Elliot Rodger, Sex, the Good Life, and the Peril of Rights

There are certain things that we need and desire. Among these is love and sex. I conjoin two words, but I mean it to refer to a single whole, the embodied connection of affection, commitment, and pleasure that comes in the mutual giving of two people of themselves to each other. That. It’s a longing that has deep roots in biology and human experience. It seems a good candidate for a necessary component of a good life.

The problem comes when that truth – that a good and complete life includes love and sex – combines with our dominant moral discourse, the discourse of rights. Consider Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher at the University of Chicago who has spent the last couple of decades thinking about the links between development and human rights. She has produced something that she calls capabilities theory. The idea is that when we think about what society owes us, what our fundamental rights are, we should think in terms of the conditions that create the basic capabilities needed to live a good and fully human life.

I like Nussbaum’s approach because it tries to take seriously the idea of living a good life and then marry it to the language of human rights and multiculturalism. It’s a good test case that lets us see some of the basic problems inherent in some of our fundamental ways of seeing the moral universe. Among the basic human rights that Nussbaum outlines is the capacity for sexual pleasure and love.

The problem is that this leads to Elliot Rodger. Not directly of course. As near as I can tell, Nussbaum is a thoroughly decent human being. She no doubt has nothing but horror for the evil of Rodger’s actions, and her work certainly cannot be offered as a justification for anything that he did. There is nothing to suggest that he knew anything about her theories.

Nussbaum, however, does conjoin the enjoyment of love and sex with rights, and that is a problem. Elliot Rodger, if we are to believe him, felt that he had been wronged by women because he was a virgin. He wanted sex and it had been denied him. Reading a transcript of his final YouTube rant one gets a sense of a boy with a profound sense of entitlement that had been disappointed. He was the victim of injustice taking his just retribution on an unjust world. Justice. Justice. Justice.

It’s an extremely twisted view of the world. It is the sense of sexual entitlement that drives date rape and ruffies. It’s also not an entirely insane response to a world that ties up sex with the good life and offers us little in the way of moral discourse beyond the category of rights. To be sure, the idea of rights has good responses to the twisted moral logic of Elliot Rodger’s self-pity. Rape and murder violate the rights of others.

But this response misses the deeper sickness of Rodger’s rant. Rodger’s virginity was not the result of a tragic conflict between his right to love and sex and the rights of women to be free of non-consensual sexual contact. The deeper sickness of Elliot Rodger was his belief that he had a right to love and sex. What motivated him was a belief that he was entitled to love and sex. It is the condemnation of this sense of entitlement that is missed if we see the evil of his actions entirely in terms of violating the rights of others. We miss the evil of his underlying moral motivation.

We also miss something if we reduce Rodger’s attitudes to some kind of undifferentiated misogyny. His final rant was clearly soaked in misogyny, but seeing misogyny as some primal evil that accounts for Rodger’s crimes misses the roots of his sense of entitlement. Those roots lie in part in the limitations created by the concept of rights. Rodger thought love and sex were part of a good life. He thought he was entitled to a good life. Therefore, he was entitled to love and sex. His rights had been violated by women that refused to give him love and sex. He was not a manifestation of some primal misogyny. Rather, his misogyny grew out of the joining of sex and love with rights and entitlement. It’s not, however, a surprising link given moral language that Rodger had available. How else was he going to think about the good life if not in the language of rights?

If this account of Rodger’s motivation is right, it suggests a profound limit on the ability of rights language to make sense of living a good life. If love and sex are part of a good life – and I think that they are – then it follows that one cannot have a right to a good life. Love and sex are always offered by a particular person, and we have no claim on the love and sex of any particular person or of all people in general. No one owes us love and sex. It cannot be a right. It can only be a gift, and it makes no sense to say that you have a right to a gift.

Ultimately, this is why Christianity strikes me as a much more powerful and realistic way of seeing the human condition. The Atonement is that which is most necessary. Without it we are lost to death and sin and misery. Yet Christ’s Atonement is not a right. It is a gift. It is not something that we are owed; it is something that we are given. Oddly, sex and love have the same structure. They are instances of grace not of rights. Elliot Rodger is a hideous example of where the attempt to recast grace as entitlement can lead.

