Oct 27, 2011
Blayne and I have about exhausted ourselves going round and round on the first point of our discussion concerning the hit on Awlaki. It is time to ask what the root cause of the disagreement is.
One of the main problems in our communications is that we are using different definitions of core words.
I always use the most standard or obvious meanings of words unless I define them otherwise in my writings. Many people do not do this, especially those who have been immersed in some school of thought with a strong point of view. Such people often use their pet words with unorthodox meanings without explaining they are using non-standard definitions.
There are two words that have been interfering with our communication.
The first is “Right.”
Blayne thinks that the noun or legal “right” is similar in meaning to the word when it is used as an adjective or adverb. In other words you have a right to do a thing if it is right, moral and of good report.
He thus sees himself as having a right to own a gun because it is a good thing that we have the freedom to bear arms.
It is good that we have free speech therefore it is our right, even if it was not granted by the constitution or by any law.
The trouble with using this definition is that following it can get such a believer in trouble.
My friend Wayne went by this definition and thought it was right, moral and good that he should be able to drive without a license. Therefore, he thought he had “the right” to do so and went ahead and did it. This bullheadedness on his part brought him a tremendous amount of grief and expense. He was arrested regularly and several times spent time in jail. Not only me and my wife, but numerous friends tried talking him into getting a license, arguing that it would make his life so much easier. Unfortunately, he thought it was his right to drive without a license because it was immoral for the State to decree otherwise.
Wayne also thought it was his right to not pay income taxes. Because the tax was immoral in his eyes he just did not pay for about 40 years of his life. He would get calls every few years from the IRS but he told them that if they came to his door he would be waiting with a shotgun. Amazingly, that seemed to keep them at bay until he died.
He didn’t have such good luck with the city though. He put up some buildings on his property without building permits and the city fined him on a monthly basis. Again when the city threatened other action he told them he would be waiting with a shotgun and that seemed to physically hold them off but he had so many liens slapped on his property I don’t think his daughter got a penny of inheritance at his death.
I could write a book about Wayne’s unusual ways. I left out a lot of good stuff about him in The Immortal because I didn’t want to offend him or get him in trouble, but now he’s passed that won’t be such a concern.
Anyway, Wayne seemed to look at rights the same way Blayne does and it led to all kinds of trouble and possibly an early death. He wasn’t very happy with his life and didn’t even want a long life.
When I have been speaking of rights I have used he common definition which is, “legal authority.” If I have a legal right to do something then I will not live in fear of being arrested. We have the right to free speech and even have the right to criticize the president legally.
In North Korea they do not have that right and would be arrested if citizens criticize their Dear Leader there.
The second word Blayne and I are having a problem with is “legal.” Again I use the common definition that the dictionary says is something “allowed by law.”
On the other hand, Blayne associates legal with morality and feels that if something is illegal it is immoral. On the other hand, moral things are legal. Therefore, if he is doing good works and seems to be harming no one then he is always legal even if the cops and judges say he is breaking the law.
Judy suggested that Blayne use a term more in harmony with our legal system to enhance communication.
That would be helpful but we have probably gone as far as possible with the communication barriers we have. Blayne simply thinks that killing Awlaki was not legal and a violation of rights because it was immoral plain and simple.
It is difficult to turn around a person’s value judgments. For instance, I love my kids and no one is going to talk me out of this no matter what facts they present.
I think the rest of the group are pretty much in agreement on the Awlaki situation but we’ll proceed anyway and see what happens.
Oct 27, 2011
This idea of there being a “right” definition or meaning to words that have multiple dictionary definitions is entirely on the wrong track for resolving our communication problems here.
Is there a right definition to the word cool? If I call someone a “cool dude” am I wrong because cool means a low temperature and therefore I am really saying that his body is cool?
A word has the meaning that has been assigned to it in the context of speaking or writing it and that context is normally one of the definitions in the dictionary. If it is not clearly defined in the dictionary or is a minority definition then the communicator should explain what he means in using the word.
