Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rights vs. Entitlements

Definition of Entitlements: A government program that guarantees and provides benefits to a particular group.

Definition of Rights: that which is due to anyone by just claim, legal guarantees, moral principles, etc.

It seems as though many in America believe that these are one and the same, but in fact, they are not.

Many of you know that I study and teach axiology - the science of human value and value judgments. Axiology provides a logical structure for valuing and has 3 classes or dimensions of value into which everything can fall.

The least valuable (mathematically) is systemic. Systemic value involves mental constructs and things that only exist in our minds. They are intangible like rules, policies, plans, ideas and expectations. Examples are a circle, the speed limit, a marketing plan, a law, a regulation.

Infinitely more valuable than the systemic is the Extrinsic. Extrinsic value involves tangible things. So, when a plan is implemented and something is created that's extrinsic. When a law is enforced and action is taken that 'doing' is extrinsic in nature.

Infinitely more valuable than the extrinsic is the Intrinsic dimension of value. Intrinsic value and valuation is around the infinitely valuable. Examples are one of a kind, incomparable things... i.e. human beings, freedom, compassion, community.

Why do I mention these classes of value? Because when we as human beings transpose one type of value onto an item in another class it can be dangerous. That is what seems to be happening with rights and entitlements. Rights are intrinsic while entitlements are systemic!! Many are being told that their entitlements are their rights. Rights are inalienable; entitlements are imposed. They are transposing the highest form of value (intrinsic) onto something that is systemic and a member of the lowest class of value.

Here's another example: Let's say that you are married to the love of your life - that's intrinsic! However, if you decided to value your spouse based on whether he/she followed your rules and lived up to all of your expectations, not only would you be very disappointed, but, by comparing your one-of-a-kind spouse to your ideas or to another, you are infinitely devaluing them. (Now you know why they get so mad at you.)

That is exactly what is happening when our government, the media, and others transpose systemic value to "rights". We are devaluing HUMAN BEINGS.

On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let's take a look at some these:

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
  • Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
  • Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
  • Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

The above seem to be true rights and freedoms.

However, there are other "rights" in this declaration that are entitlements. Look at these ones:

  • Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  • Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

(You may notice a little influence from FDR in this second list.) Can you see the difference between the first list and the second?

You see, the first list is about freedom from systemic governing bodies. It is about rights which are not conferred on man by man and cannot be denied by to man by man. Rights are inalienable and divinely bestowed. The Founding Fathers of the US were trying to curtail government intervention into human lives when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution.

The second list is about entitlements. Entitlements are 'governmentally' bestowed by taking from others and giving to some. The government can not give away "protection against unemployment", "a standard of living", "education", "security" unless it takes away something from others. The (systemic) government doesn't have these things without the (intrinsic) human beings.

If we continue to view the government as the answer, we will continue to devalue the human beings that make up this fantastic country. If we truly believe what are President said earlier this year at George Mason University that "It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth. But at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe." then we are believing that the idea of a circle is more valuable than a human being.

If we believe that the laws and rules of government are the answer, WE are devaluing the very things that this country was created for... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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