You Have a Basic Right to Read This Blog

If you’re looking for a new reductio ad absurdum of the modern conception of human rights, you can find it right here: Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, maintains that “access to the Web is now a human right.”

The modern conception of human rights runs along these lines: if a large number of people have X, would hate to have to do without X, and feel guilty about the fact that other people have to do without X, then having X must be a human right and governments across the globe must be enlisted to ensure that everybody gets X.

Of course, rights imply duties: if you have a right to X then someone somewhere must have a duty to ensure that you get X. So whose duty is it to ensure that everyone gets access to the World Wide Web? Presumably those who end up being forced to pay for it. No prizes for guessing who that will be!

In any case, if this is how human rights arise, why stop at access to the Web? Why not a human right to air conditioning, or to freshly ground coffee, or to live classical music? Remember, you heard it here first.

11 Responses to You Have a Basic Right to Read This Blog

  1. James misses the point. The trees have gotten in the way of his forest. While the founding documents of the USA are not inspired of God, they emphasize certain principles which are not antagonistic to Scripture. Among these principles is the issue of Liberty. Liberty encompasses nearly every one of the Ten Commandments. But, relative to the right of access to the Web, is the issue of communication via any and every medium. Should freedom of speech, to use the language of the Bill of Rights, be limited to public communication? or only to private communication? The Bible says to “herald” the good news. That requires the ability and freedom to communicate.

    • pastorvon,

      I think you’re confusing apples and oranges: rights as freedoms and rights as provisions. I agree, of course, that we should have the freedom to use any and every medium of communication. But it doesn’t follow that everyone should be provided with any and every medium of communication, esp. at others’ expense. (If I’m wrong about this, just tell me where I can collect my iPhone 4.) What Berners-Lee is suggesting goes far beyond the rights you endorse above.

      The notion of rights held by the Founding Fathers was basically a Lockean one. But Locke would be appalled by the ever-growing list of benefits that are claimed as “human rights” today.

  2. James, I’m waiting for them to give everyone the right to access every philosophy and religion journal article, as well as the stock of books at Amazon.com. JSTOR access is human right!

  3. James:

    So, you are switching horses in mid-stream. Where in your first post did you differentiate rights?

    • pastorvon,

      He didn’t differentiate between those two kinds of rights in his OP because at the time there was no need to do so. The need only arose when you misunderstood his OP.

      Unfortunately, it now seems you’re having a tough time understanding both the OP and his subsequent reply to you. I don’t know why that would be. They seem pretty darn clear to me. Maybe you should re-read everything more carefully.

    • pastorvon,

      So, you are switching horses in mid-stream.

      Not exactly. I’m pointing out that you rode your own horse into the middle of my stream. :)

  4. I believe that James missed TBL’s OP. I would contend that TBL is saying simply that the WWW is just another manifestation of the “Press,” a specific example of a general right. Now, while the freedoms/rights expressed in our national founders’ documents may have a connection to Lockean philosophy, they are ultimately grounded within the habit of faith. They are therefore simply a human application of God’s Law relative to man to man relations.

    On the other hand, I would not be in total agreement with TBL simply because of his socialistic solution of government intervention. But that error does not invalidate mans’ freedoms.

  5. Pastorvon,

    Now you have managed to show not only that you didn’t understand James’ post, but you also don’t understand TBL’s.

    “In a speech at an MIT symposium, Berners-Lee compared access to the Web with access to water. While access to water is a more fundamental right, because people simply cannot survive without it, Web access should be seen as a right, too, because anyone who lacks Web access will fall behind their more connected peers.

    “Access to the Web is now a human right,” he said. “It’s possible to live without the Web. It’s not possible to live without water. But if you’ve got water, then the difference between somebody who is connected to the Web and is part of the information society, and someone who (is not) is growing bigger and bigger.”

  6. James & Paul

    DO I have to say that I disagree with the both of you?

    I disagree with the both of you.

  7. What’s that you said? A right to freshly ground coffee?

    That’s one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard!

  8. Sorry, I can’t quite get to the argument yet. I’m still stuck on Tim Berners-Lee as the creator of the WWW. Didn’t he pirate this from Al Gore? :)