For instance I have used the word “purpose” with a different meaning than found in the dictionary but I went to significant lengths to explain what I mean so communication would not be confusing.
When I communicate I generally use the most common dictionary definition. If I do not do this then the context should indicate the definition used. If the context does not make it clear which definition is being used them I attempt to clarify, something that all good writers should do – if they want to be clear.
The word “right” has been defined in a number of different ways. None of them are right or wrong. They are what they are – the meanings that mortal man has assigned to them.
The most common definition of “a right” in connection with law is “legal authority” or authority from someone that has power over our lives. This is the way the word is used probably 90% of the time so if a person uses the word with some other meaning he should make it clear in the beginning that he is using a minority meaning.
Examples of majority use:
A family has a picnic in the park and are enjoying themselves when the governor arrives with a police escort. The police order the family to move because the governor needs their location for a photo op.
The family says, “We have the right to be here and stay here.”
They are not talking about some God-given theoretical right, but a legal right that would prevail in court.
Another family pitches a tent in a city park and decides to live there. A cop appears and chases them off declaring that they have no right to do this. Now a small minority may think that all people have a right to use public land however they please (think Wall Street Protesters) but most would not argue with the cop’s use of right as legal authority as being appropriate.
In common people have no problem with the use of this word as most use the word according to the common definition.
Even the Constitution seems to use the word “right” in connection with legal authority. The sixth Amendment says the accused has:
“the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law.”
Nothing in natural law or God’s law talks about a speedy trial which shall be held in a district which “shall have been previously ascertained BY LAW.”
The words “by law” does not refer to any God established moral law but law created by the legal authority or the Powers-That-Be.
The Constitution talks about the right to vote and the age, sex and race that can vote. These have changed over the years indicating that they were generally using the common definition of rights – not rights as an eternal moral thing that changes not.
So where has this idea of eternal God-given unchangeable rights emerged then?
This confusion over rights is mainly due to Jefferson’s beautiful poetic words in the Declaration of Independence. There he used poetic and creative license with his words to create an inspiring document.
I may have used the same choice of words myself in that situation for I heartily agree with the spirit of his words, but when we look the literal meaning we see that it is not technically correct.
The confusion comes mainly from this phrase:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“Unalienable” means “that which cannot be given or taken away.” It thus becomes problematic that all three of these, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” can be taken away. A Tyrant, such as Kim Jong Ill has full power (a right in his own mind) to take all three away from his subject at a moment’s notice.
Obviously Jefferson was not saying that all people have the right or full power over their lives liberty and happiness, but it is self evident that we have the moral right. The moral right to these things cannot generally be taken away, but even here there one can throw up exceptions.
Suppose part of your pursuit of happiness is sexually abusing little kids. In this case the pursuit of happiness should be put to a screeching halt.
The spirit of Jefferson’s document is terrific but one could dissect it and find many shades of meaning and flaws.
The biggest problem it has created is that it has lead to Constitutional fundamentalists to use the word “right” in sort of an odd and esoteric sort of way that those outside of their group do not relate to accurately.
Constitutional fundamentalists have a perfect moral and legal right to use their slant of meaning when using the word
right” in connection with legal matters but they need to do two things.
(1) Since many will not fully understand their meaning they should explain their terms when speaking to people not connected with their thought form.
(2) If they do not explain their terms then they should use the common meaning that the person they are talking with will understand.
I have often found myself in a situation where the person I am talking to uses a word meaning in a way that I rarely do. I realize that if I use the word as I normally do that confusion will be created so I do one of two things. I either use the word as he seems to be defining it, or just tell him I attach a different meaning to the word and explain it to him.
Many senseless arguments are created because people do not do one of these two things but just proceed using a minority definition that they expect others to absorb by osmosis.
This reminds of a time way back in 1970 when I was desperate and took a job selling vacuum cleaners. The company presented the idea that their machine was so superior to other vacuum cleaners that we were forbidden to use that obsolete word to even describe it. If we were caught calling our machine a vacuum cleaner we were either disciplined or fired. It was just a “cleaner” and that was it.
