Asymmetrical Rights

I’ve written about how rights are digital, but there is another quality that I’d like to explore a bit. While all of our rights may be equal, they may not always be symmetrical. We all have the right to do whatever we want unless or until it infringes upon the rights of another to do the same, but what happens when two parties are exercising the same right, equally, at the same time, but only one of them is infringing on the other?

For example, few would deny that one has the right to sit out in the back yard and enjoy the peace and quiet of the outdoors. But at the same time, sitting outside with your stereo on listening to your favorite tunes would also seem to be a right we should all enjoy. It is clear that the right to be as loud as you want, when exercised by multiple people simultaneously, can lead to conflict. Resolving these disputes is beyond the scope of this essay, but the intriguing thing to me is this: the guy who wants to be as quiet as he can doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights, it’s only his next door neighbor, with the amplifier that goes to eleven that infringes on others. So there is an asymmetry in the right to be as loud as you want.

Another example would be walking down the street. You walk at your own pace, and certainly no one would argue that this isn’t an inherent right — you walk as fast as you like. But I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where someone has stepped aside, to allow faster walkers to pass, with a polite “excuse me.” This act is recognition of the fact that exercising the right to choose the speed at which we walk is asymmetrical, and that walking slowly prevents others from exercising their right to walk fast. The converse is not true, however — the fast walkers do not prevent the slow walkers from walking slow — so again, this right is asymmetrical.

The state of Georgia recently considered this assymetry by proposing to fine slow drivers. I think this is a step in the right direction. The next step, of course, would be to eliminate the penalties against those who want to drive fast, since they are not infringing on anyone’s rights.

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