There is no right to not-care

For all the talk of supposed ‘rights’ to this-that-and-the-other, there is one ‘right’ that we do not, can not and must not have: the right to not care.

There is no right to not-care.

And yet so many aspects of our society and culture and everything else are built upon exactly that ‘right’. Everyone who drops a piece of litter is exercising their ‘right’ to not-care – and dumping the burden of caring on everyone else. Many so-called business-models depend entirely upon the ‘right’ to not-care about long-term consequences. Most of the arguments between political-right and political-left are merely about who has the greater ‘right’ to not-care, and export the costs of care onto the other.

This matters, because in the longer term we survive only because of care. We survive because we care. Those of us who know this, who live this, know that yes, we will at times end up carrying the burden of those who haven’t yet learnt this bald fact. Most children do take time to learn how to care. But it gets hard – and harder – to keep going in a society where those who do care are actively punished for doing so, and those who don’t receive all of the rewards.

In our present-day world, people lose because they take responsibility, because they care; whilst others ‘win’ because they don’t.


Not merely madness: suicidal madness. A cultural behaviour that embodies and enacts a slow, painful collective-suicide, for everyone. Not a good idea…

I’m perhaps extreme: I believe that the entire concept of ‘rights’ is a literally deadly delusion, and that only responsibilities are real. Yet it seems clear to me that if our society is based around that ‘right’ to not-care – and it certainly seems to be so – that kind of implies that there are some very big changes ahead if we are to survive. An almost literal change of heart, for a start.

And the core of that change is the recognition, by everyone, by every aspect and institution of every society, that the one right that no-one can ever have is a ‘right’ to not-care.

Something to think about as you go to work on your busy weekday morning, perhaps? 🙂

11 Comments on “There is no right to not-care

  1. Hello Tom,
    Big question which started to be addressed by the age of the enlightment. You could refer to the discussion between Baruch Spinoza and John Hume on natural rights, you have also Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the “Contrat Social”, and Nietzsche with “On the Genealogy of Morality”. As soon as men realize that the world architecture did not ensue from God order, all philosophers wanted to find how it works. And apparently is has not ended.

    Best regards


  2. Hi Jerome – many thanks.

    Will admit that none of this is from ‘big philosophy’: I’m not joking when I say that it’s literally an idea that came up in the shower this morning. 🙂 (I’ll admit that I’ve been working on these general ideas for a long time, though – and always from first-principles, mainly because I’m too lazy to plough my way through all of that ‘big philosophy’!)

    In case anyone wonders whether I’ve gone Calvinist or suchlike, the absence of a ‘right’ to ‘not-care’ does not mean a life that is devoid of any sense of being care-free. Quite the opposite: we need to care as much about that joyous freedom of being ‘care-free’ as we do about care itself. We need to care about being human, being alive, in every sense of those words.

    We also need to care about others being free of imposed care. Other than in scale, the tyranny of a selfish child is little different from the tyranny of a sociopathic megalomaniac of a dictator who exports their obsessive not-care onto everyone else. That kind of not-care is a dubious ‘luxury’ that we – our world, in fact – can no longer afford. That’s really the point I’m making here.

  3. You need to sit down and talk to the “Tea Party” folks here in the US. The ‘right” to own and carry guns is the prime example. The same people are as adamant about society’s ‘responsibility’ to prevent abortions. Maybe you can talk some sensse into them…

  4. Hi John – I fully agree, yet unfortunately it’s not about “talking sense into [others]”: these are emotive/emotional issues, not rational ones.

    Talking about the fundamental flaws in the concept of ‘rights’, and its inherently (self-)delusional nature, is particularly difficult in the US, because so much of the national identity and ethos is built upon a foundational assumption that rights are real: “… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” etc.

