Re: sentient rights (was RE: Battleground God)

From: Richard Steven Hack (
Date: Sun Feb 24 2002 - 20:56:52 MST

At 05:49 PM 2/24/02 -0800, you wrote:

>Richard Steven Hack wrote:
>>I have yet to see someone explain to me how the human need to breathe,
>>eat, sleep, and excrete and reproduce translates into a "right" which is
>>somehow a physical law. This is nothing but hand-waving.
>Since those things are not what distinquishes humans from other animals
>they are clearly not a sufficient place to look for a nature based
>justification of what humans rights. Reducing the argument to such
>inanities is worse than hand-waving.

Ah, so we base the discussion on conceptual processing and imagination,
eh? And do we ignore the lack of same in the bulk of the species? Ayn
Rand's own irrationality was amply analyzed by Nathaniel Branden in an
article he wrote. I do not reduce the argument to those "inanities" - your
attempt to simplify my argument to that level is incorrect. I still have
yet to hear anyone translate the human capacity for conceptual processing
or any other human need into a need for a "natural law".

>>"Codified physical law" is hand-waving. There is the physical universe
>>which includes biology and evolution. There are human concepts of
>>same. The map is not the territory. A human concept is not a physical
>>law (in fact, "physical law" is a merely a human concept - and there are
>>scientists who are not so sure that there ARE "physical laws" operative
>>throughout the Universe).
>Are you claiming that human beings hae no specific nature and that their
>nature does not lead to certain conditions being more optimal for their
>well being, particularly concerning their interaction with other people
>and instutions of same? You have to claim this if you are going to
>utterly dismiss the argument.
> Physical laws are not the end and be all of what is real and
> important. They are the basis of reality but do not utterly contain
> everything in reality, if you see what I mean.

Obviously I am not claiming anything of the sort - do not put words in my
mouth. Of course humans have specific needs - what I am objecting to is
the unnecessary transformation of a need into a mystical concept of "right".

>>>Give the above notion of natural rights the natural rights exist
>>>regardless of whether they are honored by any particular ruler or
>>>mob. Judging the actions of the rulers or mobs is done relative to
>>>supporting or denying these "natural rights", these requirements for
>>>human well-being. This seems much more reasonable than attempting the
>>>reverse, judging the concept of natural rights on the basis of whether
>>>this or that leader or group would honor and uphold them. Saying they
>>>are a social contract, in my opinion, makes a similar mistake.
>>>It puts the emphasis on upholding these rights rather than on whether
>>>certain "rights" naturally are required by dint of the nature of human beings.
>>This still begs the question: why is the concept "rights" needed? You
>>have basic human physical needs. Why elevate them to "rights" unless you
>>are trying to score points in a moral debate? A principle of Objectivist
>>epistemology, I recall, is that concepts should not be multiplied beyond need.
>I already answered that question. And the second one by implication. It
>is a principle of Objectivism that rights are objective, derivable from
>reality. If so there is no multiplication of concepts beyond need. What
>exactly would you base ethics on if not on some understanding of what is
>required for human beings to function optiomally together?

You have not answered the question except with more hand-waving. It may be
a principle of Objectivism, but they did not derive it logically either
except with hand-waving.

I am amused that some people few the notion of ethics as a given essential
of the universe. If something does not fit their "ethics" they cannot
comprehend why it exists. To be precise, there is in fact no need for
ethics at all. What is needed is a set of principles by which one can act
in a social context and which provide the most likelihood of satisfying
one's survival needs. If you wish to call these principles "ethics", feel
free. I call them principles, so as not to expand concepts beyond need and
in the bargain burden a concept with mystical baggage.

>>>What your nature requires relative to the actions of others or their
>>>refraining from certain actions for your optimal functioning does not
>>>change based on how they do in fact act toward you. Natural rights
>>>therefore are not a matter of social contract. Social contracts, if
>>>they are rational, grow out of these "natural rights" - not the reverse.
>>Human behavior as individuals and groups is based on human "nature",
>>i.e., the structure of our bodies and brains and our physical and
>>cultural evolution - and to an enormous degree on our primate
>>evolutionary heritage. This behavior considered as a whole can be
>>modeled by various sciences and by economic theory a la Von Mises
>>praexology [or is that praxeology - I can never remember the spelling :-}
>>] Such an economic analysis leads to the conclusion that coercion on a
>>large scale or as a general principle of behavior is not productive for a
>>group of sentient conceptually processing entities as a whole. No

>This is a way of arriving at much the same thing. You seem to be
>quibbling more over semantics.

