Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

New Orleans has just been washed out by Hurricane Katrina. On television, numerous images of people who have lost everything. On the radio, an interview with an insurance executive who pointed out that many people never bother to purchase federal flood insurance (flooding is a risk not covered by normal homeowners policies), which is, in any event, capped at $250,000. I was interested to note that the executive blamed global warming for the proliferation of severe storms in recent years. The conservative radio host--it was Fox Radio--seemed eager to steer him away from this, onto the topic of people choosing to builds their homes below or right at sea level. He mentioned that aerial photos of barrier islands from a few decades ago, compared with those of today, establish just how much of this kind of development there has been in recent years. Hovering just behind all this is the question, raised by environmental groups after other hurricanes, whether it is prudent for the government to aid people in rebuilding homes that are exposed to destruction from hurricanes or beach erosion.

I watched TV and listened to the radio in my home in Amagansett, New York, on a narrow spit of land (less than a mile wide) between the bay and the ocean. Another storm just a little worse than the one which hit the East End in 1938 could make Montauk an island again, as it was in recent geological time.

Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will do so. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

In your essay titled Natural Rights Don't Exist, you issue the following challenge, "But I challenge anyone who believes there is a natural right of self defense to explain to me why there is no right of rape." I submit my effort to meet your challenge.

You are correct in your conclusion that neither Hobbes nor Locke logically supported their contention that humans have natural rights. But the fact that neither Hobbes nor Locke proved the existence of natural rights does not lead to the conclusion that natural rights don't exist. Hobbes used human abilities as his key to the discovery of human rights, i.e., if a person can do it, he or she has the right to do it. Wrong key.

Locke used reason as his key, which again proved wrong. If you look at some of the absurd and nonsensical man-made laws and other conclusions propagated by so-called reason, you can readily understand why this would be the wrong key. Though all persons have the capacity to reason, not all can reason well and no one can reason correctly all the time.

The key to discovering natural human rights is evolution, a key not available to either Hobbes or Locke, for the concept of evolution was not known during their lifetimes. The discovery of natural human rights, should they exist, requires an examination of certain evolved qualities, or traits, shared by all humans and the consequences of these traits and their interactions.

Had Locke been in possession of such knowledge, instead of stating "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one; and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions...", he may have stated something to the effect that "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one; and evolution, which is that law, has equipped each person with certain traits common to all, some of which operate to produce certain natural rights, while others operate to restrain the violation of these rights.", and proceeded to support this contention.

The mechanics of evolution effect both a creative process and a legislative process. The mechanics of evolution effect the creative process by governing the total package of genes to be carried by each species of plants and animals. This total package of genes expresses traits which in turn govern, among other things, the type and range of actions of which each species is capable. The mechanics of evolution effect a legislative process by including in the total package of genes some which express traits mandating certain actions and some which express traits restraining (prohibiting) certain actions.

The body of genes which expresses traits mandating or restraining certain human actions is analogous to a body of human legislators which enacts statutes mandating or prohibiting certain human actions. The traits expressed by this body of genes are analogous to the statutes enacted by the legislative body, in that both fulfill the same function, i.e., mandating or restraining certain human actions, for the same basic purpose, i.e., mandating actions beneficial to the survival of humans and restraining actions detrimental to their survival. To hold that a legislative body of humans can create human rights by enacting statutes, but that a body of genes which essentially fulfills the same function and purpose as the legislative body of humans, through the expression of traits, and has been doing so for millions of years longer, cannot, seems to me more than a mite disingenuous and without merit.

Some might counter this assertion by the argument that only the concscious human mind can legislate human rights, thus there can be no such thing as natural rights, whether created by "genetic legislation" or in any other manner. This argument has no merit. Nature is, among other things, the process by which all things in the universe are created, including the human mind and all things which it creates. Therefor, all human rights enacted by humans are the creations of nature and must therefor be characterized as natural rights. The question then becomes, not whether natural rights do or do not exist, but whether natural rights can only be generated by the conscious human mind or whether they can be generated in some other manner, such as genetic legislation, as I assert.

Nature creates all of the rules governing the universe, and each part of it. Humans only discover these rules. If nature has made a rule governing humans, and humans enact a law in contradiction to nature's rule, the human made law is invalid.

Using your definition of a right, "A right can be defined as a rule which protects you in taking an action and prevents me from interfering with it.", as a guide, I will illustrate an exemplar of the creation of a primordial natural right at the molecular level of DNA, the very hub of evolution.

