Anyone who has watched children can easily observe the strong commitment they have to playing by the rules. Perhaps the activity is a game of some kind. Whether a board game, a round of tag, or a ball game, each of the little participants is a fierce referee when it comes to how the other children are playing. If someone attempts an illegal move of his game piece; if a soccer player touches the ball when he should not; or if the person who is tagged by the player who is "it" refuses to switch roles; regardless of the situation, the other children will pounce, figuratively if not literally, upon the transgressor and ensure he either plays correctly or leaves.
On other occasions, family rules exist which have evolved over time and by which all the members abide. Whether the situation is whose turn it is to clear the dishes, take out the trash, sit by the car window, or walk the dog, if someone fails in her responsibility or seizes an advantage out of turn, the likely result will be an eruption of angry shouting.
In grade school, children learn rules for how to make requests of the teacher, where they may hang their coats and store their lunches, and when it is permissible to talk with their classmates. If they break those rules, they will find themselves staying in from recess, visiting the principal's office, or anticipating a dreaded confrontation with their parents when they return home.
Such rules exist for reasons. They provide guidelines for how children are to treat one another, what tasks they are permitted or denied, and the nature of their relationships with parents and other adults. Some of the rules they have a hand in developing. Others may be imposed by authorities or guardians. Some will be reasonable and easy to follow. Others will be arbitrary, harsh, ludicrous, or difficult to obey.
Unfortunately, in today's society the lessons these youngsters learn as to the importance of certain rules for peaceful coexistence and the enthusiasm they exhibit in enforcing those rules somehow disappears like water into desert sands by the time they reach maturity.
Rules now mean little in many areas of life when disgruntled individuals discover they dislike theconditions under which they are operating. Rather than attempting to discuss alterations in procedures with other participants of the particular enterprise in which they are engaged, a growing number of people believe themselves totally justified in forcing their co-workers, their compatriots, or their colleagues into actions which violate the rules under which they originally cooperated.
Perhaps some of these rules are unfair. Some may be silly. Some may become better rules if they are changed in accordance with the dictates of the court or legislature or city council. Any such considerations, however, must be secondary to the more fundamental question:
Who gets to make the rules?
Most of us have either heard of or experienced the type of situation in which a playmate brings a ball or a game and demands that, if you are to play, you must first agree to alter the normal rules in some way. He says, in effect, "It's my ball. If you don't want to play by my rules, I'll take my ball and go home." Perhaps the child's wish is one you don't like. It may give him an unfair advantage or alter play in a fashion you find disagreeable.
If you chose to act as did the individuals in the above examples, you could call upon an adult or an older sibling to force the child to share his ball or his game and to play by your rules. While you might succeed -- at least for that one time -- in getting your friend to play the game, he will quite likely become resentful and angry and refuse to associate with you in the future.
On the other hand, you could attempt to persuade him to return to the rules you traditionally play by. You might try to shame him into behaving less childishly. If those approaches fail to budge him, however, the only two remaining alternatives are either to say, "Fine, let's play by your rules," or, "Forget it. I'll go find someone else to play with."
The only proper, moral principle is, that if you are going to use someone else's property for your personal enjoyment or benefit -- whether that property is a ball, a restaurant, or something less tangible like a sports tournament -- the person who owns that property has the ultimate say in how you will be allowed to use it. His demands may be egregious or inane or insulting, but as long as he does not attempt to coerce you -- as long as you possess the ability to say, "Forget it!" and to walk away -- then you can only try to reason with him or accept his rules.
Property rights provide the means for implementing the right to one's life. As Ayn Rand said, "Without property rights, no other rights are possible." ("Man's Rights," in The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 94.) If someone is able to dictate to you how you will dispose of or use your property, then you are, to that extent, his slave. You must be free to use your property in any manner you want so long as you do not endanger the life or property of someone else.
Property rights help delineate the proper boundary between one person and another. They help us recognize those aspects of the world which are subject to our control and which are under the authority of others. Property rights help ensure peaceful interactions among individuals. Without them, only chaos and ceaseless conflict can result. "It is the institution of private property that protects and implements the right to disagree..." (Ayn Rand, "What is Capitalism?", in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 19.)
It is property rights that help to ensure that, if worse comes to worse, you can take your ball and go home...
...and no one can stop you.