A number of respected writers have spent far more time than I examining this topic and expounding their thoughts clearer than I have the ability to do. That said, I hope that I can add something to the discussion that’s worth reading.
I will be blunt in this; My intention is to take three common terms and twist them into the same origin without damaging their individual aspects. They are instinct, natural law, and rights.
I’ve had the opportunity in the last few years to observe common yard animals interacting in various situations and I have come to the conclusion that all animals that interact with other animals are governed by natural social laws. I believe these laws are specific to each type of animal. That is to say, the laws that govern the social habits of the squirrel are in no way binding to the hawk. It is therefore imposable for the squirrel to infringe on the rights of the hawk. And it’s foolish to judge the actions of the hawk by pointing out the instincts of the squirrel. Often confused humans attempt to bestow human rights on specific animals, but not only is it illogical it’s unnecessary. So take a moment and read these comparisons of some common animals.
The Common Tree Squirrel of Western Ohio:
I find squirrels are governed by a far more complex set of natural laws than I previously thought. For example, the gender of the squirrel has little or nothing to do with the size and strength of the squirrel so they display a true equality between the sexes. Although the male pursues the female in the courtship and may use enticements to win fair maiden, the female has absolute veto rights. Any male who attempts to override this right risks a nasty fight and, although sparing is common among squirrels, true fights are rare because of the risk of serious injury. Non-mating squirrels rarely allow another squirrel to come closer than a body lengths distance during regular daily activities. Yet when the weather turns bad or on a cold night, a group will snuggle up in a ball and keep each other warm and safe. They adhere to a social hierarchy that is difficult to observe do to the similar appearance of each squirrel, however identification doesn’t seem to be a problem for the squirrels themselves. They maintain a wide network of communication and are quick to give verbal and visual alerts as any danger is perceived.
They also have an efficient method of passing an alert around a wide geographic area, depending on the nature of the threat. But when a food source is discovered the individual squirrel has no obligation to any other squirrel to share the discovery. However a single male can be observed leading a female to a food source in order to win her favors. Squirrels are astute observers of other squirrels and have no moral objection to burglarizing the stash of any other squirrel thereby showing no regard for the property or social status of the individual. Oddly enough, I have never observed a direct assault style robbery of a weaker squirrel by a dominate squirrel. Lastly, I have never observed a squirrel fight directly involving more than two squirrels. In other words, I have never seen two or more squirrels join to attack a single squirrel. And I have never seen a squirrel kill another squirrel.
Wrens and Sparrows of Western Ohio:
The wrens and sparrows in my yard nest, roost, and feed together and, other than mating, don’t seem to discriminate among themselves. They don’t seem to notice the doves that walk around them and I have even observed a starling that had been ostracized from the local starling flock, accepted socially among these little tweety birds. I have not been able to distinguish any hierarchy. If they’re feeding in the lawn or at a bird feeder they seem to share the watch duty and the feeding rights equally. However, if I chop up bread and pile it on my driveway they will prefer stealing directly from the beak of another bird rather than picking up a chunk of bread that is at their feet. When such a robbery takes place no bird involved seems even the slightest put off over it. However, for reasons I can’t grasp, capitol punishment is common among them. I have been unable to determine what infraction prompts the punishment but, as if on signal, the flock will violently fall upon a single bird and kill it. I conclude, the individual bird has no right in property, even the property of its own life.
The Blue Jay of Western Ohio:
I have found the blue jay to be amazingly communal and yet fiercely territorial with a sense of private property. If one jay discovers a food source, say peanuts that I have thrown out for them, he is expected to clearly and loudly announce his find. He is not to partake of his find until he hears the acknowledgment of his fellows in the distance. And yet, I have observed individual Jays that cheat on this rule. Additionally the individual Jay will fight for his own peanut. Lastly, though I have seen Jays fight, I have never seen them gang up on one Jay or kill a fellow Jay. I conclude by this that Blue Jays have property rights of a sort unique to Blue Jays.
Lastly, lets talk about dogs and cats;
Dogs are domesticated wolves. Wolves, that we have chosen for a variety of reasons, selectively bread and cross bread to obtain exactly the kind of companion we want. Bread to have more puppy like characteristics than mature wolves, in the size, shape, and color that appeals to us. A dog is, over generations, made more and more dependent on his master for food, housing, warmth, grooming, and security, yet maintaining an adherence to the wolves’ natural law of the pack that endears it to us and us to it.
Cats, of course, are vastly different from dogs and lack entirely natural pack tendencies. But remember, if a domesticated cat or dog kills one of the squirrels or the birds listed above we would never think for a moment that the dog or cat had violated any law or committed any sin. They simply obeyed a natural instinct. No rights were violated! On the topic of property, both dogs and cats display a clear understanding of their rights. In territory, objects, and their own bodies, property rights could be called “fully developed” in both kinds of animals.
