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What Banksy’s Shredded Art Teaches About Rights

I recently posted about how rights don’t take away morality or ethics – nor do morality and ethics take away rights. Oddly enough the long discussion we’ve had as a society about violence, video games, drugs and pornography is a fertile setting for understanding how we can live in a rights based society and still find it okay to “protect” others from bad moral decisions.

Perhaps you’ve heard of this already, it’s quite interesting to me. A painting by famed graffiti artist Banksy went up for auction and was sold for $1.25 million and the moment the bid was declared final the painting began to shred itself. Embedded in the frame was a paper shredder which turned on and the shredded painting spit out the bottom. The auction house quickly took the painting down and hid it from patrons before the shredding was fully accomplished but not stopped. They issued a statement that the bidder was notified and they were working out what to do next. It’s clear they had no idea this was going to happen.

I often talk about capitalism, about the money that people have an earn being their money and how others don’t have a right to order them to use that money in a particular way. I do think that if someone wants to waste over a million dollars on a painting that’s their right, that’s their business. What I don’t often talk about is how I feel about that outside of the realm of rights. I stand firm in saying that someone should have this right. Don’t mistake that. But I also stand firm in saying that doesn’t mean they should exercise that right.

I can tell you now if I had a million dollars I wouldn’t spend it on a painting, a fancy car, or a giant house. I think that what Banksy has demonstrated (be it his intention or no) is the ephemeral and temporary nature of something like a painting. Even one so grand and wonderful as the Mona Lisa is, in the end, just a painting. I will apply that great line from Jurassic Park uttered by Ian Malcolm to rights. Those with rights sometimes get, “…so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Just because you have the right to spend all your money on a painting doesn’t mean that you should.

I get somewhat frustrated when I hear people say, “not my business”. Someone might post about something terrible and the reply is “not my business”. This is particularly prevalent on libertarian pages I’ve noticed. I think it’s because the libertarian is trying to show their respect for someone’s rights when they say this. What they end up doing though is making it sound as if they have no moral compass or if they have one no desire to share it with anyone else. That might not be the case of course, but when you say, “not my business” that’s the impression it leaves. But I think it is your business. I don’t think there is any kind of contradiction between believing a person has a right to do something and having an opinion on how stupid that thing is.

I am one of those platypus that believes we’re all part of the same family. That by virtue of our humanity we are kin. I was raised that being kin means something. For the religious among us we are all children of the same father as well, literal brothers and sisters. When Cain killed Able God asked him where his brother was and he answered infamously, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” That phrase is what rings in my ears whenever I hear someone respond to the plight or actions of their brother or sister with, “not my business.”

It is your business. You can have an opinion on what others do. You can care when they screw up or not. It’s okay to say, “Man, that was stupid” or “I really do think doing that is a bad idea.” No one should assume that you are wanting to take away their rights or wanting to pass a law to force them to behave the way you want. That, of course, is one of the main things I have against socialism, and fascism, that they seek to take away the rights of others as the means to enforce their own morality. That there are those who would do this should not mean that no one can ever voice their opinions.

I believe that it’s wrong to waste so much money buying a painting. There. I said it.

The person buying the painting is free to buy it and I’m free to think it’s a bad use of their money. Why is that my business? Because I want it to be. Having that opinion, caring about what others do, is no indication that I’m willing to force them to do anything. I’m not going to take that money and redistribute it because I think they aren’t using it right but if I can persuade someone that there’s a better use of the money then why shouldn’t I try? Why should I just shrug and say, “not my business”?

That someone else has rights doesn’t take away your right to have an opinion. They can tell you to pack sand, shove off, or to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. You’re allowed to care and you are allowed to express your opinion. I talk a lot about rights and I do believe that they are the foundation of our not just civilization but humanity but so are morals and ethics and the two things can exist together. I think we’ve gotten so fearful of those who would oppress that we are risking an amoral society which, I think, is dangerous.

So next time someone does something stupid or you have an opinion about their actions, don’t just watch them destroy themselves while you justify yourself by saying “none of my business”, go ahead, be your brother’s keeper for once and let them know, in a kind and persuasive way that you think they are an idiot. They may tell you shut the heck up, or they may thank you for it.

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