Last Friday the The United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) released a memo that shows alleged government surveillance abuse during the 2016 presidential campaign. If anyone thinks that memo was not a big deal deal, they should check around the Internet. Even the post on my little website, THE HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE’S FOUR-PAGE MEMO ON ABUSES OF THE FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SURVEILLANCE ACT, got plenty of hits and lots of comments.

What is most disturbing about that memo? Republicans and Democrats are completely divided, but why? The truth can be known. At least we ought to be able to discern much of what actually happened, but there is this ideological divide. So instead getting the truth, we get spun.

In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure. While traditional public relations and advertising may also rely on altering the presentation of the facts, “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics. (continued here)

Which side is most guilty of deception? Each of us will to have to sort that out on our own, I suppose. The subject here is the nature of that ideological divide. What is causing us to refuse to see the obvious and spin, spin, spin,…..

Consider a portion of a comment I left on that post about the HPSCI memo.

What is tearing our nation apart? What once almost destroyed it? What was the American Civil War about? At this point I think most would agree that our country fought over the institution of slavery.

Why did we have to fight over slavery? The North wanted no part of it. The South, on the other hand, insisted upon spreading slavery into the territories and even making northern States hunt down and return escaped slaves. That is, the South insisted that the entire country affirm the righteousness of slavery, or else they would quit the Union.

We have a similar problem today. We have one party that insists upon making the rest of the country adopt its views on long string of issues. What that party has done is turn their politics into a religion. That party is not tolerant of those who disagree.

1. Abortion is okay up until the moment of birth, and government has to pay for it. This is supposed to be an indisputable “right”.
2. Immigration is an indisputable “right”, not a privilege.
3. We have indisputable “rights” to a bunch of different things (entitlements) government is supposed to give us: an education, a job, healthcare, housing, food, a retirement, welfare/unemployment benefits, public transportation, and so forth.
4. Every cotton-picking identity group we can think of, except old white guys, is entitled to claim certain indisputable “rights”. Minority racial groups get affirmative action. Homosexuals get marriage. Women, when they charge men with sexual harassment, get to be automatically believed. Minority religions, (not Christians, of course) get inordinate respect from government officials. The disabled get others to pay to adapt their facilities so that the disabled have access and can work in those facilities. And so forth.
5. And so forth.

Just as slavery was an abuse of the power of government, so is allowing one political party to impose to impose its vision of Utopia on people who don’t want it. Because we each have the right to pursue our own version of happiness, no one has the right to impose their version of happiness on anyone else.

You want to better understand the issue? Look up the difference between positive and negative rights. The academics have defined as “negative” those rights which allow us to be left in peace to go about our own business. On the other hand, the academics have defined as “positive” those “rights” that they think our government should give us. (from here)

What did the “other side” think of that comment? tsalmon replied here, and Doug (FPS/DougLite.com) replied here. Both are thoughtful. I just think they are terribly misguided.

Consider what positive rights involve. That is, when we use government to give people things that they are supposedly entitled to, what are we trying to do? Are we not trying to use government to fulfill certain basic human needs? Doesn’t everyone need food, clothing, shelter, an education, a job, a country, the ability to make decisions about their own body, respect from others, and so forth? Since government has all this power and money, doesn’t seem like a great idea to use it to help the needy? What could possibly go wrong?

What could go wrong? Consider this question.

What is the difference between the “right” to whatever I need and the “right” to whatever I want?

The answer is contentment.

Philippians 4:11-13 New King James Version (NKJV)

11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Very few of us are content with our circumstances.  Few of us will ever say this and be taken seriously.

I have what I need. This is enough. ― Lailah Gifty Akita (from here)

Most of us are are inclined to say something like this.

If all you do is think about what you need, you’re no better than an animal in the woods, and no smarter either. To be human, you’ve got to want. It makes you smarter and stronger. ― Dan Groat, Monarchs and Mendicants (from here)

Therefore, when we start using government to fulfill certain basic human needs as a practical matter the difference between what people need and what people want quickly evaporates. That is, when we can vote to have government give us what we need, it is just a matter of time until we start voting for the government to give us what we want. Therefore, while it may sound like a wonderful idea to have our government dispense charity through health, education, and welfare programs, in practice we cannot make it work. None of us have the moral integrity. If we did, we would not even consider using the government to take from some people and give their property to other people. That is just stealing. Instead, we would expect people to love and aid each other without compulsion.

So what is the solution for poverty? There is this one.

If you work you will never go hungry. ― Lailah Gifty Akita

Obviously, some people cannot work, but government does not have a solution for poverty. We are the solution. We each have to learn to love our neighbors. Otherwise, we will just confuse our wants with our needs and bite and devour one another.

