything with mine. Anyone who tries to diminish immutable rights dehumanizes themselves in an effort to obtain something they cannot use.
On the other hand, no one has an unalienable right to anything in the world. All possessions of this world -- money, land, marriage rights, even the means of subsistence -- are based upon claims. Hungry people have no right to steal food, or sick people to steal medicine, though a righteous society is lenient towards them. And no group has a right to any territory.
People believe they have a right to things they can only claim because the concept "rights" is overused in the same way the concept "love" is overused. Just as the predator "loves" its prey, people feel a right to the things they intensely want, have worked for, paid for, been given, or even stolen. But no such unalienable right exists. One way to distinguish between rights and claims is the psychological dimension of internality vs. externality. Rights are internal identification with God; claims are staked and maintained for control of the external conditions of life. Insight, inspiration, and illumination accompany the expression of God-given rights. The wordless rights inherent in human identity are a standing challenge to the nattering claims of "me" and "mine."
Claims are based on beliefs about ownership, arising from agreements and contracts, prior possession, tradition, custom, religion, or law. But there is a little spot on every claimed possession. People don't look for it because it complicates the "mineness" of the possession. All claims need a spot where a mental string is attached. And if you follow along that string -- it may be short or long -- the string always ends in a man with a weapon. Without enforcement, a claim to possessions is worthless and creates chaos. This is the part that my left-wing friends will not accept. They want to believe that claims are secured by law itself, or upheld by the relationship between the parties to the claim, anything but the reality, which is that somewhere, someone must be prepared to enforce the claim, or it is worthless. (I suspect the reason they refuse to face this plight of the human condition is because they would never want to be that person and take those risks, but I keep that to myself.) In fact, there is no possession so small, so full-price paid, so hard-fought, that it doesn't need enforcement of ownership.
Claims can be strong or weak, stable or unstable. Strong claims have long held, widely accepted bases. And brave men with powerful weapons make for stable claims. Nobody challenges my claim to the land I "own" in South Carolina (and not just because of the mosquitoes). It is a strong claim because of the sacrifices of the guardians of American land. The descendants of the Pee Dee and Waccamaw Indians could also make a claim. But according to the local historical society, by 1755 they were being killed off by the Cherokee and Natchez Indians. As a direct descendant of Joseph Loomis and Mary White, who claimed land in Connecticut in 1639, I could make a claim to the house they built. It is the oldest standing homestead in the United States. But it is a very weak claim and I have no army.
Conflicts tend to rise from the imbalances of a strong claim with weak enforcement, or a weak claim with strong enforcement. Two examples are the claims of Americans to keep the money they earn for themselves, and the claim of the Jews to live in Israel. The former is a strongly-based claim because money earned through work is subject to powerful, ancient beliefs about ownership. Work feels like a God-given right because it is the dynamic of self-actualization, but keeping one's wages is still only a dearly held claim. And an unstable one because an armed government can raise taxes whenever it wants. The case of the Jews and Israel is extraordinary. The Jews have the strongest continuously asserted religious territorial claim in history, but through the millennia their countless supplications to God were not backed up with military force. Now that they are finally willing to stabilize their claim, it is proving difficult.
Getting back to my left-wing friends, they are following in an atheist tradition founded by Karl Marx and fulfilled in the presidency of Barack Obama. In this tradition, God-given rights are at worst a hoax and at best, irrelevant, and politics are only about competing materialist claims. One final notion. The reason our friends on the left act as if they are above the law is that for them, claim-based politics are above everything. With God-given rights off the table, and especially having claimed the "right" to take innocent human life, the dogma of socially engineered equality are the new religious fanaticism and constitute, for them, the highest power on earth.