On the other hand it was fine that we call any other vacuum cleaner as such but the word was always used despairingly by the staff.
This caused a problem for the salesmen for sometimes we had to take a significant amount of time explain why the machine wasn’t a vacuum cleaner.
Did we expect customers to understand without explanation that our machine was not a vacuum cleaner? Of course not. (Actually, it was a vacuum cleaner)
Even so, when a person uses a minority definition of a word in a conversation he needs to make sure the other person is aware of his meaning. The two need to agree as to the meaning of the various words or their argument will continue ad infinitum.
When an argument descends to being centered over definitions of words then real communication has generally been lost.
Oct 27, 2011
Re: Definitions 1.1
Larry W. I use Jefferson’s definition of the word, rights, and I’m sticking to it.
JJ There is more than one definition and I accept them all. Don’t you? Often his use just doesn’t apply to the term. How do you use it then?
Larry The fact that people watered it down has caused us to lose Jefferson’s high ideals.
JJ I don’t think they are watered down at all but his definition is just not practical in the common vernacular. If a person says, “I have a right to this seat because I was here first,” – that doesn’t have much to do with rights from God, but customs of man and that is naturally how the term “rights” is used most of the time.
Larry His definition teaches us a lot about the ideals of freedom. I would like to encourage everyone to return the high ideal that rights can be defined by who created them.
JJ The problem is that neither Jefferson or the writers of the Constitution defined what they meant by rights in the documents. The declaration gives one slant on their use and the Constitution another – a more orthodox one.
Larry Let me say that again, “…defined by who created them.” Human rights come from God, legal rights come from government.
JJ And whose version of God do we go by – Christians, Mohammeds, Hindus??? Which spokesman for God is there that we can trust to reveal the mind of God on rights.
Jefferson talked about Nature’s God and rights that feel natural to man. These are indeed rights we should pursue, but there are legal rights also which are a different animal.
Again, rights are merely what someone defined them to be and right now there are several dictionary definitions and they are all valid and can be accurately used.
Larry: Besides, I thought this already was the mainstream definition – coming directly from America’s founding document as it does.
JJ Which founding document? The declaration gives one slant on rights and the Constitution another. They both have their place. Maybe one out of 20 times you see term “rights” (apart from right and wrong) is it used as Jefferson did.
Larry Finally, I have found it to be one of the best teaching tools I ever ran across for teaching the respectful and harmless principles of law. Since most everyone already reveres the Declaration, they accept these ideas directly from it quite readily. It’s not only a clear definition, defining rights by who creates them, but it also clearly shows the difference between eternal principles compared to manmade law. Why fight it, JJ? It’s a good thing. Join it.
JJ What gives you the idea I am fighting anything??? I’ve already praised Jefferson’s use of words. This doesn’t mean that “a right” doesn’t have several definitions and the most common use of the term today is not the one Jefferson was using. If I tell my wife that “I have the right to pick which show we see next” I am not in any way thinking of the Declaration of Independence – even though it would be a righteous thing to dwell more upon the document.
Oct 28, 2011
Re: Definitions 1.1
Larry Woods says, of course. Tom (Thomas Jefferson) and I define the word by WHO creates it. This parses the context for us very neatly. As I said and as Tom demonstrated, human rights come from God, who created humans.
JJ The trouble is that God has never spoken to us and told us what he means by rights or what he considers to be a right.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights that all intelligent life in the universe seek to secure but there are many times in mortal life where they are not secure. The people in North Korea do not have the right over their own physical life for Kim Jong Ill threatens to take it from them if they step out of line. Nether do they have the right of liberty and to pursue happiness. They should have these things and one day will – if not in this life in a future one.
Now Blayne, and perhaps you, think that these rights exist for the enslaved even though they cannot exercise them (an oxymoron) because they morally should belong to all men, but not all things that should be exist in the present time. This seems like a somewhat convoluted way of defining a word to many. For instance, if we were to tell a North Korean that he has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness he would probably look at us cross-eyed and say something like: “What are you talking about? I have no liberty and cannot pursue my dreams and if I do I will be put to death.”
