A review of The Myth of Natural Rights by L.A. Rollins.
You know, I like outsider art as much as the next hipster, and outsider intellectuals too, at least in theory. People like Eric Hoffer, Harry Smith, various sixties visionaries (who are now part of the establishment, but weren't when I liked them), Robert Anton Wilson. Can't think of too many others right now, probably because I myself have gone mainstream long ago. But I am very sympathetic to the general feeling that the academic establishment has climbed up its own bunghole when it comes to actual thinking. Oh, academics can do wonderful work when they have actual subject matter, scientific or otherwise, but who expects shattering philosophical insight to come from someone with tenure? Mad geniuses on the margins, that's what we need.
Unfortunately simply being marginal and bereft of higher education does not in itself constitute a guarantee of quality. So I have to report that The Myth of Natural Rights by L.A. Rollins and with an introduction by omniorthogonal reader tggp, is for the most part a combination of the banal and the offensively stupid.
The book itself: I was impressed with the jacket design and typography, although the cover illustration is ugly and I have no idea what it is supposed to mean. It's a nice package -- too bad about the contents. There are four sections:
1) A long argument that rights are not natural objects like rocks or the law of gravity. Well, duh. I figured that out all by myself long ago. I suppose this might be useful new information for dim-witted libertarians, but I didn't get anything out of it. Rollins goes on to declare that all morality is a sham, which is the kind of deep insight most people have and get past at age 16 or so. The interesting questions lie beyond that realization -- if morality isn't dictated by god or nature, then what is it, how does it work, how should we deal with moral issues if we can't refer back to god's authority? It's not like people haven't given this some thought, but Rollins ignores this work, preferring to spend a hundred pages beating a mostly-dead horse.
2) Holocaust revisionism. This part made me sorry to have paid money for the book. Here's a rule of thumb: anyone trafficking in this crap is ipso fact a moron, a dipshit, a bottom-dwelling creep. It's hard to tell whether Rollins actually believes the Holocaust didn't happen, or if he's just trying to prove some point by being independent of respectable opinion. In the former case, he's an idiot. In the latter case, he's playing around with the deaths of millions for his amusement and retarded self-gratification. I guess I'd hope it's the former; stupidity is more forgivable and correctable than being an asshole.
3) A satiric lexicon in the style of Ambrose Bierce / Bob Black, which was actually pretty good.
4) Some juvenile stuff aimed at Allah and George Bush. Yawn.
So much for the alternatives to the mainstream. The one good outcome for me from reading this book is that it caused me to move Marc Hauser's Moral Minds to the top of my pile. Kind of establishment, being a scientist at Harvard no less, but he actually knows what he is talking about (I presume) and doesn't (I presume) regurgitate sophomoric philosophy as if it were news.
It occurs to me that I might be less hard on section (1) if not for the offensive nature of section (2). Is that fair? Who knows. Presumably Rollins doesn't believe in fair, so he can't complain.
There are two points that merit longer responses and I may get to them eventually: First, if rights are not natural objects, then what are they? I hinted at an answer to that here but it deserves a longer explanation. Second, the question of how one evaluates the quality of information sources is one that interests me. Holocaust revisionism itself is supremely non-interesting, but how do I know that I should trust mainstream historians and not the dedicated scholars of the Journal of Historical Review? That is an interesting question in this age when all sorts of information and mis-information flows freely across the internet.
[2014 postscript -- how did I not realize until just now that this Rollins book was, in its earlier incarnation, the inspiration for Robert Anton Wilson's book Natural Law: or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy? I am remarkably dense sometimes.]