“I believe universal healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”—Hillary Clinton I really don't understand this point of view. The notion that we have a right to healthcare ignores two universal truths of the human condition—we all must fend for ourselves and nobody owes anybody a damn thing. This is not to say I'm against universal healthcare, per se. Like everything else in the world, the concept has its pros and cons. But they have nothing to do with whether healthcare is a right or a privilege.
I have long been curious about this concept and have long pondered what, exactly, is the difference between right and privilege, and who, exactly, gets to decide who gets which?
On the surface, the difference seems cut and dry enough: A right is something that can't be taken away from you, and a privilege is something that can. The problem with this distinction, however, is that people's rights are routinely stripped. Take the right to vote, for instance, which is suspended if you commit a felony, and the right to free speech and free assembly—they've all, for better or worse, been taken from various individuals at various times throughout history.
The point is that there are no true rights or privileges, just an interminable debate raging every day among millions of people, on the streets, on the talk shows and in the courtrooms. And when you boil all those arguments down, you realize that what people are really saying is, “I have rights. You have privileges.”
Take, for example, the recent controversy surrounding drinking on the beach.
If you own beachfront property in San Diego, then you are likely to believe that drinking beer on the beach is a privilege (which should be revoked). But, if you are a beer-drinking inlander who likes to crack a coldy on the beach from time to time, you probably believe that drinking on the beach is your right.
Ditto cigarettes and bars. Most smokers I know believe they have a right to smoke inside the bar, and that it is the non-smokers' privilege to be there. Non-smokers mostly believe the reverse is true. And the funny thing is, nobody's wrong. Because rights and privilege are in the eye of the beholder.
This is why I believe that in order to have an intelligent, productive dialogue about such matters, we should let go of our rigid understanding of the concept of rights and admit that it's all just part of the delicate balancing act between the needs of the individual and the needs of the society, and then decide each on a case-by-case basis.
The only problem then becomes who gets to decide? Who can we trust to make such important decisions about our overall freedoms? It seems to me that we only have three options: Our government, our god or ourselves—and I don't like any of them.
Our government is a bad choice because government is hardly unbiased. To declare something a “privilege” gives the government a bypass around the Constitution, thereby granting it more and better power. Take the so-called “privilege” to drive an automobile, which enables the police to slap on the cuffs, impound your car, force intrusive testing on you and toss you in the drunk tank (read: jail) without so much as a phone call to a lawyer.
I'm not even arguing this a bad thing. Maybe the drunk-driving problem is so horrible that we need this kind of autocracy on the roads. I'm just saying, either way, it's not a good idea to let big brother decide.
Our God is also a bad choice because he's too busy. To believe in this notion of “God-given rights” is to believe that we are somehow more special than we actually are—that God cares more about us than it does, say, a worm, or a puddle. This is highly unlikely. The universe is a single entity. That's why they call it uni. There is no such thing as “more important” in the grand scheme of the universe. It's a thought so scary that we make up stories about a supreme being that grants us special rights because it likes us best. But, really, God doesn't care about our issues any more than he cares when a worm gets a hernia.
Finally, letting ourselves choose our own rights and privileges would be anarchy. Before you know it, people'll be declaring their right to eat grapes off the produce shelves. People are constantly thinking the world owes them stuff, and if it were up to the individual, everything'd be declared a goddamn right. Like healthcare. You do not have a right to healthcare any more than you have a right to be healthy. The healthcare industry isn't some conglomerate of robots waiting around to do our bidding. The industry is composed of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, accountants, janitors and parking attendants. These people have sole propriety over their labor, and neither you nor I may stake claim to it.
So the question remains, who gets to decide, if not God, the government or the people? There can be only one other option. Me! That's right, I will be the decider. Thanks for asking. It'd be my privilege to compile a list of rights and privileges. It will be the best damn list you ever saw. And I promise not to factor in my own personal desires, only what is right and good for everybody. I'll even get started right now, with some of the important stuff.
Free speech = right. Free press = right. Freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of having hot chicks who want to sleep with you, and pretty much everything else in the bill of rights = duh, a right.
Healthcare = privilege, but a privilege we could use right about now. Eating grapes off the produce shelves = much as it pains to say it, privilege. Smoking in bars = privilege (sorry smokers, but our shit gets in their faces). Burning the flag = right, duh—it's free speech.
Abortion = X (not touching this one; you're gonna have to fight it out amongst yourselves).
Drugs = right, so long as you don't mug people for your next fix.
Suicide? = that's easy. It's your body, right? So it's a right.
Anyway, that should do you for now. I'll have the rest of the list finished by late September, 2089.