Here is the dead end of the conservatives’ hollow defense of rights as gifts from God, and the Left’s defense of rights as gifts from society (the state).
As Devon O'Neil reports for Outside in Parks Are People Too, there is a movement to imbue land, rivers, and entire ecosystems with legal personhood status—and it’s gaining ground in the U.S.
As Ayn Rand discovered and proved, individual rights are moral principles derived from observational facts of human nature. The failure of most of freedom’s defenders to firmly ground rights in reality had to lead to the ultimate absurdity—animal “rights,” plant “rights,” and now the “rights” of inanimate objects. Why not? Didn’t God create all of existence, not just man? If one person can claim that God gifted man with rights, how can anyone argue with another who claims that God gifted rights to rivers or parks? There is no plausible way to deny park rights except with resort to the realities of nature—specifically human nature.
So why even be concerned with such an absurdity? After all, how do you convince a tree that it can’t let its roots intrude onto the property of other trees; herbivorous animals that they can’t devour plants; a coyote that a deer has a right to life? It gets even more absurd when you start to consider the rights of rivers and parks and other inanimate objects. This rights “inflation” is so ridiculous an absurdity that one might ask, why even be concerned with it?
Because it’s not about the rights of these non-human entities.
As Myrna Kay Funkhouser commented on Anoop Verma’s Facebook page For the New Intellectuals, “Only human beings can have rights. To apply the concept otherwise is to contradict its definition, thereby negating the very fact that HUMANS have any rights at all [sic].”
That's the point. "Individual rights" is a moral concept that rests on reason. Rights can only be valid for entities that can understand, exercise, and respect rights. That means individual human beings—and only individual human beings. As Rand discovered, rights are not things in nature, to be awarded according to the whims of God, society, or state. “A ‘right’ is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” In “a social context.” Rights are guardrails defining the scope and limits of individual human action—”Your Liberty To Swing Your Fist Ends Just Where My Nose Begins.” And those limits apply equally to government. As Rand put it,
“Rights” are a moral concept—the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others—the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context—the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.
The purpose of rights is to protect peaceful human beings from other human beings with predatory designs, including human beings in their capacity as government officials: “to secure these rights,” Thomas Jefferson writes in The Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among Men.” Since non-human entities are not capable of understanding, exercising, and respecting rights, the idea that anything other than individual human beings can have rights is absurd on its face. Obviously, you can’t enforce rights on entities that don’t possess reason and free will.
Enter the government. Rights protect humans from aggression by other humans. Government's reason for being is to protect individual rights. Since non-rational and/or non-conscious entities cannot possess rights, government has no role in protecting their rights. Can you see government officials suing, arresting, and prosecuting trees, animals, rivers, or parks for violating rights?
No. It’s not about protecting the rights of all entities from all other entities. The purpose of ascribing rights to non-human entities is to “protect” every non-human existent from human encroachment. Notice who gets hurt by rights inflation. Only human beings—the entities that actually need rights to survive and thrive, by virtue of being the a living entity whose basic means of survival is reason-guided action. Rights inflation is a check on human action.
The non-human rights movement is a war on reason and volition, the tools man uses to remake nature to his benefit; which means, a war on man’s means of survival; which means, a war on man. Under the guise of protecting the "rights" of non-human entities, government officials will be awarded unlimited arbitrary power over people, since everything man does to improve his life can be construed as violating the “rights” of something in nature. Hence, the end of human rights—of human mastery of nature, of human progress, of human flourishing; of the very idea that man is a part of nature—giving rise to the ultimate weapon of the totalitarian state; man as guilty simply for existing.
The theory of non-human rights is the power-lusters’ ultimate wet dream.
Moral Rights and Political Freedom—Tara Smith
Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society—Craig Biddle for The Objective Standard