The Widdershins

Dancing and Assault Are Different

Posted on: June 14, 2018

Everything I’m about to say is that obvious. Rights are rules that benefit everyone the same way and make life easier. All the rest — privileges, abuse, crimes — don’t work that way. Considering how simple it is, I’m convinced that when people pretend not to get it, it’s because they don’t want to. That implies talking about it isn’t very useful. The problem lies deeper. But since I don’t know how to fix the actual problem, I’ll talk about it anyway.

Planting seeds

First a few definitions. Rights, the way I’ll be using the word, are based on a given concept of fairness. In a grim development, “fair” is losing its meaning through overuse as every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and especially Donald, uses it to whine about not getting their own way. For the purposes of this discussion, I have to ask you to forget all the abuse of the word and pretend it could actually mean something.

Fairness intuitively means equal treatment, but there are problems with that definition when context is willfully ignored. If a nonexistent equality of circumstances is assumed, then in no time the magnificent impartiality of the law allows rich and poor alike to buy their own fast internet. Willful ignorance always leads to bad consequences, so keeping in mind that context is an integral factor of fairness, let’s look at equal treatment specifically.

The simplest definition of equality is the absence of double standards. What is allowed or punished for P is the same for Q. It’s not a rigid list allowing only specific things. It’s the equal application of general rules to specific situations as they arise.

For instance, let’s say you wanted to keep email secure. You could tell everyone, equally, that they must have their correspondence on a specific IBM server running a specific operating system and use two-factor authentication. But then Person A, let’s call her Amanda, uses a Hewlett Packard server, which is not the one specified. Bad, even though everything is still secure. Person B, on the other hand, let’s call him Egbert, uses the right setup, but has an automated script accessible to anyone to avoid the authentication bother. The specifics are all fine, he’s just added a layer that’s not in the book, so he’s good, even though nothing is secure. Everybody’s immediate reaction to that is, well, that’s stupid. That’s what I mean when I say the specifics of the particular situation are not the point.

Even less fairness can be achieved if Amanda is punished for incorrect email handling, while Egbert keeps his work on AOL and nobody cares. Equal treatment requires the relative distance of each from the goal of security to be judged and for the punishment to be proportional to that distance. That would be equal application of the rule, without double standards.

Keeping the avoidance of double standards firmly in mind, the distinction between rights and not-rights is easy.

Rights are those things we can do which do not curtail anyone else’s ability to do the same thing. They require no double standards, no inequality. My freedom to speak does not limit yours. My need to be free of physical harm doesn’t change your life in any way. My intention to marry someone doesn’t affect your ability to get married. None of those limits others’ abilities to have the same benefits or protections. Those are rights. I’ll go into some examples in a bit.

Privileges, on the other hand, depend on an asymmetry of power. If they’re applied to everyone equally they lead to absurdity in a couple of steps. The asymmetry can come from subtle social privilege or not so subtle economic or military force, but whatever the source, it’s used to allow some actions that would cause impossible situations if everyone did them.

For instance, if you insist on a right to make others live according to your religion, then, since it’s a right, I can equally insist that you live according to mine. But my religion is to kill all members of your religion. (That’s not just an impossible thought experiment. Both Christianity and Islam have clauses, best ignored, about holy war against heathens.) We’ve reached an absurd situation in exactly one step. There’s no way to resolve it on the basis of rights. One side has to have more power to force compliance from the other.

The crowning irony is that nobody has freedom of religion in that system since at any moment others could grab enough power to impose their will instead. Rights impose limits but allow more freedom than a complete free-for-all.

Violence is another easy example. It’s sometimes necessary to stop criminals or invaders, and yet if everyone had license to kill it would be impossible to have any kind of a society. Even the top banana, the last one standing, would soon die. That’s why the state is given a monopoly on the use of force, because some force is necessary but it cannot be a right. Freelance gun nuts are incompatible with having a life, as we’re finding out in the U. S. of A.