    To many of the ‘Tea Party’ folks, what I’m describing would seem even crazier than Qadhafi’s Jamahiriya. From their perspective, of course, they would be right. 🙂

    The real point here is that responsibilities and, especially, mutual-responsibilities soon become amazingly complex. In effect, responsibilities are a classic ‘wicked-problem’ to which there is never any simple ‘solution’, and instead must be continuously renegotiated and ‘re-solved’ as the context changes dynamically over time. The ‘rights’ discourse seems to be a lazy-person’s static ‘solution’ to this complexity, in much the same way that prepackaged ‘morals’ are a lazy-person’s ethics.

    At best, when used properly, ‘rights’ describe a desirable outcome from resolving mutual interlocking responsibilities, but typically give us no means whatsoever as to how to resolve those mutualities. (In effect, it’s a classic ‘magic happens here’ pseudo-‘solution’, such as we see so often in IT and elsewhere… 🙂 ) And unfortunately it’s very easy to misuse the ‘rights’ discourse to impose all manner of “someone other than me is responsible for this” ‘anti-rights’ on others – which in essence seems to be what the ‘Tea Party’ is all about. Oh well.

  5. Do rights really exist? To be honest… I don’t think so. We have no right to be, to have, to behave. Yet we are. Yet we have. Yet we behave. But we almost completely lost sight of simply being. Lost sight of how to frequently return (behave) to simply being and let go of having. Lost sight of the beings that we really are. We behave more like Human Havings than Human Beings.

    Only Human Havings – creatures that have to have – need rights. Human Beings are. The natural state for Human Being comprises affection (the simplest form of love) – including caring: what can I do for you (instead of what can I do with/to you). Human Havings create separateness. Human Beings create togetherness. Human Beings have all kinds of things, but do not have to have these things. They only be-have these things. When time comes they let go of these havings. Human Beings trust other things to emerge and with which to be-have next.

    Today we largely are beings without knowing anymore what it really is to simply be. We lose ourselves completely in having ever increasing ego’s. Completely separate from other beings, from other things. Simply being, unmanifested being, being with the potential to have anything – and to let go of it again is what really empowers us. Makes us care.
    This, however, requires us to go beyond our ego’s. But, immensely ‘helped’ by our ego’s, we started to firmly believe (and still do) that letting go means that we lose our things, lose our identities, lose track of who we are etc. Well, that would be the end of the ego, wouldn’t it? And the ego… well, it ‘simply’ wants to survive. It’s scared to death! And the ego creates and maintains – over and over again – Human Havings. Separateness. Fearing humans – constantly under attack and attacking. Trying to protect their havings. Havings they ‘know’ they have to have in order to be. Human Havings definitely need the illusion of rights.

  6. Tom,

    The following sort of seems to have a sense of aggressiveness to it – I only mean to be adamant.

    Rights exist because I insist. If one wished for me to discard this belief, one would have to force me, which would require exercising the Right of Conquest, which would affirm my belief.

    If I say I have responsibility for thus and so, by what right may I assume this responsibility?

    I exercise responsibility in the way I wish to exercise it (the hows) according to the authority which I associate with the responsibility. If I have no authority to exercise responsibility in the way I see fit, then another may use authority and force me into their way. If authority does not exist, then neither does accountability, and then who is to say who has what responsibility for a set of means and ends? The concepts of quality and risk become lost. Without a balance of authority, accountability, and responsibility, then where are the concepts of civility, fidelity, and stewardship?

    If each human is an island and inter-human relationships do not exist, then I would concur that a responsibility based order is possible. But once an inter-human relationship exists – just two people – a social order, a social way (‘way’, by the way, is an enormous word), by inherent necessity, also exists. In this relationship, questions arise such as “who am I in this relationship?”, “who are you in this relationship?”, and “who are we in this relationship?”. Both parties ask these same questions. As Deming would counsel, both parties must remove fear from their relationship. The only way to do this is through love, or, might I say, perfect love. If each one loves that others are free and have peace, I believe that this is a sufficient start that, perhaps, leads to a responsibility based system with negotiated authority and accountability.

    If there is someone who says that I must not be armed, I will arm myself. When everyone doesn’t care whether I am armed or not, I might disarm.