Galatians 5:13-15 New King James Version (NKJV)

13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!



  1. @anon

    Your argument above about positive and negative rights is well put.

    The positive/negative rights argument is an interesting way to analyze an argument. However, it would be a logical fallacy to say it is conclusive. Most negative rights come with positive responsibilities and vice versa. For example, what do you actually “own” when you say that you own certain property. Property ownership is essentially a bundle of rights and responsibilities to use and exclude others from use of defined tangibles and intangibles. That is what you actually own. It is neither an unlimited positive nor negative right, but a combination of both. Your property right may or may not derive in some indirect and attenuated logic from God (say through the Commandment that, however said property is defined at law, it should not be stolen, or from the Golden Rule by the fact that you should do unto others – afford legally defined property rights – what you want them to do to you), but even assuming this is God’s will, the Gospels make it pretty clear that it’s up to some traditional custom and man made law to determine who owns these rights and responsibilities (render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s?). Whether God granted or not, without some sort of governmentallike body to define, arbitrate and positively enforce rights, they simply do not exist in practical reality whether those rights be positive or negative, or a combination of both.

    Is free speech different from property? Yes and no. It’s a different kind of legal right in category but many of the same rules apply, both scriptural and legal, in analysis.


    1. “Your argument above about positive and negative rights is well put.”

      Thank you. 🙂
      I can’t really argue with anything you said above.
      As Thomas Paine said, “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness”
      Perhaps I am “pithy quote” in Flame warriors.
      This is a fun website. See which one applies to whom.
      Many are recognizable throughout internet discussion sites! 🙂


  2. “Do you believe that other people have rights you must respect? You have clearly stated that you don’t. You have said human rights don’t exist.”

    I have said nothing of the kind, and neither did McIntyre. Sometimes brother just like to assume far more than is actually presented.

    You are asserting that a God given right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” somehow magically exists in the Constitution. I’m not objecting that people have rights of all kinds, many of which were constitutionally protected strictly in the negative before the Civil War and more in the positive after the Civil War. I’m also not contesting much of what you said about logically and indirectly implying certain rights from what the Bible says that we should do and not do unto others, but this is a much more indirect and convoluted logical argument than just saying something is miraculously “self evident”. If one buys that magical thinking, then who gets to decide what rights are self-evident and what rights are not. You have to admit that rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is a pretty broad and amorphous statement for something that you want government to actively protect:

    “Judge, when he blocked my veiw of the beach with his house, he violated my constitutional right to pursue happiness.”

    The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written at different times by somewhat different people for completely different purposes. It was a completely different process and only the Constitution was ratified by the states. You think, as I do, that these were some of the smartest and most intellectual men alive in the world at the time, mostly lawyers, and yet you think that they simply forgot to expressly include the Declaration or the concept of “God given rights” in the Constitution, but somehow we are supposed to believe it’s just in there? This is the most novel theory of constitutional interpretation I’ve ever heard of. Judges do look to the writings and record at the time of the drafting and ratification for pursuasive authority on intent, but none of that would be considered, as lawyers say, “controlling”. I studied Constitutional law in law school and practiced it to some extent for a while a long time ago. I’ve tried since then to keep up a little with new developments, but your novel theory that the Declaration IS part of the Constitution is a new one, and quite absurd.


    1. @tsalmon

      The best reason for asserting so bluntly that there are no such rights is indeed of precisely the same type as the best reason which we possess for asserting that there are no unicorns: every attempt to give good reasons for believing that there are such rights has failed. The eighteenth-century philosophical defenders of natural rights sometimes suggest that the assertions which state that men possess them are del-evident truths; but we know that there are no self-evident truths.

      If rights are conferred upon us by government, then they are not innate. If they are not innate, they exist only in so long as those in power find it convenient.

      Look at the way you interpret the Constitution. Whatever those in black robes say it means is what it means. If they find it convenient for the Constitution to mean something other than what was originally intended, that’s not a problem. It is a living document.

      Have I asserted that God-given rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” exist in the Constitution? Have I said the Declaration is part of the Constitution? No and no.What I have said is that the Framers of the Constitution attempted to write a document that would protect our God-given rights.

      Originally, what they wanted to do was write the Constitution as a charter that only authorized the Federal Government to do certain things. The People, however, demanded a Bill of Rights. That Bill of Rights lists a bunch of rights that government is supposed to respect and protect, but we have a secular government. So that list is just the best list some men could write. No one claims God wrote our Constitution, or for that matter, the Declaration of Independence.