DNA is a long-string molecule composed of four nucleotides commonly denoted as A,C,G and T. Genes, human and otherwise, are composed of differing sequences of these nucleotides located at various positions lengthwise on the DNA molecule. Chromosomes, which carry all of the genes within the nucleus of the cell, are composed of two combined strings of DNA, one string derived from each parent. In the process of combining, A always pairs with T, and C always pairs with G. Each A on each string is protected in taking the action of combining with a T on the other string because each A, C and G on both strings is prevented, by its chemical nature and the double helix structure of chromosomes, from combining with an A on the pairing string. In that each A is protected in taking the action of combining with a T on the pairing string, and each A, C and G on the pairing string is prevented from interfering with this action, each A can be characterized as having the natural right to combine with a T on the pairing string. A similar natural right can be derived for each C, G and T. This is but a paradigm of a primordial natural right, but it could serve as the prototype of a manner of creating natural rights at higher levels of human existence.

Viewed from another perspective, each A could be characterized as being under an obligation, or duty, to combine with a T on the pairing string. Since the imposition or delegation of a duty always infers the grant or assignment of rights sufficient to fulfill the duty, the existence of such duty would infer the natural right previously illustrated.

Let us now examine a higher level of human existence, namely, the traits expressed by our genes, to see if we can discover the creation of natural rights at this level.

Evolution has fashioned humans as multicellular animals within a single body whose individual cells electrically and chemically communicate with each other in such a manner that the aggregate of cells operates as a single living organism, which we characterize as a "person". This observation is so rudimentary and obvious that it may appear to be trivial. It is not, for this evolutionary trait obligates each human to be the sole possessor, user and controller of all of the physical, physiological and mental functions and capabilities of his or her person, and it is this obligation that forms the basis of individual natural rights. This obligation cannot be shared with, assigned to or assumed by any other person, for the physical laws of the universe prohibit any person from entering, possessing and controlling, in the manner of the demon in "The Exorcist", any other person.

All animals which are evolutionarily successful must have an innate drive to survive, or will to live. An animal without such a drive or will would be survival apathetic ab initio and immediately sifted out of the evolutionary stream. Since humans and their immediate evolutionary predecessors have existedfor several million years, it is obvious that nature, through the process of evolution, has endowed each human with the trait commonly known as the will to live. This will to live compels each person to continue the possession, use and control of his or her person, i.e., compels each person to continue his or her existence in sole possession, use and control of his or her person. In short, It compels every person to maintain his or her existence as a living organism.

Since each person is not only obligated, but compelled by nature to be, and continue to be, the sole possessor, user and controller of all of his or her physical, physiological and mental functions and capabilities it can logically be held that nature, through the evolutionary process, has imposed upon each human the duty to do so.

From these facts we can adduce an argument in support of the contention that each human has certain natural rights, among them the right to possess, use and control his or her physical, physiological and mental functions and capabilities to the exclusion of all other persons, the right to maintain his or her existence as a living organism, the right to consent to or reject the action of any other person relative to the first two rights, and the right of self-defense.

This argument is based on the fact that the imposition of a duty requires the explicit or implicit grant, by the imposing entity, of sufficent rights to fulfill that duty. If nature can, and has, imposed upon me the duty of sole possessor, user and controller of all of my physical, physiological and mental functions and capabilities, and the duty to continue so to do, then by necessary implication nature can, and has, endowed me with the right to possess, use and control all of my physical, physiological and mental functions and capabilities to the exclusion of all other persons, together with the right to maintain my existence as a living organism. If I possess these rights, then by necessary implication nature has also endowed me with the natural right to consent to or reject the action of any other person bearing on the first two rights, together with the right to defend myself against the attack of any other human (or other entity) which threatens to render me less capable of maintaining my existence.

If I add a few more facts, I can then mount a second argument based on your definition of a right, i.e., "A right can be defined as a rule which protects you in taking an action and prevents me from interfering with it."

The will to live operates to produce a restraint against doing any act which may result in death or lower a person's ability to maintain his or her existence. Intentionally attacking another person with the perceived intent to render him or her less capable of surviving is such an act, for it may producea counter-attack resulting in the attacker being rendered less capable of maintaining his or her existence, or even death. Therefor, the will to live operates as a restraint against violating the natural right of another to maintain his or her existence. I characterize this restraint as the endangerment restraint.

Humans have evolved to become social animals. Social animals have evolved the innate trait of affinity for other members of their species which urges them to establish bonds with such other members and facilitates such bonding. This trait obviously operates as a restraint against violating the natural right of another to maintain his or her existence and against violating the natural right of another to consent to or reject a proposed action affecting his or her person, for such violative acts are not consonant with the innate trait of affinity. I characterize this restraint as the affinity restraint.

