Rights are not inseparable from responsibility

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 20, 2020, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

If I can draw a consistent theme from people across the vast political spectrum, it's that people often talk about rights with complete disregard to the responsibility that comes with rights.

Participating in any society comes with certain social contracts, whether they're explicit or implied. We work a job with the expectation that we're compensated for it. We follow laws and we don't have to go to jail. We hold doors for old ladies because not doing so would just make you the worst kind of asshole. Most functional adults even understand that expressing an opinion will have consequences. For every right, there's a responsibility.

People who are progressively motivated in politics believe that the system of higher education is broken, because of the costs and debt associated with higher ed. I think the costs are certainly worthy of discussion, as well as the role higher ed plays in the development and training of young people as they transition into adulthood. But at the same time, I'm not sure why people should get a pass for borrowing money they don't have a plan to repay. A lot of that is a change in expectations, because 25 years ago, people were not borrowing for tuition and living expenses, and they weren't spending extra years in grad school because they felt it was necessary. Keep in mind, I'm the first to say that universal health care and/or a single-payer system makes infinitely more sense than what we have today, but when education is available equally among people (it's not yet), we still have a responsibility if we choose to borrow money.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the midst of a pandemic, we've observed that "conservative" leaning people find that mask wearing and participating in the mitigation of disease transmission is a violation of rights of some kind. Worse, some consider mask wearing to be "virtue signaling," which seems cosmically stupid to me, but let's overlook that for a moment. The larger problem is that the science on mitigating the pandemic is relatively understood at this point, and while vaccines will become more common over the next six months, we're a long way from "normal." Participating in a society where the death toll does not keep mounting requires something of everyone, and that shouldn't be controversial. Yes, you do have rights to move about freely to do your thing, but we are all our brother's keeper. (And yes, I understand the Bible first mentions this in the Cain and Abel story, but looking out for others is a recurring theme in the Bible.) We have a moral obligation to our communities, even when we assert our rights.

I strongly believe that this is an important aspect of our existence as individuals. There are absolutely things we are entitled to morally, but we do not exist in a vacuum. Everything we do has consequences, and so, there are responsibilities that go along with our rights. We would all be better off if we kept that in mind when conducting ourselves.


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