      What matters is what we find written upon our hearts, what our consciences demand. If we don’t take the rights of our fellows seriously, understand that other people don’t exist just to fulfill our needs and wants, then it doesn’t take long before we twist our government into a tool that puts people in chains instead of protecting them.

      You think I exaggerate? You should know better. Because men run them, there is no government whose powers men have not abused. Because of our pride, we always face the temptation to put others under our heel. In the past Americans owned slaves, and those who governed approve. Today there are those who govern who abuse their powers just as much, and their excuses are no better.


      1. In a sense, Tom, I don’t disagree with anything you just wrote, especially the way that you identify the problem as one where people fail to recognize the interests of others as their own, and act accordingly. That is indeed the problem that begs its own solution as I see it too.

        You make snide remarks about the limitations of men in black robes, but you really have no reasonable dispute with my statement that until government, or something like government, has defined, arbitrated and enforced rights, they simply do not exist in history or practical reality. Your statement that what government gives, government can take away is therefore a tautological truism. It is just a feature of the historical reality that we live in – it is what it is. I’m with you to this point. The question is what to take away from that truism.

        If it is a sad political reality that government can take away rights, it is also a happy reality that, more than any other time in history, governments are also affording more rights than ever to the point that you think it has gone too far. Whether you think rights are explicit from God (doubtful as pointed out earlier) or they derive (as in the Golden Rule) indirectly and negatively from the positive “responsibility” God imposes upon us to love each other, or they are a conclusion of a secular rational argument (also, unlikely, I think), they do not happen in today’s practical reality without good government.


        1. @tsalmon

          You don’t entirely disagree, but it seems you also fail to understand. So you fail to accept the argument even as you seem to accept it. I suppose there is nothing I can do to change that, but studying the problem is interesting.

          Did I make snide remarks about the men in black robes? No. I just made what I think is an accurate observation. It seems snide to you because you disagree with that observation. Even though you cannot point to the Constitution to justify the decisions about which we disagree, you disagree with that observation. Thus, you have shown you failed to accept my argument.

          Humility requires us to accept the fact we can be tempted. Humility requires us to accept the fact that if the temptation is great enough we will sin. The Apostle Paul described this reality in Romans 7:7-25. It is that reality that I think you have refused to accept. Hence, you wrote this.

          If it is a sad political reality that government can take away rights, it is also a happy reality that, more than any other time in history, governments are also affording more rights than ever to the point that you think it has gone too far. Whether you think rights are explicit from God (doubtful as pointed out earlier) or they derive (as in the Golden Rule) indirectly and negatively from the positive “responsibility” God imposes upon us to love each other, or they are a conclusion of a secular rational argument (also, unlikely, I think), they do not happen in today’s practical reality without good government.

          Effectively, what your argument comes down to is that “it just is”. At best, you think a Christian should accept the notion of “positive” rights because with “positive” rights God can use government to force us to love each other. BARF!

          Like a great many Americans you want to believe in inevitability of “progress”, and you hail the development of “positive” rights as progress. Like a great many Americans you also ignore the fact that each of us has the right to define for ourselves what is progress and what is not. If our right to the free exercise of religion is real, then what right do we have to use our government to force our neighbors to pay for things they don’t equate with progress?

          Like a great many Americans you too don’t take the Bible seriously enough to study it carefully. Instead, you want to believe something that upon reflection you must know is not true, that people are basically good.

          We are sinners. Consider why we live in a fallen world. We are sinners. Our fallen nature is our historical reality. Humility requires us to accept the fact we can be tempted. Humility requires us to accept the fact that if the temptation is great enough we will sin.

          How should we define what is progress and what is not. Christians can go to the Bible and strive to discern God’s will. Yet even non-Christians have the means.

          In the following passage Paul compares Gentiles and Jews, those who sin without the Law and those who sin under the Law.

          Romans 2:12-16 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

          12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

          The Law is, of course, the Old Testament. In the Bible, God tells to respect our neighbors rights. With His Law, He prohibits us from harming and abusing our neighbors. In addition, God commands us to love each other, that is, to be our brother’s keeper.

          The Bible also makes clear is that love is something we give to God, not government. When we love our neighbor, we express that love in personal acts, not through the payment of taxes. God expects to fulfill our obligation and render our taxes unto Caesar, but that has very little to do with loving our neighbors.

          Government is force. It exist to make people do things they may not want to do. When people won’t respect the “negative” rights of their neighbors, we expect officials to throw those people in jail. When people respect the “positive” rights of their neighbors, they reach into their own pockets and give from the heart. Politicians just use “positive” rights as excuse to tax, spend, and buy votes. That is not the Golden Rule. It is corrupt.


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