Diary of a Seasteader (seasteading) wrote,

The One Universal Human Right

Here is a new section I added to the new version of the book (not yet online) today. Key point:

We believe that giving primacy to the right to choose one's social contract, including creating a new one, cuts through the unresolvable tangles of determining exactly what universal human rights are and what type of society is just. As long as people voluntarily join groups, and can voluntarily leave, we have neither the right nor the need to judge the details of how those groups organize themselves and define their rights. We seek neither the right to dictate how other people should live, nor for the burden of figuring out how to make utopia, but only that each of us may live as we see fit. This seems much more achievable than converting everyone to the One True Philosophy, whether it be Rand, Rawls, or whatever.

Universal Human Rights

There is a great deal of debate about human rights. Libertarians believe in the right to not be harmed or threatened by violence, while those on the left believe in the right not to starve or go without health care. The United Nations even made a Universal Declaration of Human Rights back in 1948, which included the right not to be enslaved (Article 4), or tortured (Article 5), the right to property (Article 17) and freedom of thought and expression of beliefs (Article 18).

Of course, when it comes to the details, there is much room for disagreement about what the UN's sweeping statements mean, and whether current states abide by them. For example, Article 17.2 states "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.", which seems to conflict with the eminent domain practices of the US which came to light in Kelo vs. New London. And Article 18 says that "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."  Yet Europe's numerous censorship laws about Holocaust denial and Nazism certainly serve to prohibit the teaching, practice, and observance of certain (very stupid) beliefs.

However, we don't want to be too hard on the UN declaration. It may be a bit broad, but based on the ideas we espouse in this book, we see Article 13.2 (or at least, the first half), as the true essence of freedom, the single right on which all others are based:

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country
A little modification and extension gets us the following, which we propose as the fundamental, universal human rights:

Universal Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has the right to leave any country, as long as they are not fleeing significant outstanding obligations.

(2) Everyone has the right to create a country, as long as joining it is voluntary.

The Dynamic geography theory gives us the first line of reasoning about why these rights are so important. Viewing governments as service providers, being able to switch providers and avoid lock-in is key to making sure a provider doesn't exploit its customers. Everything else flows from there. As long as you can create new providers and switch to them, then current providers can't screw you too badly. The worse they treat their customers, the more incentive there is for a new provider to join the fray.

The idea of the social contract, ascribed to Hobbes and Rousseau, is also key to our concept of human rights:

The term social contract describes a broad class of philosophical theories whose subjects are the implied agreements by which people form nations and maintain a social order. In laymen's terms, this means that the people give up some rights to a government in order to receive social order. Social contract theory provides the rationale behind the historically important notion that legitimate state authority must be derived from the consent of the governed.

While many libertarians do not support the social contract, because it affects their natural rights, we have a different approach. Given how much disagreement there is about what rights are natural, a system based on natural rights seems problematic. We don't see people's different conceptions of rights as a problem to be solved by proselytizing and argumentation, but an empirical fact about the world to be dealt with. And we think the best way of dealing with it is a system where different groups of people with different concepts of rights and what makes a just society can get together in voluntary association and live as they think best. Which is, of course, what seasteads are for.

The problem with the social contract is not the general idea of people getting together to form a society, it is that the practice of that idea is quite different.  As Hume said in "Of the Original Contract", the contract theory of government is not supported by available historical data [wikipedia]. What we mean is that people do not voluntarily sign on to an explicit social contract. Instead, they are born into a country which claims sovereignty over some large area of land and set of people, and forced to follow its rules. They have few alternatives, and it is difficult to create new ones. They grow up, become of voting age (if in a democracy), and end up becoming part of the social contract implicitly.  As Hume says:

Should it be said, that, by living under the dominion of  a prince which one might leave, every individual has given a tacit  consent to his authority, and promised him obedience; it may be answered, that  such an implied consent can only have place where a man imagines that the  matter depends on his choice. But where he thinks (as all mankind do who are  born under established governments) that, by his birth, he owes allegiance to a  certain prince or certain form of government; it would be absurd to infer a  consent or choice, which he expressly, in this case, renounces and disclaims.

Can we seriously say, that a poor peasant or artisan has  a free choice to leave his country, when he knows no foreign language or  manners, and lives, from day to day, by the small wages which he acquires? We  may as well assert that a man, by remaining in a vessel, freely consents to the  dominion of the master; though he was carried on board while asleep, and must  leap into the ocean and perish, the moment he leaves her.

Like Hume, we don't buy the argument that staying in a country is equivalent to signing the social contract and signifying acceptance of all the rules of the country.  However, we find the general concept of the social contract quite appealing. People want to organize in groups which give up some rights and protect others, and they should be free to do so - but let's make it explicit. Let's also make it explicit that they must be allowed to change their mind and leave later, so that no social contract becomes too burdensome, or reaches the point of enslavement.  And let's also make it explicit that there must not be a cartel of nations, but that people must be free to start new ones.

This idea stands in stark contrast to Rawls' original position, which involves finding a social contract that one would agree to from behind the "veil of ignorance", where one has no idea what one's position in society will be. While the original position is an interesting theoretical device, it is impractical if not impossible to act in supposed ignorance when actual social contracts are entered into and enforced by actual people who know their position in life. In the real world, the veil just doesn't fit. Instead, we want real people who know their position in society, their abilities and preferences, their experiences with existing societies, to find the social contracts which they think would suit them best.

We believe that giving primacy to the right to choose one's social contract, including creating a new one, cuts through the unresolvable tangles of determining exactly what universal human rights are and what type of society is just. As long as people voluntarily join groups, and can voluntarily leave, we have neither the right nor the need to judge the details of how those groups organize themselves and define their rights. We seek neither the right to dictate how other people should live, nor for the burden of figuring out how to make utopia, but only that each of us may live as we see fit. This seems much more achievable than converting everyone to the One True Philosophy, whether it be Rand, Rawls, or whatever.

While we think that this idea simplifies much political philosophy, it is of course not a magic bullet. Difficult questions still remain about when an individual's right to choose a contract are being violated. People should not be able to just run away from trials or judgments, but a country may levy enormous fines on someone, and say they cannot leave until they are paid. Furthermore the whole area of conflict between countries is not addressed by this Universal Right at all - and it is a morass in its own right.

Still, we find it an enormous relief to realize that we can just throw up our hands and safely leave some of the questions philosophers have been discussing for millennia unresolved. We just want to create a laboratory for experimenting with social contracts, and a world in which people are free to create societies with groups of like-minded compatriots. The details of those societies are up to you.

  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 8 comments