There is, however, something profoundly unsettling about realizing that ultimately the good life is a matter of grace rather than of rights. It means that we are fundamentally vulnerable. Even at the conceptual level there is no moral entitlement to a good life. It opens up the possibility of a tragic world. To be sure, the language of human rights can be filled with tragedy. Rights are primarily articulated in the face of their violation. But the tragic vision of human rights is ultimately a matter of injustice. Grace, however, suggests that tragedy need not be an injustice. Sometimes it is just a tragedy, an evil where we call for a balm in Gilead rather than the apocalyptic righting of wrongs.

58 comments for “Elliot Rodger, Sex, the Good Life, and the Peril of Rights

  1. Kristine
    June 5, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Worth noting that Mormons also have a sense of entitlement derived from a shallow reading of D&C Section 130–we just think we are owed blessings, rather than rights. You could have written this post with the writings of Grant von Harrison as well as with Nussbaum.

  2. Nate Oman
    June 5, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Kristine: Perhaps, but one suspects that rights language has rather more currency in contemporary culture than Drawing on the Powers of Heaven, although the latter may be an attempt to Mormonize the former.

  3. June 5, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Some really interesting ideas here but a pity you use Rogers to illustrate them. Of course we want tidy explanations when confronted with horrible acts but in terms of understanding Rogers’ actions I think this is roughly equivalent to saying Columbine was caused by violent video games.

  4. oudenos
    June 5, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Rodger was, probably, beyond the scope of Nussbaum’s theory. This is similar to how violent sociopaths seem to be beyond the scope of Christianity’s grace. This gap needs to be accounted for in your criticism of Nussbaum.

    Also, how are Mormon theological views of exaltation (celestial marriage in the highest kingdom with privileges to spiritually procreate) not EXACTLY part of the discourse of love and sex as rights against which you argue in your post? There is, in my experience, a real sense of eschatological sexual entitlement among those Saints who are pretty sure that they are headed to the celestial while the apostates and heathens in their lives are destined to lesser kingdoms of enforced celibacy.

  5. June 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    “…while the apostates and heathens in their lives are destined to lesser kingdoms of enforced celibacy.”

    Wait, what?

  6. Martin James
    June 5, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Nate wrote; “Love and sex are always offered by a particular person, and we have no claim on the love and sex of any particular person or of all people in general. No one owes us love and sex. It cannot be a right. It can only be a gift, and it makes no sense to say that you have a right to a gift.”

    I’m trying to decide if this is begging the question. On what grounds is the statement made, definitional, empirical, practical, etc.?

    We are certainly commanded to love everyone. Socrates thought the state should provide sex for citizens. Why can love and sex not be a civic duty the and the failure to provide them punishable, for example, by exile? Other primates have sexual and companionship relations that seem to be determined on an other-than-gift basis, that are a matter of socialization, why not humans?

    The Kingdom of God seems to be set up just this way of excluding those that don’t follow the commandment to love their neighbors.

    Nate, are you using rights theory to posit that love and sex must be a gift?

  7. oudenos
    June 5, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Sex in the eternities and eternal increase is, uh, the dangled carrot for many of my fellow Saints. As is my understanding of their understanding, folks in the lesser kingdoms don’t get those rights and, heavens help us, heaven isn’t just going to allow those sub-celestial people to shack up, hook up, and get their freak on for eternity. No, celibacy it is for them, an eternity of it.

  8. Martin James
    June 5, 2014 at 12:16 pm


    I fear the conclusion some may draw from your argument is “That’s why men can’t be trusted with rights.”

  9. Nate Oman
    June 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Mathew: I am not offering this as an account of why Rodger acted. I am offering it as an account of how we have a world in which he feels it to be an injustice that he is a virgin. The connection between discourse, feelings, and actions is something more complicated than I am trying to take on here. I am content to make the point that linking the idea of “rights” to the idea of “good life” can lead to some scary places.

  10. June 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm


    “We are certainly commanded to love everyone. Socrates thought the state should provide sex for citizens. Why can love and sex not be a civic duty the and the failure to provide them punishable, for example, by exile? Other primates have sexual and companionship relations that seem to be determined on an other-than-gift basis, that are a matter of socialization, why not humans?”

    You and I have had disagreements before, but even still I am shocked that you are writing this. Unless I am misunderstanding you, it appears that you are taking the position that sytemic forced sexual slavery under the auspices of governmental authority is legitimate.