On the other hand, if we told him that these are things he should have because it is morally right he would then quit looking at us as if we were out of our minds and agree.
The two ways of looking at Jefferson’s words are quite easy to understand and shouldn’t be the cause of misunderstandings and no matter how you look at the life liberty and the pursuit of happiness all spring from the eternal principle of Decision. Light exists eternally also but we are not always basking in it nor is it always available. Do you have a right to light if you are in the dark with no flashlight? This idea doesn’t make sense even though light is always in existence.
Larry: Legal rights come from the government, who created statutes. The rights that enable and create government come from We the People, who created the government. Didn’t I make that clear?
JJ This was never not clear.
Larry: Can you say that all the “rights” we get from government are really eternal words that don’t pass away?
JJ They are part of the eternal struggle and are all associated with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am happier when the state lets me go 70 MPH rather than just 60 MPH. Larry: Of course not. In the context of government, what is the difference then between a right and a privilege?
JJ I do not care. I’ll go with whatever you pick from the dictionary.
Larry: Imagine this scene, which takes place in our court rooms every single day. The plaintiff talks about rights, thinking of principles and eternal rights from God, while the judge and all the attorneys present are thinking privilege. Do you think they will communicate well? No. Why not? Because the poor guy is ignorant that creators create rights and that the several definitions of rights depend upon their origin. Am I right about this?
JJ Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness did not have a creator for they are based on eternal principles and have never had a beginning. We can’t say they are defined by their creator for they had no creator. Even God would not exist without them. We are eternally seeking to enhance our lives, our liberty and pursue those things that bring us happiness and joy.
We are endowed by our creator with the impulse to seek to secure the physical right to pursue these things.
This knowledge is helpful in an individual life, but it won’t do you much good in a courtroom and it doesn’t have much to do with the first point as to whether Obama’s action was legal.
Somehow various definitions of rights got injected into the conversation. The question was quite simple. It was supposed to be dealing with the legality of taking out Awlaki and any rights discussed should have dealt with legal ones originating from this country.
We have yet to discuss the morality of the situation as a group – even though some individuals have.
Oct 28, 2011
The Two Definitions
Wow, Larry, instead of clarifying what rights are I think you are covering so many details that the discussion is just making people’s heads spin with little additional light filtering in.
You talk of eternal principles being associated with moral idealistic rights. Well, eternal principles are behind everything we do if we trace then back to the source. If I jump up and down in anger on my TV remote eternal principles are involved. If I go to court and am subject to arbitrary rights and privileges eternal principles are also involved. Eternal principles are involved in everything. Scratching your armpit can be traced back to them.
I do not see this rights conversation as having much conflict between us (some misunderstanding of communication perhaps). Instead we come down to two different basic ways of defining rights.
First there is a right as expressed in the Declaration of independence. I think “Right” was the correct word to use to create an inspiring document but I think the use there has caused some confusion. The confusion would have been minimized if he had said this more accurate statement instead:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable just desires that must be made secure, that among these are the desire for a secure Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Writing the document this way would have been more technically correct and would have avoided some confusion such as we have had here, but it wouldn’t have had the impact.
As it is there are two basic uses of the word caused by two ways of defining it.
(1) That which one has a moral claim or desire to have or express.
(2) That which one has power to do which is in harmony with the laws of the land in which he lives and those who have any authority over his actions.
Thus according to #1 the North Koreans have the right to free speech, but few would use this definition in relation to them and express it this way.
According to Definition Two they do not have the right to free speech.
Thus in our argument Blayne only used Definition One and claimed the North Koreans have the right to free speech whereas I used Definition Two and claimed they did not.
During our argument I attempted to get Blayne to recognize and use Definition Two so we could be on the same page, as that is what determines the technical legality of Obama’s actions.
I understood Blayne’s use of Definition One but it was not applicable to the discussion. I know he thinks it is, and from an esoteric point of view it may be, but for practically determining legality we must use Definition Two.
Copyright 2011 by J J Dewey
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