  7. @Jan van Til Hi Jan – Will admit I’m not sure I fully understand you – some of what you say is at a level of abstraction that I can’t quite follow… 🙁 But in general I think we agree on the ‘be’ versus ‘have’ – which in the terms I’ve been using here would seem to be closely related to mutual-responsibility’ versus ‘possession’ respectively.

    Delusions of ‘possession’ and untrammelled ego create a socially-destructive and delusory ‘separateness’. It’s a particularly dangerous delusion because it’s actually not separate: it demands all the ‘rights’ that arise from a social context, but insists that it has the ‘right’ to not reciprocate in any of the mutual-responsibilities from which those ‘rights’ actually arise. That concept of ‘rights’ leads automatically to a society in which anyone who actually takes responsibility is actively penalised and punished, and only the most childish and selfish will ‘win’. We don’t have to look far in any possessionist economy today to see that situation not only in ‘control’, but already so far out of control as to be well beyond recovery. To me it seems certain that the only way out of the mess is to re-establish a responsibility-based economics – which means we need explicitly to challenge possessionist delusions in every form that they take.

  8. @Myron Chaffee Hi Myron – many thanks for engaging in this. At the risk of sounding patronising – which I very much do not intend – I’d also remind that this theme will be especially challenging for anyone from the US, because the concept of ‘rights’ is such a key foundational-myth for the country itself (‘myth’ in the sense of Causal Layered Analysis, that is, and not any pejorative sense). In that context, to question the concept of ‘rights’ is, in a very real sense, to question what is to be American; by definition, it will bring up fears of ‘being unAmerican’, with all that that implies. So I really am trying to approach this with all respect: yet unfortunately, yes, what I’m saying is that the real-world results of the deep-myth of ‘rights’ are so destructive that we literally dare not allow it to exist. What we need to do instead is go back at least one more layer, to understand the real problem to which the notion of ‘rights’ is the purported ‘solution’, and then work our way back up from there.

    (Also aware that this is the kind of conversation that’s very difficult to do right with text – much easier to do in a back-and-forth banter on a slow afternoon in the kind of cafe/bar that happens also to have a large convenient whiteboard. 🙂 Given that text is all that we have right now, please give me a little more room to get it wrong? :wrygrin: )

    Interested to see you invoke Deming, and his key theme of ‘drive out fear’, because I think you’re right that ‘rights’ are really about fear. More specifically, it’s actually a mechanism to allay personal fears by attempting impose asymmetric responsibilities on others. There are many justifiable fears (or understandable fears, at any rate) that arise in response to others’ purported ‘rights’ to misuse or abuse: much of the ‘women’s rights’ discourse relates to those kind of fears, for example. Historically, much of the anger that created the American Revolution was in response to the purported ‘rights’ of the British government and British companies to impose and maintain highly abusive relationships with the American colonies and colonists. In that sense, the Constitution was largely about the ‘right’ to not be abused by those others’ ‘rights’. The problem is that because the underlying issues and mutual-responsibilities are not addressed, it automatically leads to a kind of spiralling ‘arms race’ of claims and counter-claims of purported priority over others – a literal arms-race, in the case of ‘the right to bear arms’.

    To use a happy American expression, the whole ‘rights-discourse’ has it entirely ass-backwards. It’s a seriously-incomplete ‘how’ (as a mechanism to manage mutual-responsibilities in a complex ecosystem) that’s become reframed as a ‘why’ in its own right, yet has also lost its connection with the actual underlying ‘why’. “Rights exist because I insist”, you say. Well, yes: but why do you insist? Why the emotion? What’s underlying that emotion? To invoke Deming again, what’s the fear? The fears are real: they need to be respected. Yet given that, by all of the available evidence, the ‘rights-discourse’ is not a viable method to address those underlying fears, what else can we do to resolve those fears? That’s what I’m trying to explore here. Insisting that rights exist because you insist that they exist just takes us round in circles…