    Why can sex not be a civic duty? Because the very concept of sex being a civic duty is repugnant, evil, and necessarily demands that sex be compelled. Sex under threat of exile is not sex consented to.

    Please clarify what you have written, because what you have written appears terribly wrong.

  11. Nate Oman
    June 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    oudenos: No.

  12. oudenos
    June 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    I offer you criticism of your reading of Nussbaum and of your and my shared religious culture/something-like-theology, and you respond with no?

    Is that a no, you don’t want criticism of your criticism of Nussbaum, a no, you have never heard, taught, or read something about LDS (folk?) beliefs about sexual intimacy and procreation restricted to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, a no, you don’t want even to go there, wherever you think there is, or a no, other?

    The reason for posting such a post is for dialogue, no?

  13. Martin James
    June 5, 2014 at 12:53 pm


    Have you ever read book V of Plato’s Republic, widely considered to be one of the greatest philosophical texts of all of western civilization? Basically, it posits that in a just society sex would be determined by lot, with some eugenics thrown in so that the best people had more offspring.

    I’m not advocating it, I’m just trying to understand why Nate thinks its so fundamental that it shows rights theory to have inherent limits.

  14. June 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm


    I have read the Republic, and we have thankfully progressed beyond that particular argument of the just society. I have also reread your post, and while it still has the same reading to me, I give you the benefit of the doubt that you are not advocating that position.

    For what it is worth, I think the ultimate answer is that love and meaningful sex (rather than just the physiological satisfaction of appetite) cannot be forced and can only be given. Thus it is impossible to demand something under a theory of rights, because it is something that only holds value when freely given.

    Love freely given is part of the good life. Meaningful sex freely given is part of the good life. Love and sex compelled are not parts of the good life.

  15. Jax
    June 5, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Martin James: Plato was wrong! Jonathan in #10 was spot on for both your claim and Plato’s.

    I’m not sure what Nate would say, but I think love/sex are fundamental to a “good life” as well. My life would sure feel incomplete without anyone to love in it. I could go without sex in the absense of a willing partner (various military assignments made this happen for periods of time), but life does is definitely more fulfilling with it. But that doesn’t mean I have a “right” to love/sex. Nobody owes them to me. We don’t have a right to a thing simply because we think that thing would improve our lives.

  16. Martin James
    June 5, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Jonathan and Steve,

    But why didn’t Nate just say that Rodgers was mistaken about his rights?

    Should rights theory be to blame for him being mistaken?

    I’m trying to tell if Nate was saying my Christian beliefs lead me to think that Christianity is better or if he was saying that rights theory by its own lights leads him to think Christianity is better.

    There is considerable disagreement among the people I know about what we have progressed about and what we have regressed about morally. The paradox to me is that the same society that many of us now find repugnant produced the moral understanding by which we reject the past. We disagree about this self hatred. We very much are what we profess to find repugnant.

    Steve, Nate I think would agree with you about Plato being wrong but disagree about who is right. One thing that seems clear to me is that the trend is to see whoever we disagree with as crazy. In my case that means thinking people who don’t realize that their own moral preferences are exactly that, preferences, are crazy.

  17. Tim
    June 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    CS Lewis wrote a variant of this in 1985 (last post before his death, according to site below):


    Kind of fun to reread if you haven’t done so recently.

  18. June 5, 2014 at 1:49 pm


    Thanks, this is a wonderful read. One minor point, though — C. S. Lewis died in 1963 (the same day as JFK and Huxley).

  19. Martin James
    June 5, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    That should have been Jax not Steve.

    Also, Socrates admitted that he knew nothing. But what he was very good at was showing the difficulty of defining and consistently applying moral terms. On this score, we have yet to progress or even find his equal.

  20. thor
    June 5, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Nate – I have re-read your final paragraph several times now. Very thought-provoking.

    I like the notion that while embracing our social vulnerability is unsettling, it is an essential qualifier to appreciating the good life. After all, “what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed . . . and he receive not the gift?”

  21. June 5, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    In layman’s terms, is your argument that “it is my right to have a just life” a slippery slope that leads to a number of awful things? That injustices are inherent part of life and the sooner we accept them the sooner we’ll be content? And God creates a multitude of injustices so we will rely on the Savior/Atonement?

    If I’m reading you correctly, where is the border of our responsibilities to correct injustices around us. Surely you posit abolition movements (historical and current) are justified. Could you clarify if my interpretation was on point?