I could go on and on with this topic and not get to my point, so allow me to sum up.
Each and every one of these groups of animals have strict natural laws that govern their behavior. These laws are not written down. They are not voted on. There is no elite nor elect establishing law and jurisdiction. There is no enforcement squad with special colored feathers or fur. Their own respective laws are collectively enforced by the community while never violating the rights of the individual. It is as if there is an invisible hand, guiding their interactions. Additionally, if these different groups of animals were to act against their natural instincts they would, in all likelihood, not survive.
If we then can see that each kind of animal is governed by natural inherent laws unique to their group and that their survival is guided by and dependent upon these instinctual laws, then we must assume that we humans are likewise bound by natural laws unique to us. Laws that exist simply because we exist and that they must be embedded instinctively in us individually. These laws must then be inalienable to humans. They exist whether written or not. They are not dependent upon election. They don’t require authorization by some authority. They are because we are! And by their nature and origin, they supersede all restrictions and standards of behavior created by a single human or a group of humans no matter the intent or purpose of the group or individual!
Some have famously stated that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but of course we understand that is quite the understatement and merely a simple overview not intended as all inclusive. The modern libertarian bases his world view upon these natural rights and laws.
At times, conversation with individuals who are not as familiar with these concepts has caused confusion. Someone may believe they have a right to this or that when in fact no principle for such a right exists. Someone else may insist this or that is against the law by referring to an agreement by persons in a far away city. Someone else may even quote words written on paper as proof of a particular right, when in fact writing words on a paper has no power to instill a right or make a law. Under different circumstances a libertarian may insist they have the right to own such and such or the right to do this or that or go here or there unhampered while the less informed insists that its not lawful. This confusion comes from people who hold opposing world views while using the same words to describe very different things.
For the libertarian, law and rights can be summed up thusly; I have a right to own property. No one can lawfully use force or fraud to take my property. My property consists of that which I was born with (my life and my body), and that which I have been given as a gift, obtained through trade, or obtained through homestead. I am bound by law to respect the property rights of others if I am to expect others to respect my rights. If I violate the rights of others I should expect to compensate the person or persons that I have harmed. If my actions have not infringed upon the rights of someone else, I have not broken the law.
The libertarian views this as natural law and views all agreements, arrangements, and enforcements outside of natural law to be lesser or completely lacking justification. A person who doesn’t accept natural law or doesn’t accept it completely, will in all likelihood recognize law as being that which the State decides upon and enforces. This is a fundamental difference in philosophy so profound that it has the power to drive a wedge between the proponents of these opposing views.
A great example of the difference in philosophy is the current debate over marijuana.
Some will say that this weed must never be legalized! It is harmful and leads to all kinds of bad things. It causes the breakdown of family units and promotes dangerous behavior.
Some will say this plant should be legalized. They announce its positive uses, its relative harmless effects, and they compare it to substances already allowed by the State such as beer or aspirin. They will bring up the fact that if it were decriminalized, violent gangs would be denied hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue and additional millions would be saved by law enforcement and the jails. The plant could be taxed like tobacco and regulated just like rum or prescription pain relievers.
Both these arguments assume the State is the source of law. They may both have valid points, but the heart of their stand is based on the premise that the State has not only the right but the responsibility to decide what a person can do with their property. Therefore the right of property is not the right of the individual, it is the right of the State, or at best a group of other people.
Now please don’t get me wrong. Some libertarians including myself, make the statist argument when debating a statist. Often the statist will never be converted to liberty and the only argument they will ever understand is one based on their own statist philosophy. In the Bible story of Paul converting Greeks to Christianity, he went to their temple and expounded to them the gospel of the “unknown god”. Even though he was a trained rabbi, he didn’t condemn them for idolatry and demand they rip down their temples and obey the Ten Commandments. He utilized their belief system, already in place, to show them that a vast leap of faith was not needed. If they just took one step at a time they could reach Christianity. Paul only sought to change individuals in the Greco/Roman world, but in doing so he was planting the seeds of destruction of the empire itself. Lovers of liberty must do the same. We must bring the concepts of liberty to a statist society in a non-threatening way, even though liberty threatens the State right to its core.
So each and every Son and Daughter of Liberty can look to a tree or a bird feeder and observe natural law and individual rights being guided by the invisible hand. Then with a small step of faith we can understand that simple transactions between people are guided by that same hand in a way instinctual to all people. We can see that within our very nature resides the law that governs us. If we step further along this path we can begin to understand that if we interfere with those natural rights and laws with man made laws and rights, we threaten our future and our survival. And if you’re still with me on this path, its not hard to understand that almost every threat humans face today is a result, on some level, of the abandonment of natural law for the embrace of man made law. When we prefer the narcotic of the State to a field of wild poppies we numb ourselves until we no longer remember who we are or where we were going.