The endangerment and affinity restraints are not absolute preventatives against your interference with my actions, for they can be suppressed or overridden. But so can all human-made laws designed to create a right by making a rule which (purportedly) protects me in taking an action and (purportedly) prevents you from interfering with it. I would suggest that your definition of a right requires modification to "a rule which attempts to protect me in taking an action and restrain you from interfering with it."

Nature has created rules designed to attempt to protect me in taking actions incident to my ability to possess, use and control my physical, physiological and mental functions and capabilities and to restrain you from interfering with these actions by
1. making it impossible for you to acquire or assume this ability, and
2. creating the innate endangerment and affinity restraints which operate to restrain you from otherwise interfering with my actions.

I therefor contend that by creating these rules, nature has endowed each person with the natural right to possess, use and control his or her physical, physiological and mental functions and capabilities to the exlusion of all other persons (the right to own yourself) and with the multitude of concomitant natural rights necessarily flowing therefrom, among which is the right of self defense and absent from which is any right of rape. Nature has created the natural right to own yourself.

In more specific response to your challenge, I submit the following.The right of self defense is really not a separate right, but rather a subclassification of the right to maintain one's existence (the right of life in the Declaration of Independence). The right to maintain one's existence can be divided into a number of actions and each classified as a right, such as the right to communicate, the right to eat, the right to sleep, etc., but this becomes tedious and really unnecessary. Some of these actions must be done daily, such as eating, some on an intermittent basis, such as seeking medical attention, and others may never be needed, but if needed are actions incident to the right to maintain one's existence. Actions necessary to defend oneself against the attack of another person are of the latter type. It's possible that some people may never be so attacked, while others are the subject of frequent attack. In any case, the right of self defense, as a right concomitant to the right to maintain one's existence, is most certainly a natural right.

It might be argued that the mandate to maintain one's existence does not trump the endangerment and affinity restraints. However, it is the action of the attacker which renders these restraints inoperable. The victim does not override them, by the action of the attacker they are rendered impotent. The attacker becomes, by his or her actions, firmly seated upon his or her own petard and is the proximate cause of any injury he or she might sustain.

The act of rape is an act lacking the consent of the victim and which may render the victim less able to maintain his or her existence. The force used to accomplish the act may do so, or it may result as a consequence of the act, such as debilitating psychological trauma (perhaps even resulting in suicide) or the transmission of a life-threatening STD. Thus, such an act is in violation of the victim's right to maintain his or her existence and in violation of his or her right to consent to or reject such an act. Therefor, the act is repugnant to the affinity restraint. Additionally, the act may also render the attacker less able to maintain his or her existence, either as a result of the struggle to commit the act, by debilitating psychological trauma induced in the rapist (not unknown) or by the transmission of a life-threatening STD from victim to rapist. Therefor, the act is also repugnant to the endangerment resraint. No act repugnant to either the endangerment restraint or the affinity restraint can be characterized as a natural right, just as no act repugnant to a man-made prohibition can be characterized as lawful. Therefor, no right of rape can ever be established under the prescriptive and/or proscriptive rules of natural rights as I have propounded and above illustrated.

The possibility occurs to me that both of the turtle mating events you related may not have been examples of rape, but examples of natural selection. It may be a trait of the turtle species you observed in Athens that the female will not consent to sex unless the male displays the level of his tenacity by continually pestering her until, satisfied that he meets her tenacity test, she signals her consent by withdrawing her head and limbs. Tenacity might be a trait prized by turtles and their cousins, the tortoises, for wasn't it really tenacity's triumph over speed that allowed the tortoise to achieve victory over the hare? The female turtles that you observed in the Galapagos may have been seeking the traits of tenacity and physical strength for their offspring. By climbing into the shallow water they were insuring that only the strongest and most tenacious of the males would be their mate.

In your essay you also questioned whether a right could be self-evident. This question leads to paths philosophical, a journey which to me is both tedious and fruitless. Whether natural human rights are self-evident, or whether they are created through nature by devine providence or random chance (the view to which I subscribe), both become irrelevant if natural rights do, in fact, exist. If they do exist, all of the principles of government set forth in the Declaration of Independence are true, for the latter principals evinced therein logically follow from the first. I find these principles to be:
1. That all persons are equally endowed by nature with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (the freedom to enhance one's feeling of well-being).
2. That government is an agency of the people instituted by the people for the purpose of securing to the people their natural rights (people create government, government does not create people).
3. That the only valid laws which can be enacted by government are those to which everyone of mature age can consent, and are allowed such consent or rejection (a logical conclusion flowing from the proposition that government devives its "just powers [to act in any manner, including the enactment of laws] from the consent of the governed."). The inferred criteria is not that everyone capable of consent must consent, but that everyone be capable of consent, and further, that everyone capable of such consent or rejection be allowed to consent to, or reject, either individually or through representative(s) duly elected by all such persons, any proposed law. So long as these criteria are met, less than unanimous consent of the governed body is sufficient to effect a valid law).
4. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of the principals elicited herein, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on the principles elicited herein, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect these principles.
5. By inference from the above listed principles, that sovereignty lies in the people.