  22. IDIAT
    June 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    I’m not sure if love/sex are fundamental to a good life so much as they are the products that flow from a good life. I think the only real fundamental “right” we have is that of free association. I don’t mean that in a governmental way with issues of border and lines. I mean as spirit children of heavenly parents, I think we were free to associate with whomever we liked in the premortal existence, and a similar right exists in mortality. It’s what flow from those associations that make up a good life (relationship with spouse and children, physical intimacy and all that) versus the bad life (loneliness, lack of emotional or physical intimacy with others, etc). It doesn’t mean that one is “good” if he/she has love and sex in their life. Nor does is mean, if one is single, that one is “bad.” But that right of association is what allows us to connect with others who in turn exercise their right of association.

  23. Jax
    June 5, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I think the Declaration of Independence said it best concerning our rights. It didn’t say have a right to happiness, but to pursue it. It is the pursuit of happiness that we can all have. Some will find it, and others never will.

    As Saints, I think it is our job/goal/mission to help show people that happiness can be found in righteousness, and not in pursuing the “vain things” of the world, is it not?

  24. Martin James
    June 5, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    “I think we were free to associate with whomever we liked in the premortal existence, and a similar right exists in mortality.”

    Yes, and what tragedies result from trying to curtail that right…

    “The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
    And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
    Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,”

  25. European Saint
    June 5, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Very well done, Nate. Great analysis and write-up. Thank you.

  26. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    June 5, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    The various government enforcement actions that have recently been undertaken, to punish people who declined to provide personal services for same sex weddings, are precisely government enforcing a right of gay couples to feel loved by the rest of society. It is not a right to obtain wedding cakes, dresses, photography, or musicians, since in every case the wedding celebrations went forward with services supplied by other, willing participants. What the gay couples have sought from government is the punishment of people who declined to praise their same sex marriage by providing services that require personal and individual creative effort and cannot be purchased in a box and delivered by Amazon.

  27. Tim
    June 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm


    Er, 1963, yes, thank you…

  28. June 5, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I think this is spot on, Nate. I was one of the first to try and comment over at the FMH thread where I tried to suggest something similar, but my comment never came out of moderation. (I’m actually quite grateful that it didn’t since the thread went in a direction that would have made my comment quite inappropriate.) I think the comment is much more appropriate here.

    “I can’t help but wonder that the frustrations the he (Rodger) felt and the solidarity which he sought in Men’s Rights groups isn’t a mirror image (although an admittedly warped and extreme version of it) of the frustrations and solidarity that some women seek in Women’s Right groups. Indeed, after reading through the Daily Kos link, I can’t help but wonder in there aren’t two very different morals that can be drawn from this extreme test case: 1) we should all get more involved in the Women’s Rights movement in order to prevent things like this from ever happening again, or 2) we should all tone down or moderate our involvement in all such (especially online) rights and activist groups in order to prevent things like this from ever happening again. The first would tolerate, if not encourage a kind of extremism while the second would discourage it.”

    I see Nate’s post here as encouraging a kind of balanced moderation in the rights which we demand and focus our attention and energies upon.

  29. CRW
    June 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    I thought it would eventually come down to the error of the gays and the wimmens demanding human rights from the rest of us (straight, male) in such an unChristian way. And the issue of blacks and the priesthood is an entirely different matter! *snark*

  30. Marie
    June 5, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Jeff G.: Whether your #2 idea is a good idea depends on whether any/all of the topics of discussion in these “Women’s Rights” groups speak to actual rights (or things that reasonable, fair people think should be actual rights) or whether they are just aspects of the good life for women that, like love and sex, cannot be turned into rights. If they are actual rights and are not being met, then passionate involvement in the cause of getting those rights honored is appropriate, not extreme, and “toning down” that our involvement would be doing a disservice to all women slighted by the denial of those rights. If they are not real rights, or things that cannot or should not be thought of as rights, then it would make sense to not only “tone down” our involvement, but use different terminology altogether, whether in the Men’s Rights or Women’s Rights camp. Will it “prevent things like this from ever happening again”? Probably not, but it might “drain some of the swamps that are forming,” as Ross Douthat described some extremist online men’s rights groups in his May 31 piece in the NY Times.