Another current example is vaccination. If it’s not voluntary, it’s taking away a person’s control over their own body, which is a very bad idea. There’s no way to apply that loss equally to everyone, and it has to be based on mere power to force compliance. On the other hand, an unvaccinated person can spread preventable disease, which is another kind of attack on a person. Given that spreading disease is a hugely bigger harm than a vaccination, that’s one case where it’s appropriate for the state to enforce compliance.

(Medically, voluntary compliance is much more effective. But purely as a matter of rights, there is no right to spread disease. Vaccination is a good example of how seamlessly rights come to mean what-I-think-is-good-for-me rather than what is good for everyone. We’re all susceptible to it, not just corporate executives and Donalds. Another tangent: obviously, if vaccines caused neurological problems that would be a major harm and change the balance of rights. But they do not. Vaccines do not cause autism. The links are a scientific article and a pdf that list many studies showing no connection and including millions of people. And on the other side is the one Wakefield study which did say there was a connection. That was based on 12 patients, with no controls in the experimental sense, and which turned out to be fraudulent. Developmental neurological issues do happen, unfortunately, but not due to vaccines. Disbelieving the mountain of evidence on vaccines is somewhere between rejecting evolution and rejecting the reality of climate change.)

Rights, unlike the previous examples, involve those actions which can be done by everyone equally. That has an important corollary. Once they’re applied in a way not available to everyone, they’re no longer rights. They’re the abuse of one or another kind of privilege.

Consider, for instance, free speech. It’s mainly interpreted as a right not to be silenced, and that is important. But our bigger problem now is being drowned out. With ads and clickbait shouting at us 24/7, what we need is a complementary right to silence. (Some of my thinking on that and the following issues here.) If we could all broadcast all the time, there would be no point trying to communicate at all. It’s a less bloody version of of the murder free-for-all. Nobody is heard, not even the person shouting.

Another current perversion of the right to free speech is spewing hate speech. The confusion between the two is in the process of destroying democracy, but we’re petrified to do anything about it in case it opens the door to government control over what can be said. That’s not an idle fear. Look at how quickly every resistance to people in power was labelled terrorism, whether it had any of the hallmarks of terrorism or not. Look at how quickly the Donald started labelling everything he didn’t like “fake news.” If he had a hope of shutting it down, he would. It is very important not to go down that road.

But it’s equally important to preserve democracy, which depends on free speech. Somehow, the right to free expression has to be limited to communication and has to exclude hate. I think we could make a start by improving the definition of what constitutes speech. At its essence, it’s about communicating something. Sharing ideas is a fundamentally different process than bamboozling or hurting people. Communication can be universal, hatred cannot be (in a functioning society). It ought to be possible to draw a more accurate line between them.

It’s interesting in this context that the people who use hate speech seem to know quite well what they’re doing, even if they won’t usually admit it. I’ll never forget when Steve Bannon left the White House to return to Breitbart where he’d once again be free to spout anything. “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he said. Speech as a weapon should be no more protected than knives can be used to “communicate.”

If we could wrap our minds around the rights of the situation, we could stop getting sidetracked into thinking punching Nazis will get us anywhere except down the spiralling hole where violence always leads. If we have a right to punch them because we think they’re bad people, they have the same right to punch us because they think we’re bad people. Might makes right is not the route to a fun life. Instead, understanding rights means we know the solution is to figure out the definition of hate speech and then to shut the poison down.

One last example of how not to twist free speech is the policing of discussions of trans issues. Part of the trans activist community feels that transwomen must be considered women in all respects, not just socially but also when biology is in conflict with that categorization. (There is no noticeable equivalent pressure on behalf of transmen, i.e. people born female.) To do other than that is considered transphobic which has such a severe impact on transwomen it can lead some to suicide. Therefore any discussion that does not accept those assumptions is lethal hate speech and must be stopped.

