I have a basic philosophy that comes up in conversation quite a bit. I find it very useful to understand how rights in a civil society could be balanced using a simple refrain. It goes like this:
My rights end where yours begin.
This statement, if applied universally to all, leads to much clearer boundaries between people in society. I like to imagine the sphere of rights afforded each of us as small bubbles, pressed together like an n-dimensional foam. We all butt up against others, and others us, but none of us intrudes upon one another.
So, while I have the right to believe that a golden monkey rules existence, I don’t have the right to force your belief (or appearance of belief) in the same.
I sometimes extend this further.
You have the right to believe in murder as a fun thing to do. You even have the right to commit murder, I suppose. But others have a right not be be murdered. Since exercising your desired right to murder would infringe other’s right not to be murdered, you aren’t allowed to kill people. You are allowed to believe it’s OK to do so, but you don’t get to actually do it. (This does lend a different moral perspective to the occasional, and usually sensational stories of willing victims of murder.)
So then things get complicated.
Which right is to be protected more, the right to murder or the right to live? The right to believe in a deity or the right to live without such encumbrances? The right to a basic, living wage or the right to vast sums of wealth?
It seems there is no answer to this without a sense of just what we consider basic human rights, enumerations of which have been plentiful over existence, but meaningful application in society always seems to fall short.
But if we can come to consensus on what protected rights should be, I think my concept is useful for better understanding the limits of an individual’s rights.