Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I have a right!!

This morning, I overheard some social media mockery of an old 2010 European Union idea to grant vacation trips as a "right":
Under the scheme, British pensioners could be given cut-price trips to Spain, while Greek teenagers could be taken around disused mills in Manchester to experience the cultural diversity of Europe.
I don't know what became of the idea, but I don't object to it. In general, I believe that the more rights we recognize, the richer we are.

Those who disagree, are likely under the mistaken idea that human rights are something inalienable and endowed by a creator. Precious (and exquisite) as this idea might be, it is merely an intellectual construct, like tzimtzum or the Christian idea that God made himself into a man to give us the ability to satisfy a debt to him. However, long lasting and powerful those constructs might be, they don't correspond to anything that actually happened. God didn't literally constrict himself to make the universe just as he didn't literally endow us with a small set of rights, rights that magically happened to have been prized by 18th century men, to the exclusion of rights valued by people who live in our century.

In reality, rights are endowed (and revoked)  by communities, not God. As the Founding Fathers surely realized saying something "came from God " gives it more power. (Old trick.) But flowery rhetoric aside, they weren't making a statement about the real nature of things.

As they knew (because they created it themselves) there is nothing inevitable or final about the Bill of Rights, or any other list of rights. Rights are created, propagated, and accepted by a community  for its own relative reasons. Though of course we hope and pray the rights we prize are left alone, realistically speaking nothing stops another community from abrogating or amending the list as it sees fit.  (Even the Bill of Rights is subject to this: Article V of the U.S Constitution anticipates that we may one day wish to change things.)

The reality is that any society can choose to grant its members anything it wishes to grant them. It can also draw the line wherever it wishes. My shul, for example, has decided that all members are entitled to an aliya every year. This decision, technically, has created a right, the right to an annual aliya. In Europe, the "members" apparently were close to deciding that everyone is entitled to a paid vacation. That's their prerogative.

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