Bill of RightsThere is so much that is wrong about rights; more specifically the way people speak and think about them. The topic is becoming pretty hot here in Northern Ireland at present with a Bill of Rights creeping ever closer. At its most basic a Bill of Rights will be a contract obliging the government to protect and uphold certain rights for each member of society. It would be a permanent manifesto and would be a mechanism by which government can be held to account. The Bill won’t be elastic, neither our national government nor regional assembly could repeal it.

For those outside of Northern Ireland, here’s a little background:

The idea for a Bill of Rights was enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, when Protestant embraced Catholic, lions lay down with lambs, swords were beaten into ploughshares, and peace and love descended from on high. However, the Bill has been delayed ten years, largely because of the political instability and lack of political motivation behind the project. But with the St Andrews Agreement in 2006 – when our politicians decided they really did want to kiss and cuddle each other – the Bill was pushed to the fore once again. We got a Bill of Rights Forum – politicians and “interest groups” – charged with making recommendations on what should actually be in the Bill, and they’ll be due to report back next month.

God knows what’s going to come out of it all. But the tone of the debate and the ravings of a number of loony groups are worrying, as are murmurings from those “in the know.”

1. Discrimination

One of the possibilities being discussed is positive discrimination to increase the number of women in politics and top public sector positions. Now there’s a huge throbbing cock rammed up the arse of good sense, fairness, and meritocracy, eh? What’s wrong with the principle of giving jobs to the best people regardless of whether or not they are men or women? Ironically one of the rights that could be included in the Bill is the right not to be discriminated against on certain grounds including gender. However, some people think that “balance” between the number of men and women is inherently good, but never is any justification offered for this policy. It’s blatant discrimination against men. To my mind businesses in the private sector can have whatever recruitment policy they wish – whether or not it discriminates – but this is the public sector we are talking about and such a policy should be rejected as an abuse of taxpayers’ money for the purposes of social engineering. Moreover, how are we to get more women elected to office if people aren’t prepared to vote for them? To deny men the chance to run for office or assist women is flagrantly undemocratic.

2. The Age of Criminal Responsibility

It is also likely that the draft of the Bill will propose that the age of criminal responsibility will be raised from 10-years-old to 16 and then possibly to 18. Now there’s a fuckwit idea if ever there was one. It seems that teenage criminals are going to escape prosecution for criminal acts. So if a 15 year old throws a brick through my window they cannot be criminally charged. Does this sound like a good idea to anyone with more than 4 neutrons firing in their brain? One defender of the idea says: “The bill is aimed at giving young people who may make poor choices in immaturity a chance to turn their lives around without the stigma impacting on the rest of their lives.” They may be choices made in immaturity but a 15 year old still knows that rape, murder, vandalism and the like are wrong. 15 year olds aren’t as patently stupid as those proposing this idea. A reduction in the age of criminal responsibility has been consistently opposed in England and Wales, largely due to the case of 2 year old Jamie Bulger being killed by two 10 year old boys. Closer to home in 2004 a 15-year-old repeatedly raped a woman after a violent hammer attack. He got 7 years. Is he just to be pitied as a poor immature youth who just made a bad decision? I don’t fucking think so! There have been similar crimes carried out by young teenagers and it is right that they should face criminal prosecution for what they do. Just what are the sensible alternatives to criminal charges in such cases? There are none, and even woolly-headed liberals are remarkably silent on the matter.

3. Social and Economic Rights

This is the most worrying aspect of the Bill. All manner of self-appointed community spokespersons and human rights activists have crawled out of the gutter to make proposals along these lines. Leading the pack is a group called the Human Rights Consortium – an unsavoury mix of trade unionists, voluntary groups and other moralising busy-bodies. Chairperson Fiona McCausland writes:

“The Bill of Rights can be as broad or as narrow as we want. Children not having proper winter clothes or going without breakfast, barriers to employment for people with disabilities, older people having to choose between food or fuel; these are just a few of the things that we could help to change with a strong Bill.”

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph Alan McBride adds,

The additional rights we need should be in the social and economic areas, where we could really benefit from extra protections. In Northern Ireland one in three children lives in poverty. One in five people have a disability and people with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed. Hundreds of older people die here every year from the cold and thousands of people are homeless…Say, for instance, that the right to an adequate standard of living was included in a Bill of Rights, then should our government consistently fail to address the circumstances of children living in poverty or older people dying from cold, a strong Bill of Rights could hold the Government to account for its inaction.” [Emphasis mine]

I’ve spent most of the past week reading sentiments like that and as I write this I’m feeling a little sick. Seemingly spending so much time in the mental worlds of ignoramuses takes its toll on you.

