George Carlin - You have no rights -- reactions?

  • I'm curious to know what others think about Carlin's frankness, particularly in light of the above discussion among us. It seems like the Founding Fathers believed we had natural rights, and it seems like this stems from their agreeing with Locke (who believed that humans are naturally sociable) and disagreement with Hobbes (who believed that humans are solitary and brutish in their natural state).…ith-epicurean-philosophy/

    It seems like the argument is that if humans have an inherent, natural morality, then there was something like natural rights that preceded the state. Lucretius seems to confirm that this is in fact what ancient Epicureans believed. (Studies on dogs and monkeys that show that they have a sense of justice and reciprocity seem to confirm this intuition). Typically, these natural rights are expressed as "right to freedom" or non-coercion so long as one respect the similar freedoms of others.


    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Excellent find Hiram. I completely agree with George Carlin, but he never gives a positive clear definition of what "rights" are supposed to mean.

    I think he is correct when he says that what we are really talking about are "privileges" but he should be even more clear and say that they are privileges that we have because we have formed governments to protect those privileges. Without a mechanism such as a government to protect / enforce them, they are exactly what Carlin says - a figment of our imagination.

    I think if he would follow his thoughts to their logical conclusion by being clear about the definition of "rights" he would conclude that "rights" in the sense of protected privileges do not exist in nature.

    What we are generally referring to when we talk about rights is more like "I think it is right that such a such a thing happen." In that sense the meaning is "I prefer such and such a result" which means "Such and such a result pleases me" and that is how you drill down to the source of this concept in human nature.

    Locke and Mills can talk back and forth all day about "what they think is right based on human nature" but when it comes down to "rights" which are protected by some mechanism, such a things has never existed and never will exist outside of living people setting up mechanisms to enforce their preferences.

    And that applies to Japanese internment camps no more or less than to camps like Auschwitz. There are no "rights' floating in the air, and if the people involved and living at the time don't like something, it is up to them to enforce their opinion by taking direct action - and not just referring to "natural rights" or "god-given rights" or idealism like that.

  • The only source I remember accentuates that it is natural to yield our personal sovereignty to the state for the sake of safety (“the life of violence and hatred left him sick, and more disposed freely to choose the yoke of law and statute”):

    Then kings were killed; the ancient majesty
    and pride of sceptre and throne fell, overturned;
    the bright ensign of royalty lay bloodied
    under the feet of the mob, mourning lost glory:
    men lustily trampled what they had vastly feared.
    Life sank to the depths, the dregs, back to confusion,
    with everyone wanting top rank and highest power.
    Then, here and there, men learned to choose officials,
    establish constitutions, and live by law.
    For man grew weary: the life of violence
    and hatred left him sick, and more disposed
    freely to choose the yoke of law and statute.

    For angered men kept calling for revenge
    more savage than just law will now permit;
    this made man sicken of life by violence. (DRN V.1136-1150)
    Better by far be subject, and at peace,
    than will to govern the world and hold a throne! (DRN V.1129-1130)


    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • That's kind of a funny passage, given the times!

    "Yes, but we're civilized now; we give men a trial before we throw them off the Tarpeian Rock."

    But to the point. It's important to realize that the Founding Fathers were a matched set only by time and circumstance. In fact they argued about almost everything, including 'rights' and their provenance. The diary of John Adams, in which he records his notes on the meetings of the Continental Congress, are illuminating;…/index.php/view/DJA02d149

    The seminal passage from the above is this;


    I have looked for our Rights in the Laws of Nature—but could not find them in a State of Nature, but always in a State of political Society.

    I have looked for them in the Constitution of the English Government, and there found them.

    -Joseph Galloway

    The same quote is memorably acted by Zeljko Ivanek in the John Adams HBO miniseries (albeit thrown into the mouth of John Dickinson).

  • Excellent find Joshua. I don't know nearly as much about this period as I should, but this argument by Adams definitely summarizes the issue. "Rights" exist only where enforced by some kind of organization. Where the organization chooses or simply does not enforce them, the "rights" do not exist, and as Adams says, the issues will either be taken into the hands of the living people involved, or not -- but calling on "rights" is useless.

  • We have natural desires, and we have a natural, innate sense of what feels just and what doesn't, based on the evolved tit for tat strategy. Organisms that can't tell if they are getting shortchanged on resources don't survive well! But a desire for justice is not a right until others contract with us to establish such. I think the whole concept of natural rights is a disaster.