That thinking requires an obvious double standard. We can’t all be on the edge of suicide and demanding from others that they do everything our way or they’re guilty of pushing us into it. Nobody would be able to do anything if emotional blackmail was a legitimate tactic to shut people down.

Transpeople, men and women, do suffer violence, but as with most violence, it is committed by men. (For instance, globally 96% of homicides are committed by men p.95.) Assault and murder are already illegal. They’re also in a different class than speech one doesn’t like. Free speech definitely covers unpopular topics. Trying to police women, for instance discussing pregnancy, by using emotional blackmail because men are committing crimes is very much an illegitimate suppression of speech that should be free.

As the free speech examples show, distinguishing between rights and their abuse gets into some gray areas. But just because there are murky zones doesn’t mean we have to give up on the clear ones. When there is actual doubt, by all means let’s give that area the benefit of the doubt. When it’s pretty clear that something is nothing but trash talk, we should stop protecting it and throw it out.

I’ve tried to show how it’s possible to distinguish rights from privilege by seeing whether the action in question can be done by everyone equally. When not, people aren’t demanding their rights. They’re demanding special treatment. The title isn’t totally facetious. Rights are like a dance where everyone follows the same rules to everyone’s benefit.

Crossposted from Acid Test

70 Responses to "Dancing and Assault Are Different"

Just saw another current issue about rights: Artificial Persons about the long road to the Citizens United decision and pretending corporations are persons. The whole question of what really is, and what really isn’t, a right is pretty much central to what’s happening to democracy.

Even the Supremes show every symptom of not getting it. Not much hope for the rest of us, I guess.

Quixote, I will read your post later tonight and will comment.

For now:

Comey … used … a personal … gmail account … for … FOR FREAKIN OFFICIAL FBI BUSINESS.

I am dead.

And every day it becomes more obvious why the NYT owners promoted Dean Baquet over Jill Abramson. Have you seen her latest in The Guardian? Now we know the outrageous scale of the Trumps’ White House dividend.

She would have broken their perfect record, right back to the 1930s, of pandering to warmongers and dictators.

Oh, and did you see the new New York AG laying into the Dump’s “charitable” Foundation? Good thread on it by this accounting prof, BDGesq.

That’s state, and she forwarded a bunch of stuff on to the IRS so they can pursue the federal-level criminality.

Main points in BDG’s article:

I would guess the story we’ll hear now (if we hear anything) is that Trump never even knew the suits were settled with Foundation money. If true, that is dumber than dumb, but it isn’t tax fraud or evasion.

If I were an IRS criminal investigator, I’d still have some more questions. We have an organization that, reportedly, has for decades exploited every conceivable tax advantage. It has counsel extensive and sophisticated enough to file tax returns totaling thousands of pages. And it just overlooked one of the most basic principles in the tax law of charity?

Trump can’t say he didn’t know about his foundation payouts when he signed off on them.

@7 quixote> Yep, same here. I can’t even anymore. I’m done.

@6, and @10, I can’t even anymore.

Comey comes to my town to speak, I’m tearing him apart with my bare hands.

@12, well at least he’ll be nailed on that.

Now I’m taking a break to cry my eyes out.

Well there may not have been any “political” bias by the FBI (I am looking at you Comey), but there was a helluva lot of “personal” bias. And no one is publicly saying that Hillary was royally and deliberately screwed and when she says it she is a whiny sore loser. And that case against dump and his spawn? I had read about most of those allegations againt his foundation during the campaign!!!!! And what did the media do then? Slam the Clinton Foundation and force the Clintons to back away from the CGI which was a phenomenal networking tool. Now they are shocked, shocked I say that the vermin were using it as a slush fund. Everyone is looking at this tragedy as a learning opportunity, not for what it was: a stolen election by a corrupt ratfucking organization and a narcissistic sociopath. Evil is not just triumphing, it is consuming souls for a snack.

@16, yes, and the way for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.

16, 17
Absolutely, Cats and Luna!!