    If we look at any real-world ecosystem, one of the first things we see is that there are no rights in that ecosystem: nothing has the kind of automatic, inherent priorities over everything else that are implied by the concept of ‘rights’. To give perhaps the simplest of examples, it’s a blunt fact that everything dies: and there are a lot of fears around that – especially amongst just about any sentient beings. Yet it’s also clear nothing has the ‘right’ to not-die: we each do have to face our fears around that fact. Because the ecosystem actually ‘lives’ because of its complex mechanisms of ‘re-use through death’, trying to enforce conditions under which a ‘right to not-die’ might exist inevitably leads to the death of the ecosystem itself: in effect, cutting off the branch that you’re sitting on. Not wise. 🙂

    So what I’m suggesting is to think of all of this in ecosystem-terms. At the abstract level, an ecosystem operates by its flows; fears and attempts at ‘possession’ and the like will block those flows, and hence will inherently render that part of the ecosystem less efficient and effective. So at a purely practical concrete level, this means that any concept of ‘rights’ leads to a spiralling arms-race that eventually prevents the ecosystem from functioning at all. In the longer-term, the purported mechanisms provided by ‘rights’ guarantee total system-failure: we need alternate mechanisms that will actually work with the flows of the ecosystem rather than against them. And if we look at how any ecosystem actually works, it does so via its overall balance of mutual-responsibilities. There are no rights: they are literally a myth, an invented ‘pseudo-fact’. And no amount of insistence otherwise is going to change that fact. The only thing that insistence that ‘rights’ are real will do is create further destruction.

    So: back to why that myth of ‘rights’ is so desirable. And the short answer – exactly as you suggest – is fear. In essence, a ‘right’ is an insistence that others are exclusively responsible for resolving something that I fear. The mere existence of that ‘right’ purports to be ‘the answer’ to that fear. But it’s a classic example of the old adage that “to every complex, difficult question there’s at least one clear, simple, easy-to-understand wrong answer”, because if everyone has the same exclusive right to not be responsible, by definition no-one is responsible. If the ‘rights’ are asymmetric – in other words, only some people have the ‘right’ to be not-responsible – the evident unfairness will, equally inevitably, either create social tensions that will spiral beyond breaking-point, or a wild scramble for the purported ‘right’ to be not-responsible, or both: which again guarantees the eventual destruction of the conditions under which the desired-outcome of the purported ‘right’ could occur. To make it work – to create that desired-outcome – we need to identify the responsibilities that must exist for those fears and needs to be resolved; and then ensure that those responsibilities apply to everyone – and not solely to those who are somehow deemed to not have ‘rights’.

    Take that classic American concern, the ‘right to bear arms’. That ‘right’ is a solution to a problem: but the problem is never addressed, so the solution itself is raised to the level of its own ‘why’. If we ask why this purported right exists, we’re first told that it exists because we insist that it exists – in other words, a circular ‘non-why’. But if we look at the emotion behind that insistence, it’s immediately obvious that there’s a lot of unacknowledged and unaddressed fear: so if we want the true ‘why’ behind the ‘right to bear arms’, we need to look at that fear. What is this fear? And why do we insist that a literal arms-race is the only possible way to resolve those fears? Interesting questions…

    Once we get past the circular assumptions and unacknowledged fears that drive the rights-discourse, we then have a chance to look at what’s actually going on – namely an entrenched evasion of mutual-responsibility. For American culture, one of the deepest structural problems is its asserted ‘inherent’ primacy of the individual over the collective, which creates huge social tensions: hence the fear of all forms of government, for example, or the fear of the social-responsibilities implied by ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’, or – especially – the fear of loss via other people asserting their individual ‘rights’ over others. (This is just one example: other cultures have other inherent structural problems, such as those that arise from the primacy of the collective over the individual – I’m not ‘picking on’ the US here, honest! 🙂 ) So what are the mutual-responsibilities that are needed to make the ecosystem work? How do we ensure that the mutual-responsibilities are balanced, are truly mutual overall? That’s how we address the fears that underly purported ‘rights’ – and how we make the purported ‘need’ for any such ‘rights’ redundant in the real world.

  9. Myron – to illustrate that this isn’t just ‘ideal-world’ theory, take a look at a real-world organisation that has run on explicit responsibility-based lines worldwide for more than 350 years: the Quakers.