Not at all. One concept is based on mysticism ("rights"), one on
demonstrable economic analysis of the behavior of large groups of
people. One concept is based on "natural law" - a meaningless concept -
and one is based on practical results - productivity or non-productivity
toward a specific purpose - survival of the individual and the species.

>>"natural rights" are needed - it is simply not productive and therefore
>>not conducive to survival and therefore not in the best interests of such
>>entities to engage in coercion as a behavioral principle.

>Your first assertions does not justify your derived conclusions as you
>have not grounded it in anything but opinion thus far.

That is itself opinion. I did not go into the detailed derivation of the
principle of non-coercion via economic behavior because it would be too
extensive - and in any event I have not done so in so long I might remember
all the details. The short version is simply that coercion is an attempt
to achieve monopoly profit. To the degree that it succeeds, others will be
motivated to invest in coercion in the same manner as investors invest in
any activity that shows a substantial profit. The result of this
investment is the business life cycle - eventually the profit is reduced to
the average rate of return. The result of investing in coercion would be a
society (much like the present one, I guess) where the bulk of activity
goes into non-productive security and defense or coercion (which does not
produce but merely distributes wealth). One therefore can see that as a
general social principle, coercion is non-productive and therefore
contra-survival. No mystical "rights" are needed to derive this conclusion
- merely common sense as to the behavior of others and the results of that

>>The reality, however, is that humans as part of their basic nature as
>>biological entities fear death. This translates into the same basic two
>>reactions as any other animal: fight or flight. In humans, with
>What do humans have that other animals do not have? It is there that we
>must explore.

Obviously. My point is also obvious - the bulk of the population do not
explore this.

>>imagination and conceptual processing capability, this is expressed in
>>two ways for each reaction. Fight: 1) self-development or controlling
>>one's personal being (examples might be bodybuilders, martial artists,
>>whatever). 2) Concern with understanding and controlling external reality
>>(examples might be scientists, technologists, etc.) Flight
>What is required to freely act on the basis of one's thinking and
>conclusions? Without that freedom, can humans make most effective use of
>their superior abilities to think and model reality?

One has THAT freedom at all times. The question is: does one have the
physical freedom to act. One always can think and model reality; the
question is can one act on one's conclusions? Obviously I understand that
- the point is irrelevant to the question of rights because, again, no one
has established that rights either exist as a valid concept or have any
effect on preventing coercion in the real world.

>>Response: 1) Stand up and wave your arms and try to attract the attention
>>of the "gods" who might give you more life if you stand out from the herd
>>(examples: anyone in the public eye and anyone who tries to establish
>>themselves as morally superior to everyone else, e.g., priests and
>>philosophers and moralists of every stripe); 2) Tear down
>This is simple libel. Not all people of these groups do anything of the kind.

Oh, really? If you look at the motivation of virtually anyone in the
public eye (at least those who have striven to be there, not been
accidently thrust there), and especially at the motivation of those who
proclaim that THEIR way is the only way and anyone who disagrees is morally
inferior. it is clear that the intent is to elevate themselves above others
first and foremost before any other goal. And the motivation for THAT is
the fear of death. Read Harrington's "The Immortalist".

>>everyone above you and stamp on everyone below you (examples: virtually
>>everyone, especially politicians).
>My, you are cynical, aren't you?

I am correct.

>>Instead of recognizing the universe has plenty of resources and the way
>>to survive is to use our conceptually processing capability to take
>>advantage of those resources, i.e., fight response, - defy and defeat
>>death by using our mental and physical resources - the vast bulk of the
>>human race (at least 98-99%) engage in flight response, producing a
>>Darwinian competition "war of all against all" which leads to the world
>>you see around you.
>You almost had it but you keep getting mired in too simple
>stimulus/response levels.

