You find some odd things over on Google+. One woman popped up to advertise her blog article on makeup and while it’s not something that I’d normally ever respond to, having no interest in the subject matter whatsoever, her phrasing made me drop a small comment, that makeup is not a right and that no one had a right to be free from criticism. It wasn’t a nasty comment by any means, it just corrected some of her misconceptions about rights.
That was, of course, when the shit hit the fan.
Now I’ll be honest, I’m not a particular fan of makeup on women, I prefer a much more natural look, but far be it from me to tell women what they can cake on their faces. I do, however, reserve the right to make my opinions heard, positively or negatively, in whatever available public spaces I decide to use. That’s not to say I spend my time running around judging women’s makeup, such things tend to entirely fall beneath my radar, I certainly don’t chase down beauty blogs and post nasty comments in order to piss them off, my objection to the article really had nothing to do with cosmetics and everything to do with the fact that people misrepresent the concept of rights regularly.
The fact is, there is a difference between having a right to do something and the ability to do something. This is something I’ve pointed out to libertarians on a regular basis. A right is something specific granted by the society in which you live, given to some or all members of society across the board. It doesn’t have to be given to all people, for instance, if a society decided that abortion was a right, it would be granted only to women because men have no use for such a thing. Rights are enshrined in official documents or laws of the society in which they are applicable. There is no such thing as an unofficial right. Rights are protected. Abilities are simply things that you can do if you choose to. You have the ability to go to Starbucks for a latte. You have no right whatsoever to go to Starbucks. Abilities are not protected. They are not codified.
This writer was asserting that because many women (she was convinced that it was virtually all but I beg to differ) enjoy putting on makeup, that they had a right to do so and nobody had any room to disagree with them on their chosen activity. In fact, it was somewhat of an affront to any woman who wore makeup if anyone ever criticized the practice, even if it wasn’t directed at her directly. That’s just an absurd notion. No matter how much you might enjoy looking like you do, there is nothing in this country, nothing on the planet, which is off-limits to criticism. Such a right to free speech, and it is a right, enshrined in the founding documents of the United States, overrides your desire not to be criticized. I can criticize religion, I can criticize politics, I can criticize business, I can criticize anything I want and nobody can stop me, no matter how badly the criticism might offend them. Offense is no defense against the right to free speech and voicing one’s opinions.
We had a short exchange which stopped the second I said “Please tell me this isn’t some bizarre libertarian natural rights thing” and she had no response to that. It just tells me that’s exactly what it was. Libertarians are infamous for confusing rights and abilities. To many of them, because you have the ability to do a thing, you have a right to do that thing. It’s a strange misuse of terms on their part.
It really bothers me how many people use the English language incorrectly. With all the lazy communication, the misuse of words and the confusion over terminology, how can anyone expect to have a meaningful conversation? Words have meanings for a reason, those meanings are not arbitrary, to be altered at a whim because someone has an emotional attachment to a particular ideal and they want to apply a stronger term to their claim for added emphasis. That’s just dishonest, use the proper words, explain your ideas correctly and may the ideas that are best supported win.