09 Aug “People Don’t Deserve Anything”
I saw this expressed online by a Republican recently. I can’t recall what the exact topic was (it was probably related to healthcare), but I’m not sure it matters since this seems to be a basic tenet of conservative ideology.
Obviously this statement is ridiculous if you actually believe, or have even read, the Bill of Rights. According to that founding document of ours we all deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There are a lot of other items mentioned in that document which referred to acts of the King of England that the Founding Fathers did not agree with. They seemed to believe that people are deserving of certain things. So the real issue is how we define life, liberty, and he pursuit of happiness.
In my opinion, a central problem with conservative thought is on the issue of business rights. Business rights aren’t inalienable like the right to speech or religion. Business, or commerce, rights are societal agreements and apply to interactions. My personal religious practices, as long as they don’t involve others, have no effect on other people. My personal television viewing choices don’t effect other people that much, though it could be argued that even that choice does affect the people who make the show I’m watching. Usually that effect is collective though, a show’s continuation is based on whether or not people are watching it, so singular personal choice has such a small consequence that it’s a large stretch to say I’m harming anyone by my choice of watching or not watching.
On the other hand, my business actions do affect others because commerce is a series of personal interactions. If I have employees, my rights don’t supersede their rights. It’s up to me to decide how the business should proceed, but my employees are not my property. They are people with which I am in an agreement. I agree to pay them to take care of certain responsibilities, and they agree to carry out those duties in exchange for that payment.
The basis of how I choose the people I employ, if I have a large corporation that hires and fires hundreds or even thousands of people, affects the society. When that is the case my personal rights don’t outweigh the rights of the community. If I have prejudicial standards on who to employ and society decides that those prejudicial standards are wrong, and I have to change my standards, my rights are not violated.
My wealth and the fact that I have a company is due only to the system of commerce the society allows to operate. Whatever rules, standards, and fees the society decides upon don’t necessarily negate my personal rights. I still have the right to argue what I think the standards should be, and if I do have a large corporation odds are I have lots of dollars that allow my opinion to be amplified in a way that most do not.
I use the example of business to illustrate a few things. Mainly that conservatives often argue that business leaders have lots of rights and the government (the people) should not restrict those rights. In other words, they argue that business leaders deserve something. Quite often that they deserve lots of something(s). Non-business leaders on the other hand (regular people, employees, etc.) “don’t deserve anything”. It’s like a selective Bill of Rights, which, when you think about it, is actually a kind of Anti-Bill of Rights.
And now a quote:
All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.
-Benjamin Franklin to Robert Morris, December 25, 1783
“The Fruits of My Labor”
This is another refrain I recently saw from a conservative. It usually comes up with the subject of taxes, and specifically I’ve seen it used in a conversation involving taxing uber-wealthy individuals more. This idea of owning what we earn runs deep. We all believe we deserve something, even if we say no one deserves anything, though what we believe we deserve differs.
The concept of the fruits of our labor is interesting when brought up as a defense against paying taxes. As I alluded to above, without society there are no fruits of labor outside of the internal pleasure we may get from finishing something. In fact, the “fruits” in that statement are specifically referencing the monetary rewards received from our labor. The fruits exist only because of the interactions occurring in the system of commerce within a society.
We could also argue about what constitutes labor. Owners of large corporations, and those who make money on the stock market, arguably don’t do much in the way of labor, yet their fruits are disproportionally enormous. But even with the wide differences of opinion on what constitutes fruits, what constitutes labor, and what portion of said fruits it is reasonable to tax, there should be no disputing the fact that there is something owed to the society which sustains a foundation for the bearing of said fruits.
In Buddhism there is the concept of generosity. Generosity doesn’t mean giving when it’s convenient, or giving what you no longer want or can easily do without. In Buddhism it means not being so attached to any material thing that you’re unwilling to part with it, or are even willing to harm others because of your attachment to that thing. This idea more generally means being aware of our interconnectedness.
If you look at any item in your home you can track numerous hands that have been part of creating that thing. You may have paid for the clothes on your body, but tens or dozens of people have had some part in creating them, moving them to the place you purchased them, marketing them so you knew they existed, and so on. If thinking of all the effort that has gone into making it possible for you to eat and be clothed doesn’t make you a little humble, then you may want to seek counseling. If you believe that the money you spent on something means you don’t have to appreciate the effort that was put into making it, or the society which permits the stability for people to create things, you may want to seek counseling.
We are all in this together, or we’re all at each others throats. And there are too many people I see express sentiments that they are willing to be at another person’s throat because they hold their “fruits” way too closely.
The preceding quote by Ben Franklin is one of my favorites. Franklin was an inventive genius, a womanizer by certain accounts (which gives him negative points for sure), but mostly he believed in individual liberty and the equality of all. Now his belief was in the equality of white males (though he did believe women should be educated), and called Native Americans savages, but his revolutionary, and in my opinion enlightened, view was that no man was above the law.
The King’s Proprietors in the colonies regularly excluded themselves from paying taxes passed by the colonial Assemblies. This was one of the main grievances Franklin had with the crown. In Franklin’s view no person was above paying their share for the good of the society.
No one has a right to exclude themselves, and everyone has a duty to pay according to their means for a stable civilization which provides opportunities for all. Even if you feel that taxes are forceable generosity, none of us has a right to exclude ourselves. We have the right to argue for our viewpoint, to make reasonable explanations for what we think is fair, but we have no right to exclude ourselves based on our feelings or beliefs.
So how to bring this back to the idea of what people deserve, and how does this relate to anything “yoga”. Yoga, in my opinion, is very related to the Age of Enlightenment which our Bill of Rights is a product. Seeing things as they are; interrelated, not always simple. Acknowledging ethical rules which are expressed in yogic philosophy, of nonviolence, mutual respect, generosity, and unselfishness, as the basis for a free and just society. At its core yoga is about liberation, or freedom. It’s not a freedom from responsibility toward society, it’s a freedom from the bondage of rationalization which stems from selfish greed that says “I deserve everything, and others deserve nothing”.