Monday, January 11, 2010

'Losing your rights'

Frequently, when discussing "crime", we hear it stated that once a person has committed certain acts, he has "lost his rights" for a certain amount of time. This inconsistency has always bothered me, even when I have used the same phrase.

The truth is that due to the nature of rights, rights can not ever be "lost"; not under any circumstances.

They can, however, be violated in certain circumstances without the violator necessarily becoming a bad guy. An example would be when you shoot a person who is attacking or robbing you and therefore violate his "right to life". In the case of a person initiating force, you have the right to defend yourself. His poor choice set events in motion and he may not like the outcome. He did not lose his rights, but in defending your own rights you justifiably violated his rights and no one in an ethical society would ever punish you for your act.

But rights can never be legitimately violated after the fact by government (or anyone else) under any pretext. This is the foundation of "punishment"- violating a person's rights based upon (often highly disputable) past events rather than the events of the current moment.
Putting the aggressor/thief in prison or taking away his means of self-defense does not restore his victim to their former condition; it only satisfies a lust for retribution and for causing pain. If a person is dangerous enough that he needs to be caged, then he is dangerous enough that he should be killed by his next intended victim or a rescuer. Don't protect him from the consequences of his actions.

Restitution should be the goal for those acts that self-defense failed to stop. Restitution is the paying off of a debt that was incurred by some act of coercion or theft. This does not violate the rights of the debtor since he voluntarily took on this debt by his actions. He may have thought he would never have to pay the debt, but it was still his choice to take it on.

The individual rights of the lowest, most dastardly member of society always trump the authority of any agent of government. Once people begin to truly understand this, civilization can once again begin to advance. Until then, we must find ways to deal with the stagnation that statism and other forms of authoritarianism cause. The authoritarians will not like our ways of dealing with (and working around) them.

Update: Please read 'Losing your rights' part 2