A society has two basic means to regulate its members’ behavior. It can either entrust them with rights, or restrict them with rules. Each approach has its downside, and most societies use a mix of the two. In China, there are all sorts of rules regarding what you can say and where you can go, but citizens have the right to engage in quite a few economic activities as they see fit. In the United States, you can do what the hell you want, and the law comes knocking after the fact, for the most part.. The problems with rules seem quite obvious, at least to those of us who grew up in liberal Western democracies. Rules are stifling. and the utilization of rules assumes the worst of humans.
Implicit in law, policy, and custom is the notion that people respond best to fear or avarice, and therefore need punishments and rewards. Left to their own devices, they will be unruly. There is a grain of validity in the rule-makers attitude, but it is also the case that people live up to expectations.
The problems with rights are less obvious to us. There are a couple of problems though. A relatively small one is the superficial flaw noted above in regards to how laws function in the United States. A society based on rights assumes that citizens can be trusted with those rights. Those who trust, risk getting burned. The trusting soul can fall back on rules, but only as deterrence via the threat of retribution, not as direct prevention.
And there is a deeper problem with rights besides, because there is a lazy way of possessing a right. The ideal right-recipient is someone who values the right, and is therefore motivated to understand what the right demands of them, where the right stands in regards to other rights, and what consequences may follow from exercising the right. Being an ideal right holder is a hassle. It’s much easier to stow your rights in your pocket and go do as you like, pulling out the right only when the need arises to ward off relevant trouble.
Certain pathognomonic signs accompany rights laziness. The shiftless typically speak of their rights like an extra appendage. They don’t hold a right; the right is one with their flesh. Following from that characterization, lazy right holders behave as if there is no wrong way to exercise their right.
Driving provides the best example of this mentality. For the lazy, anyone in their way is infringing on their right to drive as they please. The traffic cop is a purveyor of injustice. Judges who restrict drivers licenses are the real criminals, since they violate not just someone’s property, but their very person.
The US, being a rights-based society, has showed those signs of laziness from the very beginning. Its founding documents speak of rights as inalienable, and endowed by the Creator. Eyes and teeth are that kind of thing. Gifts and treasures are not. From the beginning too, Americans have exercised their rights like teeth and eyes, which do not demand accounting, rather than like gifts or treasures, which do.
The archetypical tale of American right-laziness is the tragedy of Kyle Rittenhouse.
By all accounts, he was a 17-year-old boy with very typical issues. He seemed to be searching for an identity along with some validation. He wanted to be a cop or an EMT. In other words, he wanted to do something which came with some power and control as well as the admiration of others. He wanted to do something moral. He had taken a CPR course and put together a jump bag like paramedics carry. Plus, like many if not most 17-year-old boys, he wanted a gun. He probably wanted it for the same reason that many if not most other 17-year-old boys wanted a gun. A gun was a badge of adulthood. It offered instant validation. It compensated for any awkwardness in the bearer. Besides the psychological attractions, it made a lot of noise and smashed stuff.
Unfortunately, he was not old enough to own one himself. Apparently, he prevailed upon an older friend and another adult to purchase and keep the gun for him. The arrangement was against the rules, but might not have been a problem, had the adults not been lazy in the exercise of their right to own a gun. They seem to have treated the gun like it was one of the boys appendages. When he decided to take the weapon with him to try out his identity as an EMT/cop at the site of a real-life conflict, they let him and the rifle go.
When he arrived, he met other people with guns, exercising the right granted them by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. By all accounts, they offered him a task, but no advice, and no further guidance. After a while, he wandered off, looking for someone to help. He soon ran into situations that he could not handle. He lacked the experience. In the end, he shot and killed two people, and permanently maimed a third.
He bore his right like an appendage, but he did not understand the consequences of carrying a gun like he understood the consequences of having an arm or leg. He could not come by an understanding of his right naturally, he had to learn it. But there was no one to teach him. Apparently, the other arms-bearers that he met along the way did not feel like it fell to them to tend to their right as this kid exemplified it.
As a society, we are getting lazier with our rights by the day, and the signs and symptoms show. Nobody knows what to do with their speech. Nobody knows how to meet amicably. Nobody knows how to be armed responsibly. The anxiety that comes with uncertainties is growing, day by day, and each day we become more anxious for rules to dispel the uncertainties.
Authoritarians have begun to pop up in response. They will be happy to provide us with all the rules we want, and then some. They will even sweeten up the rulemaking medicine for us by telling us that they are actually taking rules away, “deregulating” as a means of concentrating power. A set of rules constraining our behaviors (to the advantage of the ruling family) is our fate, unless we stop merely exercising our rights and begin to tend to them.