  31. June 5, 2014 at 4:58 pm


    I’m pretty sure that we agree, for the most part. To be sure, there are many feminist issues which have every right to be addressed with all of our righteous might. There are others, however, which do not fall in this category. The same can be said for many men’s rights issues although I suspect the ratio of good/bad issues within these two movements is not the same.

    I think I interpret Nate right is saying that its not just a misinterpretation of rights, but an exaggerated focus on a select few rights that can lead to extreme behaviors, regardless of who the rights are for. Thus, we do see some rare feminists (all of them outside of the bloggernacle) that – in my opinion – are not all that different from Rodger. The same can be said for any other activist group whose support group is large and diverse enough to include its share of unbalanced people like this.

  32. June 5, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    “it makes no sense to say that you have a right to a gift” is my favorite line of the day. It’s just so hard to let go of those pesky expectations that our existence or efforts deserve some reward and instead live in a state of gratitude.

  33. Nate Oman
    June 5, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Kristine A: A right is a claim that X has some entitlement to Y. My point is that there are some things necessary for a good life to which we are not entitled, but that our moral culture suggests we have a right to a good life. This idea of a right to a good life can create some seriously twisted ideas such as those articulated by Rodgers.

    I don’t deny the validity of all rights discourse nor do I deny that injustice is real and should be responded to. I do think, however, that not all evils are injustices. I think that Christianity fundamentally recognizes this by for grounding the idea of grace, an idea that doesn’t make a great deal of sense if all moral discussion is couched in terms of rights.

    Steve Martin: To say that moral beliefs are preferences, mere tastes, is to be conceptually confused. Go read Alistair MacIntyre and sin no more…

  34. Nate Oman
    June 5, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Martin James not Steve Martin. Banjo on the brain. Sorry.

  35. Martin James
    June 5, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    I’m still after virtue, after After Virtue. I just can’t figure out how a whole generation of smart mormon boys grew to like catholic philosophy instead of neuroscience. But I appreciate the tip.

  36. June 5, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    I just loved that After Virtue begins with A Canticle for Leibowitz. It just proves that reading sci-fi as a teenager is great preparation for philosophy as an adult.

  37. June
    June 5, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    To use Elliot Rogers who was clearly mentally ill, to illustrate any point outside the effects and consequences of mental illness on society is beyond disgusting.

  38. Doug
    June 6, 2014 at 8:04 am

    To suggest that Elliot Rogers was mentally ill because he killed people is to do an injustice to mentally ill people. Humans kill other humans every day (hour? minute?) for many reasons, some (arguably) good, many bad. Bank robbers who get into a gunfight and kill people are not mentally ill. Boko Haram who just killed 200+ people for believing in the wrong version of God: not mentally ill. Christians who killed Jews because they thought Jews were using baby blood to make matzo: not mentally ill. Elliot Rogers, who killed people because he resented being a virgin: not mentally ill.

    The mentally ill are, to my understanding, much more likely to be targets of violence than to commit violence. Associating them with morally bankrupt individuals is an injustice.

  39. Martin James
    June 6, 2014 at 9:18 am


    Is there any better word for June’s comment than that her moral preference(taste in your words) is different than yours?

    I sympathize with both her reaction and your piece and don’t know how to decide other than aesthetically if she is right.

  40. Nate Oman
    June 6, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Martin James: The word I would use is “mistaken.”

  41. Yvonne S
    June 6, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I think June is 100% correct. The body has physical needs which sustain life and help build a satisfying existence. Rights are only meaningful when seen through the filter of the society which extends them.

  42. Martin James
    June 6, 2014 at 4:41 pm


    And so it goes. From the dawn of man to the end of time, the one kind of righteousness never in short supply is self-righteousness.

    We’re all mistaken.

  43. June
    June 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    His mental illness is well-documented. Furthermore anyone with any familiarity in the field would recognize his affect and ramblings for what they are…symptoms of a break with reality.

  44. June
    June 6, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    But dealing with our mental illness epidemic would take more time and legitimate study and forethought…It is much easier to make unsubstantiated links to buttress our own moral positions…lot less effort and time…just a computer and 30 minutes.

