Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Complexity Worship

In an article titled "Parker on gay issues: It's complicated" Chronicle writer Mike Snyder tells us that Mayor Ma Parker "is more focused on basic services than gay rights". In one sense, this is a great relief. In another, I seriously doubt that it is true.

I hate to be the one to spoil the party, but there are no such things as gay rights. To make such a claim is to imply that gays have certain rights not enjoyed by straights, and vice versa. (The same applies to women's rights, black's rights, etc.) There are only individual rights, and they apply to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, or ethnicity.

Those rights pertain to freedom of action--they are a sanction for each individual to act according to his own judgment without interference from others, so long as he respects their mutual rights. Nobody--including government--may morally compel others to act contrary to their own choice.

Rights are not a claim to some material value, but rather, the freedom to take the actions necessary to create or earn that value. To claim otherwise is to claim that some must provide those values without their consent, that they should be forced to labor while others benefit.

Government's sole purpose is to protect our rights by identifying those actions that constitute the use of force against others, and by prosecuting those who initiate force. This is the only "basic service" that government should be providing.

Of course, this is not the service that Ma is trying to provide. She wants to make sure that Houstonians have light rail, that old houses are preserved, that high rises are not built in "inappropriate" places. She wants to provide some Houstonians with the values that they desire, and she is more than willing to force others to pay for it.

"Gay" issues really aren't that complicated when one recognizes individual rights. Indeed, many issues become non-issues if one recognizes individual rights.

However, when one rejects principles every concrete situation appears to be isolated and distinct from others. Every issue must be dealt with individually, without reference to any other issue. One becomes trapped in a maze that Leonard Peikoff called "complexity worship" in his 1988 lecture at Ford Hall Forum.

Ma could address "complicated" gay issues by adopting the proper principles--the sanctity of individual rights, including property rights. And in the process, she could provide all Houstonians with the only "basic service" we need from government--the protection of those rights. It is no more complicated than that.


Neal Meyer said...


Strong as always.

I also have come around to thinking that creating group rights inherently creates complexity, whether they be "minority" rights, gay rights, women's rights, disabled rights, or rights of the elderly.

In turn this complexity aids at an intellectual level justification of the expansion of the state, both in terms of reaching into your wallet to "correct wrongs" via redistribution, and to create an administrative apparatus to oversee the "righting of those wrongs".

Going further, creation of such group rights often helps to abet a sense of entitlement once the group has won official recognition. For example, recently as I was following the health care debate, I became aware of an organization called the Medicare Rights Center. I didn't know that Medicare was a "right", but according to this group health care a basic human right, ergo in rhetoric they are stating that the Medicare program is not a government welfare program, but that there is a "right" to Medicare. It seems that this group overlooks that the state is pointing a gun at its citizens and commanding them to pay for this "right".

Once you have a horde of different groups fighting over who gets gets what in terms of those entitlements, you have created the recipe for a society to rip itself apart.

Brian Phillips said...

These invented "rights" have created a civil war, in which each group is fighting to rape and pillage one another. As you say, this will rip us apart.