Your characterization of my analysis as "simple stimulus/response" is an
example of how you view yourself as vastly superior to the ordinary primate
from which you evolved. You aren't THAT superior. You DO have those
reactions built into your brain. I recognize that in myself. The
difference is that I recognize it in others as well. I imagine once they
get through sequencing the pygmy chimp genome that people are going to be
in for a big surprise at just how little difference there is between humans
and chimps. We already know that the difference is around 1.5% of the
genetic code. I suspect we will discover that not much sequencing change
is needed to get rid of the extra hair, provide an opposable thumb, change
the facial features, and enlarge the brain pan...

>>See Alan Harrington's work "The Immortalist" - probably the most
>>important book ever written on the impact of death on human society.
>>Without relieving the species' fear of death, there is no way you are
>>going to override that fear and its flight response with talk of
>>"rights", when those "rights" are merely concepts that will be accepted
>>or rejected based on the individual's fear reactions.
>Irrelevant. It is only by exercising our ability to think and
>to understand our universe and act on that understanding to a high degree
>that we can ever hope to long postpone or even largely defeat
>death. Therefore that which increases our abilities in these areas, our
>freedoms to pursue them and our freedom to act on our conclusions, is the
>most essential solution to the general problem as you set it up.

Which translates into what? Trying to change the world by argument?

> Those things required for such an increase are thus logical
> requirements of any system governing the interaction of human beings (ethics).

There IS no system governing the interaction of human beings. There is
only the world as you see it now. Nor will there be such a system without
major changes in human nature - which will come with the Singularity - at
which point the need for such a system will become moot as Transhumans are
not humans and will not need the sort of governance you suggest.

> One concept/phrase wrapping such requirements and delineating them is
> "natural rights".

Wrong - "natural rights" is a concept which states that such requirements
are "natural law" - again, no one has ever demonstrated the notion of
"natural law" or "natural rights" - nor will they because the concept of
rights is a mystical concept. See Wilson's "The Myth of Natural Rights".

> We may argue about what is and is not such a requirement but I don't
> see how anyone can logically fault the general basis in our own nature
> for their being such requirements.
>>The only rational argument for non-coercion is based on economic
>>self-interest which in turn is based on the economic interest of the
>>species as a whole. This argument, however, cannot override genetically
>>inbred fear, either.
>More assertion?

You have evidence of the contrary that refutes 10,000 years of
civilization's history?

>>The issue of "rights" is IRRELEVANT to the issue of personal survival
>>which is the only valid human purpose. Personal survival demands dealing
>>with the world as it is, not as you wish it to be. One can certainly
>>proceed on the basic of a principle of non-coercion, but trying to
>>convince any significant portion of the species of the validity of this
>>is a waste of time and therefore counterproductive.
>More assertion. Personal survival is not the only valid human purpose.

Oh,. yes it is. There are no values without life - continuity of
existence. That means that survival is the only primary purpose of any
living entity. All other values are secondary and dependent on the
survival of the entity. THAT much Ayn Rand got right. Do not mistake my
use of the term survival for some low-level notion that implies struggling
through life and then dying. I use the term in the sense William Burroughs
did when he said, "Survival must be calculated in immortal terms. Beware a
fool's survival." I refer to survival as indefinite continuity of
existence. Whether the physical universe will permit true "immortality"
(i.e., existing "forever" - whatever that may mean) is irrelevant; the goal
remains the same. Once you realize what that means, and think about it,
you will discover that there are corollaries to that conclusion which lead
to radical changes in philosophy and attitude. THAT is what it means to be
a Transhuman.

> The world as it is includes what is required by human nature for our own
> best functioning and the best function of our organizations, society and
> species as a whole. It is not counterproductive to point out where our
> best interests lie in anything more than the extreme short-term.
>>Mike's notion that because human nature derives from evolution and the
>>physical universe that this translates a concept into a "natural law" is
>>an irrational and mystical concept. See Robert Anton Wilson''s "The Myth
>>of Natural Rights".
>That is not what he or I said and such an empty attempt at parody is not a
>valid attempt at discussion.

Best reread what Mike said. No parody needed.

Richard Steven Hack

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