Posted by: Rob | January 10, 2010

There is no such thing as rights

George Carlin has been one of my most favourite stand up guys since I was 13 or 14 and heard, for the first time, his bit about the seven words you can’t say on television.*  This clip, about rights and swearing on bibles, showed up today on the Sunday Video Club over at  It’s a little over 9 minutes long.

Before I get to the “rights” part, there were a couple of different things struck me as I viewed the clip.  One is that George Carlin was looking pretty old when this was recorded.  Two is that in the latter part of his career he really wasn’t doing comedy any more.  He was doing social (and political) commentary, in much the same way that Bill Hicks did commentary.  Third and finally, I wondered about the audience reactions; some of the audience was laughing and tittering throughout the bit, but I didn’t find any of what George was saying in this bit all that funny.  Tragic? Yes, but not all that funny.

Some notable quotes to think about from the clip:

At 4:28, about rights, “Folks, I hate to spoil your fun but there’s no such thing as rights, okay?  They’re imaginary.  We made them up! Like the boogeyman, the three little pigs, Pinocchio, Mother Goose, shit like that.  Rights are an idea, they’re just imaginary.  Cute idea! Cute.  But that’s all. Cute…and fictional.”

At 4:58, on “God-given” rights, “The God excuse.  The last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument.  It came from God.  Anything you can’t describe must have come from God.  Personally, folks, I believe that if your rights came from God, he would’ve given you the right for some food every day, and he would’ve given you the right to a roof over your head. GOD would’ve been lookin’ out for ya. God would’ve been lookin’ out for ya.  You know that.”

At 5:33, on the number of rights God gave Americans, “But let’s say it’s true. Let’s say that God gave us these rights. Why would he give us a certain number of rights?  The Bill of Rights of this country has 10 stipulations. OK…10 rights. And apparently God was doing sloppy work that week, because we’ve had to amend the bill of rights an additional 17 times. So God forgot a couple of things, like…SLAVERY. Just fuckin’ slipped his mind.  But let’s say…let’s say God gave us the original 10. He gave the British 13. The British Bill of Rights has 13 stipulations. The Germans have 29, the Belgians have 25, the Swedish have only 6, and some people in the world have no rights at all. What kind of a fuckin’ god damn god given deal is that!?…NO RIGHTS AT ALL!? Why would God give different people in different countries a different numbers of different rights? Boredom? Amusement? Bad arithmetic? Do we find out at long last after all this time that God is weak in math skills? Doesn’t sound like divine planning to me. Sounds more like human planning . Sounds more like one group trying to control another group. In other words…business as usual in America.”

At 7:55, on rights as privileges, “They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country is a bill of TEMPORARY privileges; and if you read the news, even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter and shorter.  Yeah, sooner or later the people in this country are going to realize the government doesn’t give a fuck about them. The government doesn’t care about you, or your children, or your rights, or your welfare or your safety. It simply doesn’t give a fuck about you. It’s interested in it’s own power. That’s the only thing…keeping it, and expanding wherever possible.”

At 8:33, in conclusion, “Personally when it comes to rights, I think one of two things is true: I think either we have unlimited rights, or we have no rights at all.”

* That was, obviously, back in the day when those words actually couldn’t be used on television.


  1. I have no problem with people who stand on their rights. We’re all entitled to the basics. But down in my neck of the woods people often forget that along with those rights come responsibility. It’s part of our legacy to have people jumping up and down and shouting about what they haven’t got, but should have. In any ‘normal’ society this may be so. Unfortunately we have a huge burden of disenfranchised and disadvantaged people. Their attitude of ‘give it to me’ is understandable, if damn annoying. The only things I have is those which I have worked for. Same can’t be said for them …

    • I think the line between “rights” and “entitlements” gets blurred sometimes. And those who perceive that they’ve been slighted, even if it’s caused by their own lack of effort, will be strident in their demands for parity.

  2. Thanks for posting the salient bits as I don’t have 9 minutes to spare right now. I loved the 7 words you can’t say on television – George Carlin was the man!

    • The seven words were great. I miss those days when that was considered “shocking”.

  3. Poignant and memorable were the last lines you quoted: ” . . . either we have unlimited rights, or we have no rights at all.”

    I most heartily agree. Sadly–since that means we have no rights at all and now I’m depressed.

    • Welcome Fragrant Liar! I believe I’ve seen your moniker around other blogs I periodically frequent.

      The rights thing? It’s been an illusion all along. There’s really no such thing as freedom, either, I’m afraid to say.

      But, if we live “internally” no outside influence can touch us.

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