Thursday, April 21, 2005

Why bother talking about the rights of individuals?

I wonder if we should just quit talking about human rights and the
rights of individuals. When we do, no one of unlike mind has a clue what we're talking about.

To some people, the vegetative Terri Schiavo was an individual, and while her body has been turned to soot and buried, Terri the person nevertheless survives in some state elsewhere, inexplicably immune to federal subpoena.

To me, John Paul II did not demand human rights for Poles so much as decry Polish laws conflicting with the Vatican's: About certain kinds of public wafer chewing, for example.

In contrast to what we hear on the news, a basic right to religious exercise in fact is not something anybody in this country believes in. You don't want me tossing even my own virgin daughter into the volcano, let alone yours, whatever my priest says is the command of the Almighty Mazunga.

To avoid offense at dinner parties I'll distinguish between the monotheistic religions and nationalistic personality cults like Hitler's. But both alike proscribe priorities, laws and institutions, which fail to serve my interests and in some ways run counter to them.

I think Libertarians and constitutional framers really hit on something when they divided the world into individuals and institutions. I see a beautiful coherence in the constitutional provisions against state enforcement of church law and state enforcement of conceivable state laws--limiting speech, for example. Both insulate individuals from institutions.

In my language, a devotion to dictators, religious doctrine, laws and parking ordinances all are "spiritual." The respiring assemblages of cells that I think of as people are more real and more important than any of them, and so too are their rights. If only the other assemblages spoke the same language.

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