A big shoe drops…

Judge sends Paul Manafort to jail, pending trial

Hahahaha! *Cheers and raises fists* May he be the first of many.

Hang in there Cats! Whenever I get in that mood I try to hold the picture of Our Girl in mind and her wonderful laugh, after everything that’s been stolen from her.

As for Manafort, about bleeding time!

@16 Damn straight, Cats!

Whoa! An accurate headline. Too bad it’s not from a U.S. paper.

Trump attacks FBI ‘scum’ as he falsely claims DoJ report exonerates him

President, in blatant mischaracterization of official justice department report, claims it found ‘total bias’ at FBI.

I’m glad to see Manafort in jail. Then he’ll be going to prison a looong time. But there are others I’m more looking forward to. Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, etc. For some reason, Mueller postponed Flynn’s sentencing. What’s up with that?

There is a huge hole in that IG report concerning the NY FBI. If there were agents threatening to leak, which pushed Comey to send the letter he knew damn well would be leaked by Chafettz… Ghouliani’s role in this (I want to see him slapped down)… why the NY FBI sat on Weiner’s computer a month. Comey claims he didn’t know about the computer until the end of October. Then who was holding it back? Of course, Comey also said he didn’t know Weiner was married to Huma. Give me a break.

Nice pic of Our Gal looking Presidential and compassionate.

Rudy said in a Fox interview that he’d be a lot more comfortable with the Mueller investigation if Mueller handed it off to the NY FBI agents. Hahahahahhaha. I bet he would.

Plus, in addition to everything else and sitting up straight when the Not-Dear Not-Leader emits oral farts, AP reports that his 2020 campaign is quietly working with former Cambridge Analytica operatives. Cool.

@29: I have no idea if it will ever happen but I hope to see the day that this *thing* in the W.H. resigns and leaves. Hope that includes leaving the country.

I have no hopes we’ll get rid of him through political means such as impeachment.

@27, Kim gets that rapt attention because if you fall asleep, you get executed. Trump thinks that’s cool.

On a somewhat related note, IIRC the punishment for treason can be execution.

@30, he’s gonna run to Vladdy dearest.

I hope this embeds in here. CNN has said they’re going to broadcast Anthony Bourdain’s last two episodes of his show. And in one of the segments he goes to the Cajun Mardi Gras which is a helluva lot different than what you see in Nola.

View this post on Instagram

The Quest for Chicken #Mamou #MardiGras

A post shared by anthonybourdain (@anthonybourdain) on

27 | Fredster
June 15, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Well bless his little fucking black heart.

Trump wants Americans to ‘sit up and pay attention’ when he speaks, like North Koreans: report’

I will sit up and listen to your lies and fat ass bullshit when you are behind bars……..until then, I will mock and do my best to get you out of our Hillary’s Oval office…until the day I die.

BTW, I finally had my kidney surgery yesterday…I am so glad it’s frickin’ over and can’t wait until the crystals are all gone. Still feel like $hit, but I know things will get better…

@32: In my imagination I see him making a very quick unannounced trip to Florida with Ivanka, Jared and rest of the crime family. One of his Russian oligarch buddies has moored his humongous yacht in West Palm Beach and the entire group boards the yacht and they JUST GO!

@35: Congrats on the surgery being done and over! Hope you’re on the mend and back to being feisty soon! 🙂

Anthony Bourdain

I was never a true fan, but I did watch him occasionally and I find it so sad that suicide touches so many people and their families. May he rest in peace.

Thanks so much Fredster.

Good news, Shadow @35! Concentrate on mending. And I beg to differ with Fredster: I noticed no decrease in feistiness/comment. 😀

@42: By her absence for a few days she wasn’t here and feisty. 😉

Q and Fredster, 😉 thanks.

Agreed. But the feistiness per comment was unchanged, according to my Feistosity Meter™ :I want one of those cute iphone-type icons having a blast here:

@45: Okay, you win on that one.

I always loves me some Charles Pierce.

