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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Comedian expels myths on rights

    Jed Pressgrove is a graduate student in sociology. He can be contacted at [email protected].The American concept of rights could be summed up as a big misunderstanding. As comedian George Carlin explained Saturday in his latest HBO special, “It’s Bad for Ya,” rights are more like privileges. They’re not God-given, they’re not guaranteed by any document, they’re imaginary, and they’re all about controlling people.
    The intention of this article is to outline Carlin’s major points on rights for the benefit of all citizens. One may question why a comedian’s words are consulted to reveal any truth about rights, and my answer is an argument works if it works. The most unqualified person – as determined by subjective perspectives – can potentially shed light on issues normally relegated to experts. The argument is what matters, not the person who formulates it. Any suggestion to the contrary is misguided, close-minded and illogical.
    First, rights aren’t God-given. This claim may stand whether God truly exists or not. The point is he doesn’t give anyone rights. As Carlin points out, God forgets an awful lot if he is giving rights, such as leaving blacks to slavery with the first American Bill of Rights. Rights are given to us by governments, and they usually come forth by written agreements (e.g., the Constitution).
    Which leads me to the second point – rights aren’t guaranteed by any document. In fact, they depend on the interests of the government and various relationships between the government and its citizens. To illustrate the truth of this claim, Carlin instructed the audience to search for “Japanese Americans 1942” on wikipedia.org and simply read. These instructions will bring you to a page called “Japanese American internment.”
    It’s very disturbing. Throughout my educational career, I had never heard of America confining an entire racial group that was previously free to live. About 120,000 people of Japanese descent – with about 60 percent of this group being actual American citizens – were forced to leave the U.S. West Coast because they were Japanese. Whether they actually threatened America wasn’t considered. A small amount of these people (10,000) were able to move to places of their choosing within America, but the rest had to live in “War Relocation Centers.” This decision, approved by Franklin D. Roosevelt, was disgusting. It shows we only have rights as long as the government thinks it’s fine, legal documents be damned.
    Next, rights are imaginary. Carlin says it’s all make-believe. Indeed, there is nothing objective in the nature of Earth that suggests the existence of rights or the complete understanding of them by sentient or non-sentient life. As established in the second point, the “existence” of rights is determined by the relationship between the government and its citizens. Therefore, the concept of rights ensues from human manufacturing, not from an established observation (e.g., light arrives in the morning because the sun rises then).
    Lastly, rights are all about controlling people or, more specifically, how different governments control their respective citizens. I am not suggesting control is always a bad thing (although Carlin might). But this point becomes quite understandable when you consider rights vary by government. Some countries have numerous rights, others offer few rights, some lack rights altogether. This means governments have differing ideas regarding how much a citizen should be able to get away with.
    These four points lead to one conclusion – we have privileges. We can do certain things as long as the government allows them. Ironically, humankind has spent exorbitant time sweating out the definitions of various rights, yet in practice – as long as rights depend on governments – these concepts cannot logically be considered rights in the pure sense, only privileges to citizens.

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    Comedian expels myths on rights