  45. Xenophon
    June 6, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Elliot Rodger – Xanax addict. The Seattle shooting yesterday, Aaron Rey Ybarra – Prozac dependent. http://www.ssristories.org/

  46. Martin
    June 6, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    I thought this piece illustrated the problem with much of the contemporary rhetoric of “rights” very well. I guess it takes an extreme example to make the point. While I do believe individuals have rights, those rights are primarily to restrict the actions of others with respect to them, not to require actions of others on their behalf. For example, if one says they have a right to clean drinking water, what do they mean by that? That others should be restricted from polluting the water they use, or that others should be required to guarantee that their water is clean? In a city environment, one may argue that there’s no practical difference between the two, but I think the entitlement mentality represented by the second is dangerous, At best, it creates parasites and legislative imbalances that are hard to explain (a trivial example: a fine for parking in a handicapped space is 4 or 5 times as expensive as that for obstructing a fire hydrant). Furthermore, declaring something a “right” means that compromise is off the table, even when everybody’s “rights” conflict. I’ve concluded that when it comes to politics, rights have been reduced to rhetorical clubs with which to beat each other.

  47. Michael
    June 6, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    “We also miss something if we reduce Rodger’s attitudes to some kind of undifferentiated misogyny. His final rant was clearly soaked in misogyny, but seeing misogyny as some primal evil that accounts for Rodger’s crimes misses the roots of his sense of entitlement. Those roots lie in part in the limitations created by the concept of rights. Rodger thought love and sex were part of a good life. He thought he was entitled to a good life. Therefore, he was entitled to love and sex. His rights had been violated by women that refused to give him love and sex. ”

    These “limitations created by the concept of rights” can be traced to the distinction between positive and negative rights. Negative rights oblige inaction on the part of others, whereas positive rights oblige action on the part of others. He apparently thought he had a positive right to sex, a right that would oblige action on the part of some woman. Such a belief is immoral. Now, if he had found a willing sexual partner, they would have had the negative right to the “pursuit of happiness” as it were, that is, everyone else is obliged to inaction with regard to their sexual activity (e.g. police couldn’t storm into the bedroom and say, “stop having sex, now!”). In government and society, we should emphasize negative rights and responsibilities, in lieu of positive rights/entitlements, because every positive right violates someone else’s negative rights.

  48. Jax
    June 6, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Despite the claim that his mental illness make him an untouchable topic, I think Nate’s post still stands as valid. Thinking you have a “right” to a good life is not good/healthy/accurate at all. Thusly, a person with a mental illness might think they have a right to a “good life” and its attendant sex and love. Why do you have a problem with this post again?

    Could the converse be true? Could we rightly say that a person who thinks they have a “right” to a “good life” be said to have a mental illness?

  49. Martin James
    June 6, 2014 at 9:39 pm


    It’s not that simple. What about the right to vote. Is that a positive right or a negative one? Isn’t it both?

    Why should negative rights be preferred? Both public education and mandatory schooling are widely popular but seem not to be negative rights.

    Why should we give priority to the negative?

  50. Martin James
    June 6, 2014 at 9:45 pm


    Yep, all these people whining about a right to freedom of religion, and privacy and bearing arms is not good/healthy/accurate either.

  51. June 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Great post. Absolutely agree that in the Biblical view, there are no rights, only grace. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Inalienable rights is not a Christian view. In fact it is completely anti-Christian. All glory be to God who giveth, who owes us nothing.

  52. Jax
    June 8, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Nate, what tripe!! Agency is an inalienable “right”. It cannot be taken away.

    Martin, why are negative rights better? Because they don’t infringe in any way upon anyone else. My right to bear arms doesn’t affect your freedom at all. A similar positive right of “I have a right to a gun” would require someone to provide it to me. The negative simply means that if I have it I can “bear” it, it does not compel/coerce/extort anything from anyone. Positive rights always do. Right to education/food/medicine/home means someone has to provide it. Negative rights allow you to be free, positive ones destroy freedom.

    If you don’t think that freedom is better than a lack thereof, then you won’t think that negative rights are better. Nate Oman’s point in the post was that thinking you have a positive right to have something, sex and/or love, lead to a person thinking they were being wronged by society. They weren’t. But very real and ugly problems arise whenever anyone thinks they are entitled to have anything they can’t provide for themselves.

  53. asdfg
    June 8, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    It seems to me that the promise of the atonement is that we can experience the good life (at least in some measure) even when we lack the circumstances of the good life. I’m an active Mormon and single, and therefore a 33 year old virgin. And yet I genuinely feel like I have access to a good life, as many would define it.

