Thinking aloud here: I may not even agree with this when I reread it tomorrow.
Much of our modern talk about why the world needs to be changed is grounded in the language of rights--Human Rights, Great Ape Rights, Animal Rights, and so forth. The language of rights, in turn, has historically been grounded in conceptions about either Nature or Nature's God. This presents a problem for technoprogressive discourse: Technoprogressive types tend to believe passionately in acting for the amelioration of suffering and the improvement of the state of the world, but also tend to argue that conceptions rooted in valorizations of "the natural" are best discarded for more postnaturalistic ways of thinking. Thus, technoprogressives are among those talking and thinking about problems that most of the world talks and thinks about in terms of "rights," a concept whose naturalism makes it uncongenial at best.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence is perhaps the best text (likely the most frequently employed, at any rate) with which to illustrate some of the derivations of modern rights talk. The introduction speaks of the American people assuming
"the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them."
This phrase is far less famous than the preamble's:
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
In both cases, the rights asserted are grounded in appeals to nature and divinity. The former appeal characterizes attempts to reduce ethics to science, the latter, to reduce it to religion. The Declaration typifies the Deist era--containing glimmers of both medieval theology's twilight and modern scientism's dawn. The text reflects its author: Jefferson famously collated his own New Testament with all the supernaturalism (literally) cut out, and dabbled in the pseudoscientific and scientistic vogue for attempting to reduce the passions to equations like Love + Hate = Jealousy. But it was Franklin, revolutionary, scientist, and one-time muser about something akin to cryonics (involving pickling in port), who pushed Jefferson to replace "sacred" with "self-evident".
The moment when Jefferson's quill scratched out "sacred" for "self-evident" nicely marks the emergence of modern rights talk. Beforehand, Westerners were mostly talking about a Natural Law grounded in Scholastic exegeses of Aristotle and the Bible. The Scholastic tradition that rights descend from Nature's God was an inheritance from the Stoics that the Latin West had picked up from Cicero.
The problems for technoprogressivism of rights grounded in anybody's Flying Spaghetti Monster probably seem pretty "self-evident" to most who'd read this, and I'm not going to belabor them here (anymore than I already have...). But grounding rights in nature just reproduces these problems in a stealthed form--which stealthing is of course awfully characteristic of the last few centuries in a Foucauldian sorta way.
One problem with appeals to nature: The self-evident ain't.
Self-evidence was another Stoic shibboleth, the epistemological gladius with which they fended off the probabilistic Carneadean skeptics of the New Academy and fought their way to an empiricism that they found adequate to ground their ethical assertions. When Franklin replaced sacredness with self-evidence, he was grounding the Declaration in the same sort of presumed common sense. But consensus beliefs that the sun rises in the morning (or that the Earth revolves around it) have to remain, however commonsensical, only provisional if the scientific method is to be true to itself. And in the domain of ethics, scientific study of nature can't even supply such strong probabilities. People don't agree about ethics the way they do about the sun. So appeals to nature tend to just reproduce appeals to God in more secularly respectable language, from the Stoic dictum to "Live according to nature," to the modern homophobe's contention that gay marriage "just ain't natural."
But if technoprogressives can't ground rights in these appeals, can we, should we, still argue from them? Rights can simply be asserted, without attempting to ground the assertion in anything. Or rights can be grounded merely in the fact that lots of people already believe in them. Or rights can be grounded in a sense that we wouldn't want to live in a world without them.
But none of these is immune to even half-serious argumentative attack. So I'm led to ask if the technoprogressive left can find a way to argue without rights, or a different way to talk about rights. Policies can be argued for on utilitarian grounds--regardless of whether people are entitled to X, it would be swell if they had it. Or, rights can be conceptualized as a shared and currently indispensable cultural norm around which political talk coalesces at the interpersonal, local, national, and global levels, but which can be endlessly reshaped by discussion about what the good life and the good society ought to be. In this case, rights, like selves, might be conceived as a kind of narratively necessary fiction, a motif with which to tell each other politically powerful stories about justice.
This is the sort of understanding of technoprogressive rights talk that I'm inching toward. The problem with it is, something like "a woman's right to choose" loses much of its rhetorical strength with a denatured rights talk. So what to do?