Which begs the question, if these principles (premises) are true, and form the foundation of our government, are they incorporated in the U.S. Constitution in such manner that any law in contradiction to these principles is unconstitutional? If not, there is a chasm between what was promised by the Declaration of Independence and that which resulted.

I have developed arguments based on contract law in reference to the Declaration of Independence, and certain aspects of the constitution, which support the contention that they are so incorporated. If my arguments are valid, they lead to a new method of interpreting the constitution and the conclusions, among other things, that the death penalty is unconstitutional, that jailing or imprisoning anyone who is not a clear and present danger to others is unconstitutional, that both offensive and pre-emptive war (particularly since pre-emptive war is just a euphemism for offensive war) are unconstitutional, and that neither the federal government nor the states can invoke the doctrine of sovereign immunity (the inevitable result of the 11th Amendment to the Constitution) to preclude lawsuits against them by any citizen of the United States (sovereignty lies in the people, not the government). But those arguments lie outside the scope of this response to your essay. If time, energy and motivation allow, I hope someday to present these arguments in book form.


Jack Lobaugh

Dear Mr. Wallace:

RE: My Letter to the Wiesenthal Center.

This is to let you know that your above stated letter has been referenced in our website and linked to your webpage in our Sect. IV, point 9 at http://isurvived.org/TOC-IV.html#9

Best regards,


webmaster, The Holocaust Survivor's Network

Dear Jonathan:

Just wanted to say thank you about that article about Lying from the year 2000. I had recently got burnt by a best friend/business partener and I was trying to put my thoughts to paper about how I felt about it. I'm the last person that would buy a book on this matter but I came across your article online. It really helped me put a finger on where all my hate was comming from and it actually calmed me down quite a bit just knowing that other people like yourself see a bigger picture about lying. Anyway, don't wan't to talk your ear off, don't even know how I came across your article, but it made my day. SO thanks for your effort!

Shawn Mcpherson


Re An Auschwitz Alphabet.

I wanted to thank you for creating such a lasting and telling document. I have spent the better part of the day perusing this information and am discovering things I never heard of before.

My father was with the Canadian Army during the Second World War and had relayed many stories of the conditions during his time in Europe. I have long had a great interest in the Holocaust. I find great solace in reading about those that are remaining...the survivors. It fills me with great sadness when I read about how one race can be precieved by another. So much could have been done to change how history evolved, but few believed.

I am very greatful to have found your site and hope the messge it projects never disappears.My thought and prayers go out to those who still struggle to find some freedom from the 'demons' of the past.

thank you!!!

Chris Taylor

Dear Mr. Wallace,

I have just finished reading your excellent compilation, Auschwitz Alphabet and I thank you.

First, because it will be a fine point of departure for my students as we begin the reading of "Maus." I also much appreciate your point of view and have been struggling with how to approach the subjects with my students, many of whom have what I call a culturally bred cool remove from not only history, but more importantly it often seems, human compassion. So much that has been written about the Holocaust is as you allude, too neatly conclusive, sentimental without clarity, or, and I really like this point, used as a "credit card." The danger for me as a teacher is inadvertantly advancing one of those views. I feel that, in accordance with the story line of "Maus," an important idea is the difference between testimony and confession....there is a real tangle in the minds of my students between the two....they can't seem to let go of the idea that many first person accounts of the camps somehow indicate that people who felt guilty for surviving felt so because they were Jews. I am trying so hard to teach that testimony is what can have an impact.

If I seem a bit inarticulate, it is because I am struggling with wanting to teach well. In my own experience, as a young girl of seventeen, I was befriended by several elderly survivors who really made me the person I am. I feel a tremendous urgency to continue to acknowledge their suffering; out of a sense of justice and activism as much as love and gratitude.

If you are inclined and have the time, I would love to hear from you...perhaps a word of insight would help me continue to honor the legacy given to me from Max, Jacob, Eda, and Pauline.......

Thank you, Donna Bryan