GAgal @3:41pm, good points. I sooo hope Ghouliana gets indicted for his dirty dealings. I bet there’s a lot we don’t know.

Fredster, the thread on that Charles Pierce tweet was interesting. Manafort is a diabolical bastard. Poor Ukrainians!

@35, Shadow, yay! So glad to hear that surgery is done! Now block out the state of the world for a while, relax, and heal. Gentle hugs to you.

@40, “He’s been lying so long he don’t know what’s real….”

@51, Well, at least he’s not joining the Trump administration. Yet.

Good Charles Pierce right here.

One part that smacked me right in the face:

The report makes plain one other thing—that the first thing that corrupted the 2016 presidential election, the first thing that infused into it the dark sense of unreality that was its defining characteristic, was the absurd importance placed on the email protocols of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The pursuit of a scandal without a crime—by the Republican Congress, by federal law enforcement, and by the elite political media—was a continuation of the absurd charges involving the tragic events at the American consulate in Benghazi, and the absurd attempts to turn the Clinton Foundation into what we now know that the Trump Foundation actually was: an organized effort to skirt federal tax regulations and campaign finance laws.

@35 Woo hoo, Shadow! So glad to hear that. Hang in there and just keep keeping on!

Shadow, also glad your surgery is over and sending get well quick wishes and hugs your way!

Fredster @55, brilliantly put.

@35, wow Shadow you bounved back fast? Wonderful that the surgery is behind you. Does this also mean that your spike in BO was just understandable stress? How’s myour arm these days?

@55, great excerpt from a great Pierce piece. I wish he and people like him would be on on TV more sharing their views. I loved how he pointed out the decades long vendetta against both Clintons and the real witch hunt that was both the Benghazi and the email investigations.

Hah. Well, not to crow or anything, but here’s yours truly calling it weaponized speech years before Lakoff (whom I respect a lot) Just sayin.

The Lakoff link I was muttering about.

Oh yes. Weaponized speech has been around for a long time.

I first heard about Lakoff back in 2004. I recall Howard Dean referencing Lakoff’s concepts and techniques.

Meant to add — It seems that analytical/critical thinking and fact-checking are the answer to weaponized speech, or am I missing a point here?

Get all better soon, Shadow.

Well, I wonder how they’re feeling about those Trump votes now? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

@66. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Addendum, wake me when it’s over and better.

Luna @63. It turns out that critical thinking only works against intentionally harmful speech in theory. In practice, there are two problems.

The biggest one is that as a society, you’re dealing with the problem at a population level. There’s no chance everyone will have enough training and self-restraint to use critical analysis effectively. And in a democracy, you don’t take people’s votes away because they don’t know what they’re doing. So the weapons will work if you let them be used, even if you work really hard on training for critical analysis.

The second, also big, is that cognitive psychology has shown pretty conclusively that the human mind just does not work that way. People do not naturally reserve judgment and think things through. They go with the first thing they hear from trusted sources. Getting them to rethink anything is way more effortful and close to not-doable. Not individually, but at the group level, not doable.

So, no, there’s no good way to patch up after the fact. It’s essential to prevent the lies and hate from getting broadcast in the first place. (No I don’t know how :(. The Germans are making a stand against hate speech. So there’s at least one field experiment to see how well that goes.)

quixote, I finally read your original post! (I’m sorry it took days, but I was working 16 hour shifts most of the week… and now I’m done and out of work. But doing Grand Jury duty starting Monday.)

Excellent post and I agree on all points. One expression I’ve always used (and not sure where I got it from; maybe it’s mine!) is: “I get mad when someone else’s problem becomes my problem.” We live in an increasingly small world and each one of our actions has a ripple effect on someone else. But there’s a difference between wanting things a certain way and forcing them. As you say, my ability to marry another man does not in any way affect anyone else’s ability to marry. But their ability to stop me from marrying whom I choose is now become my problem. And that makes me mad!

New post coming up in a few minutes.

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