    It’s also a faith-based model, with explicit Christian roots yet stripped right back to its core, which in principle should align well with some of the other foundational deep-myths of the US.

    For example, explore the section called ‘Advices and Queries‘: it explains in clear detail how a responsibility-based model works, and is brought into being via personal commitment and personal responsibility, in day-to-day real-world practice.

  10. @Tom G
    Good analysis, especially since our president is the consummate renegotiater and re-solver – in stark contrast to our Tea Party friends…

  11. Myron, John – I perhaps ought to add that I’m keeping very clear of any discussion about US politics here. I have my opinions about such party-politics, of course, because my own life – like that of everyone else in this world – is affected by what happens in the US. But as a literal ‘outsider’ to the US, with no vote to count, I have ‘response-ability’ but no authority there. You could even say, I suppose, that I have no right to be heard? 🙂

    The point is that none of this is about politics as such: it’s about the architecture of the cultural ‘extended-enterprise’ within which that politics is expressed – exactly like a conventional corporation writ (very) large. This is an exercise in enterprise-architecture, not detail-layer politics: nothing more than that. All I’m doing is applying the standard soft-systems analysis that we would apply in any other whole-enterprise context. For example:

    – What are the unquestioned assumptions?
    – What are the consequences of those assumptions?
    – Given that the assumptions are unquestioned, what other explanations are provided for those consequences, and which guide people’s (usually misplaced) responses to those consequences?
    – What are the consequences of those misplaced responses?
    – What mechanisms – such as circular-reasoning – are used to ‘prove’ that the misplaced response is the ‘correct’ one, so as to ensure that the underlying unexamined assumptions remain unexamined?
    – What ‘wicked-problems’ arise as a result of those mechanisms?

    And so on. In a sense, the ‘rights’-discourse is nothing special: it’s just one example amongst many. (To use John’s example of the Tea Party movement, I struggle to understand why the US-right are so insistent on describing themselves as ‘Christian’, even though key Christian concepts such as ‘care for the poor’ or ‘turn the other cheek’ or ‘it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ are explicitly absent from so much of their thought and action…?) The reason why the delusory ‘rights’-discourse is so important is that its consequences are so destructive: and when emotive belief in ‘rights’ is elevated to the level of a foundational article of faith, that seeming ‘god’ of ‘rights’ could well be the death of us all. Hence a very real concern here for any global-scale ‘enterprise-architecture’.

    The classic giveaway for unexamined assumptions – seen especially in supposed ‘sciences’ – is when there’s a lot of emotion around something that, on the surface at least, should be unemotive, rational, a ‘no-brainer’. One glance at the intense emotion around the purported ‘right to bear arms’, for example, should tell us straight away that there’s something just a leeeetle bit weird going on there, that doesn’t have much to do with anything as supposedly rational as a ‘right’. Likewise the obsessive intensity of the attacks dished out by so many self-styled ‘Skeptics’ at anything that doesn’t fit their frequently-myopic concepts of ‘science’: it purports to be ‘rational’, but it’s not rational at all, and has very little to do with the real practice or process or progress of science itself.

    Architecturally speaking, the blunt fact is that in the longer term, unexamined assumptions and pseudo-‘rational’ short-cuts are always bad news – as the people around the Fukushima nuclear plant are currently discovering the hard way… Putting a gloss of ‘rationality’ over a stack of highly-emotive unexamined-assumptions as a way of hiding from the issues is not a good idea. It’s also an unfortunate fact that attempting to be rational about emotive issues is rarely a good idea either: it tends to bring out all of the pent-up emotion full-in-the-face to anyone who even accidentally challenges it. Hence the reason why rational discourse always needs to be accompanied by a lot of respect for the other, so that we can separate the tangled threads of thought and emotion. Not easy, but it does have to be done. And one place where that disentangling does have to be done, and urgently, is the now lethally-dangerous concept of ‘rights’.

    That’s all that I can say about that for now, I guess. Hope it makes some kind of sense, anyways.

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