  54. Nate Oman
    June 9, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Martin James: I’m not sure what it is self-righteous to say that you think someone is mistaken. It’s the kind of claim that can be wrong and in my case often is, but I don’t think that saying someone is mistaken is tantamount to saying that they are stupid or evil. I think that we are all mistaken most of the time. It’s a big old complicated world. However, I don’t think that this fact means that we shouldn’t still try to figure stuff out the best we can.

    As it happens, I think that the idea that all moral disagreements are actually aesthetic disagreements or disagreements about taste is wrong. I think it is mistaken. I also think it’s mistaken to say that because one’s actions are a result of mental illness they haven no wider social or philosophical significance.

  55. wowbagger
    June 9, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Bryan S, here is what he is referring to. Sometimes known as the “TK Smoothie”

    In both of these kingdoms [i.e., the terrestrial and telestial] there will be changes in the bodies and limitations. They will not have the power of increase, neither the power or nature to live as husbands and wives, for this will be denied them and they cannot increase. Those who receive the exaltation in the celestial kingdom will have the “continuation of the seeds forever.” They will live in the family relationship. In the terrestrial and in the telestial kingdoms there will be no marriage. Those who enter there will remain “separately and singly” forever. Some of the functions in the celestial body will not appear in the terrestrial body, neither in the telestial body, and the power of procreation will be removed. I take it that men and women will, in these kingdoms, be just what the so-called Christian world expects us all to be – neither man nor woman, merely immortal beings having received the resurrection.
    (Doctrines of Salvation. vol. 2, pg. 287-288.)

  56. June 10, 2014 at 9:56 am

    I’m unconvinced looking for meaning in Rodger’s rants is a profitable enterprise although it’s obviously an eminently human one. Looking for patterns and some degree of mechanical causality helps us impose order on and increases our sense of control over otherwise difficult events.

    I specifically find it unlikely that Rodger’s, “deeper sickness” was, “his belief that he had a right to love and sex.” The deeper sickness was an actual psychiatric illness for which he was receiving ongoing treatment including the use of psychiatric medications. And to the extent that focusing on symptoms rather than disease is warranted, it may be entitlement itself which deserves attention rather than entitlement to sexual rights specifically. His rants apparently feature more discussion of custom automobiles than sexual needs, although the latter has received more publicity.

    This isn’t to take away from the discussion of capabilities theory or sexual rights which I found interesting. But I’m dubious that Rodgers is an appropriate lens for examination of anything besides the difficulties related to diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in the U.S.

  57. Martin James
    June 10, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Nate Oman,

    Thank you for the reply.

    The part that seems like heading toward self-righteousness to me is to assume that another person is making a moral mistake but without much in the way of common ground for understanding why another person is making the mistake that they are.

    I interpreted you as saying that June was mistaken that your post was beyond disgusting?

    What procedure and evidence would count in determining if she were correct?

    What moves it from a matter of taste to a matter of fact?

    Why is it that most people assume that their moral judgment is correct? We know that people overestimate their knowledge but for other matters of fact people are more likely to admit that they may be mistaken or are ignorant or agree on a procedure for testing correctness.

    But on matters of taste there is pretty wide agreement that we are correct about our own taste. To me the confidence of people in making moral judgments is that they are assessing it in ways similar to determining whether they prefer something or not.

    Why is it that if moral matters are factual, we disagree so profoundly about what counts as moral evidence and where we would look to find the facts?

  58. Martin James
    June 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    On the matter of entitlement, it is interesting to me that in order for us to receive forgiveness we must forgive others. So although Rodgers can’t take any specific action if people don’t comply, he is “entitled” to forgiveness from Christian’s that want forgiveness.

    We basically have a non-actionable right to justice. What concerned me about your post was that there is that just because one shouldn’t count on justice, a just (or christian society) does owe people justice. That’s the meaning of the term.

    That one’s rights are not actionable nor absolute seems like the answer to Rodgers position and not a valid critique of a belief in rights.

    I mean is it fair to criticize rights theory if he was not taking the rights theory approach to having his concerns addressed. If he sued for sex and lobbied for sex statutes and then killed when he had lost his appeals then you might have a point. But he didn’t. So he is not an example of a person acting on rights theory, he is an example of a person acting on his own accord in violation of the rights of others.

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