Where do you start? OK. The Bill can be as broad or as narrow as we want, can it? Right, let’s say the male population decide en masse that we would like a blow job from a Playboy bunny every Friday after a long hard working week. Might that possibly become our right? No, of course not. The reason is quite simple: no Playboy bunny can rightly be forced to give any Northern Irish man a blow job on a Friday evening. You see, rights as Ms McCausland and Mr McBride think of them impose responsibilities and obligations on other people. If someone has a right to a winter coat then someone must have the responsibility of providing that coat. Who provides it? The Human Rights Consortium never tells us the truth. They tell us that the government must provide such things, that the government will be held to account, that the government owes it to us to provide a decent standard of living. Quick question: where do you think the government gets its cash? Does it grow on big trees in the gardens outside government buildings? Has government managed to genetically engineer sheep that eat grass and shit money? The truth of the matter is that the government will not be responsible for any of this: taxpayers will.

So, as a taxpayer somehow it becomes my responsibility to buy winter coats for other people’s children. That is what economic rights amount to. It’s a dangerous confusion of the concept of rights with the concept of entitlement. The proper concept of rights is a political and negative one. For instance, do I have a right to get a blow job from a Playboy bunny on a Friday evening? Yes I do, but only if I can smooth-talk one of these peroxide treats into voluntarily doing so for me. I’m not automatically entitled to one since no one can be given the responsibility of providing the aforementioned oral pleasure against their will. But should I be lucky enough to find a volunteer then the government has no right to interfere, and this is what a “right to a blowjob on a Friday evening” properly looks like. The same goes for all other rights: the right to freedom of speech means government cannot prevent us by law from speaking our mind. It doesn’t mean that anyone has a responsibility to publish our opinions or listen to us. Similarly the right to property means that should we legally acquire it no one can deprive us of it through an act of force – not even the government. What the right to property does not mean is the right to be given property provided by others, since it is unjustifiable to force some people to have the responsibility for providing it to others. The glory of a libertarian conception of rights is that they never impose responsibilities on parties who do not give their free consent.

Ayn Rand put all this better than I ever could, so forgive me for quoting her at length:

“Any alleged ‘right’ of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right. No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as the “right to enslave.” A right does not include the material implementation of that right by other men; it includes only the freedom to earn that implementation by one’s own effort.”

Amen!

There’s nothing wrong in principle with a “Bill of Rights,” and over 75% of the population support the idea. The Human Rights Consortium has been having orgasms about this statistic ever since it was released. They seem to have taken it to imply agreement with their programme of “strong and inclusive” rights. But the statistic means very little. It doesn’t begin to suggest agreement with the Consortium’s socialist manifesto, which the Consortium rather bizarrely views as a cure for all manner of ills. Their advertising slogans talk about sectarianism, peacelines, poverty, disability and violence without ever saying just how a Bill of Rights will bring about the Lennonesque utopia they think will follow from the implementation of their ideas. The Consortium doesn’t even seem to have reflected on the problem of conflicting rights which is inevitable. For instance let’s say the Bill enshrines a right of freedom from sectarian harassment. How would this sit with the right to freedom of speech when Catholics wish to criticise some wacky branch of Protestantism?

It’s all very different from earlier expressions of rights – such as the US constitution – which were primarily about protecting citizens from the state and limiting tyranny. This system was much different: in that it acknowledged that individuals are not sacrificial animals to be disposed of at the whims of others; individuals are ends in themselves. These rights defined individual freedom in a social setting. The most primary right is the right to your own life: to use your mind and make decisions and judgments according to your own values. And yet it is this right that will be violated by our growing band of modern day Human Rights Tsars. Their proposals would violate this most basic of rights by compelling individuals to act against their own judgment, thus expropriating their values through an act of government force: taking my money to give to someone else. What we need is a Bill of Rights like the US model: which was intended to protect citizens from their own government. But many of the proposals for our own Bill of Rights will do the opposite: social power will supersede individual rights. Oh the irony!

Ayn Rand argued that “there can be so such things as an economic bill of rights.” She was 100% correct, and the reason why there cannot be economic rights is that they invariably destroy our proper political rights: to our own life and property. If the Consortium has its way no citizen could be said to have a right to their own life or their own property.

Alan McBride argues that a “strong and inclusive” Bill of Rights “could be a fitting tribute to the thousands who lost their lives – or quality of life.” He really should apologise for that brain fart. It’s hardly fitting to remember victims with a piece of legislation that will be a milestone around our necks – not just temporarily – but forever. Not only would it run roughshod over our actual rights but it would put the country under serious financial pressure if not damned near bankrupt it. It will be a terribly costly piece of legislation: politically, economically, culturally, socially.

“Bill” of Rights, indeed.

Stephen.