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Friday, February 03, 2006

Bret's Hierarchy of Rights and Freedoms

Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs arranged like a ladder. On the lowest rung are physical needs like breathing, eating, and adequate food and shelter. Moving up his ladder we find safety, belonging (being loved), self-esteem, and then self-actualization at the very top.

I view rights and freedoms in a similar fashion. The problem with ordering rights and freedoms is that it is much more subjective than Maslow's hierarchy. Pretty much everybody agrees that the need to breathe comes ahead of the need for food which comes ahead of the need for love, etc. On the other hand, I'm certain there would be wide variance in how people prioritize their rights and freedoms. An even bigger complication is that there are no exact definitions for most of these freedoms. While breathing is pretty well defined, freedom of speech has an enormous body of case law associated with it and is still not completely and exactly defined.

Nonetheless, the following is a partial list of how I prioritize various rights and freedoms (from most important to least important):
  • Right to breathe
  • Freedom of private thoughts/beliefs
  • Freedom of private speech
  • Freedom of public speech (i.e. the press)
  • Freedom of assembly/association
  • Right to a jury trial
  • Freedom from seizure (Part of Amendment IV)
  • Freedom of public belief/worship/religion
  • Tangible Property Rights
  • Right to Bear Arms
  • Freedom from Racism (by the government)
  • Freedom from search (Part of Amendment IV)
  • Intangible Property Rights
  • Right to Privacy
  • Right to not have international calls wiretapped
One area I disagree with most people, possibly just because I haven't studied it thoroughly enough, is that I believe the above set of rights and their priorities is at least mostly, and possibly completely, subjective. I don't believe in the concept of "God Given Rights" nor do I find the arguments that there are objective "Natural Rights" even vaguely convincing, though it seems to me that most people do subscribe to one of those two notions. My view is that each culture evolves a definition of what freedoms and rights are available to its citizens. Thus, the above list is just my ordering, though it probably, at least in part, reflects the immediate culture which I am a part of.

At first glance one might think that if various groups move around the priority of the above rights or eliminate and/or add a few, it wouldn't really cause any conflict with any other groups. However, consider someone like myself, whose freedom of public speech includes freedom to publicly mock other religions and cultures (and indeed, I do hold that freedom dear, even if I am generally supportive of certain religions); and compare my list of rights and freedoms with someone or some group who orders their most important rights and freedoms as follows:
  • Freedom from exposure to blasphemous behavior (i.e., blasphemous speech and actions)
  • Right to breathe
  • etc.
There's clearly now a pretty serious conflict between me and any group that holds most dear the above rights in the above order. Basically, members of this culture would rather die or kill than be exposed to blasphemy (according to their definition). Rationally, when exposed to blasphemous cartoons (such as the ones published by a Danish newspaper), there's nothing left to do for members of such a culture except to strap on a suicide bomb belt and try to kill the perpetrators of the blasphemies.

It's a virtually unresolvable conflict. There are only two possible paths: (1) One side has to kill the other or (2) one side has to change its beliefs and its ordering of fundamental freedoms and rights.

What's interesting and unfortunate is that the above lists of rights give a strong indication of the outcome if path (2) is taken by both sides. Since I hold breathing (living) more dear than the right to public speech (including uttering or writing public blasphemies) and the other side holds not allowing blasphemies to occur more dear than allowing me to live even if it leads to their own death, there's no reason for them to change their ordering (i.e., killing those with the blasphemous speech and dying in the process does not conflict with their ordering of rights), making my only rational response being that of avoiding any behavior that might be found blasphemous to such people.

Right now, that means avoiding producing cartoons or other written material on this blog and other public media that might offend someone. However, I think this really is a step down a slippery slope. Does it mean that if I don't require my daughters to wear headscarves, that will eventually be considered adequately blasphemous to trigger their murderous behavior? If I don't convert and become a muslim, will that be blasphemous (praise be to Allah!). If we don't all subject ourselves to the coming grand caliphate, are we all to be slaughtered? Where exactly will it end?

To me, the Danish cartoon fiasco is by far the single most disconcerting development in the global socio-political situation since 9/11. It starkly illustrates a severe conflict between two dearly held belief systems: that of extreme Islam and that of the liberal west. It may ultimately leave me with only two choices: (a) support those from the west who would kill those who support, threaten, and/or commit violence and/or murder those in the west who exercise their right to free speech and other rights; or (b) throw in the towel, become muslim, and be done with it.

Unfortunately, neither of those choices are acceptable to me.


Hey Skipper said...


Your inclusion of international phone calls got a chuckle.

But you lost me at

support those from the west who would kill those who support, threaten, and/or commit violence and/or murder those in the west who exercise their right to free speech and other rights

Just as my wife probably shouldn't go to Saudi Arabia and expect to drive a car, Muslims in liberal democracies probably shouldn't expect their religious sensitivities to be awarded primacy of place.

Whereupon they have several choices:

1. Get over it.
2. Leave.
3. Resort to bloodshed.

I don't advocate killing people, but if that is required to prevent the act of murder, than that is why we have police.

And because they have options 1 & 2 readily available, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't feel badly about it.

Especially in view of rampant Muslim hypocricy when it comes to blasphemy.

Never mind the utter ludicrousness of the concept in the first place.

That aside, your post is very compelling.

Bret said...

hey skipper wrote: "Muslims in liberal democracies probably shouldn't expect their religious sensitivities to be awarded primacy of place."

I don't know, I think they believe that Allah transcends national boundaries, don't you? We think they probably shouldn't expect that their religious sensitivities shouldn't be valid here, but they don't - as I think is shown by this cartoon war.

Regarding "if that is required to prevent the act of murder, than that is why we have police", I find it hard to figure out exactly where police action ends and military action begins, but the burning of embassy's seems rather like military action to me.

I'm usually fairly hawkish, and it's extremely difficult to predict the future, but in this case I'm concerned that a really large amount of blood will end up being spilled - due to conflict of beliefs.