“We got ownership totally backwards.”
When I utter those words, especially to libertarians and anarchists, the reactions can be downright comical. It’s not that no one articulates good points — they do, once they get past initial face-palms and realize not only that I’m serious but my points are well-thought.
The funny thing is, instead of investigating the idea — which would be a reasonable first step towards objecting to it — they often turn to rhetoric, i.e., substituting insinuative questions in place of discussable arguments.
I call these ploys but-then-what-abouts — classic signs that we’ve hit Knowledge City’s outer limits: but then what about this or that system or institution or tradition or practice that wouldn’t/couldn’t but should work; but then what about this or that implication we don’t like and can’t accept or favorite belief we can’t part with; but then what about this or that position we’d be forced into but don’t want it and damned if we’ll adopt it… every one an implicit challenge to put up or shut up, as if unless it comes ready-equipped with answers to each of a potentially endless list of what’s-the-next-one-I-can-grab challenges, my point is negligible, inconsequential, dismissible, (one person actually said, “So it can be disregarded entirely, as if you never said it,”) and as if unless I already divined the challenges and formulated persuasive responses, I didn’t do enough homework to warrant making a point at all.
I find skeptical expectations for clairvoyance of prophetic proportions on my part, the one who supposedly doesn’t know what he’s talking about and would need near-omniscience to satisfy the skeptic that I do indeed have a point, to be no end of amusing.
Pointing out that there weren’t enough lifeboats on the Titanic would have been similarly invalid, as long as people believed that the ship was invincible, rendering lifeboats likewise negligible, inconsequential, dismissible concerns. But then icebergs came along anyway and changed all that.
Lack of credible answers to rhetorical questions doesn’t invalidate a blessed thing, especially if it shows that challengers failed to find fairly obvious answers that would have become apparent with just a bit of creative exploration, suggesting instead that the real problem involves pulling heads out of asses of authoritarian brainwashing. Resorting to rhetoric is merely a discursive throwing up of hands in denial of its own capitulatory impetus, a misdirect posing as criticism or even as aggressive defense against the very challenge to which it has no good response.
That’s some funny stuff there.
My favorite is: “But without ownership, then what about criminals? What would prevent them from taking my stuff?”
My answer: “Well dude, if we eliminated ownership and shared the wealth and everyone had all they needed, no one would care enough about you to want your stuff.”
To that remark, expressions of perplexity and then disappointment cross their faces, as awareness flashes of a possible world in which they and their stuff aren’t central issues to everyone else; but then awareness passes…
However, I sympathize. Ownership is the Titanic of authoritarianism, the well-organized juggernaut that holds it all together, safely navigating its wards with their cargo through wild, treacherous, incomprehensibly anarchistic seas while they jubilate over feats of profiteering triumph. Secure within sumptuous quarters, everyone from totalitarian tyrants and corporatocratic cabalists to libertarians and anarchists feel protected, enjoying onboard comforts of possessing stuff and arguing the merits of various designs and performance features of the Good Ship Ownership, each one of them clueless about its grossest failings: It is cruising backwards and headed for the bergs.
Interrupting the party with bad news isn’t pleasant, but someone’s got to do it. It’s even harder to accept news that not only is your feast headed for disaster, but you’re extolling the very stupidity that set you off in its direction, blithely sailing backwards.
And what are these shipwrecking, death-dealing obstructions that our vessel laden with property rights steams toward, back to front, if not rights-rending truth thrown up by our own psyches, individually and collectively, and by the universe itself? Namely: over-concentration of resources will be forcibly diluted if not willingly shared.
From physics to economics, the very grit of reality teaches us the rule of entropy: concentration is achieved only through focused application of energy, i.e., work — but if accumulated and sequestered long enough beyond a sustainable equilibrium point, especially in ongoing deprivation acutely felt by the very sources of energy and work that created it, concentration of resources will be inexorably resisted and then disintegrated by latent backlash finally let loose. These anti-hoarding forces aren’t hidden except to those who fail to mind their surroundings while they insist on traveling backwards.
Not just the universe on the whole is averse to hoarding — hoarding aversion is endemic everywhere you look. This is ironic because, without the insane drive to hoard, most of the impetuses that form the perceived need for ownership would disappear, and with them the means to justify hoarding.
Except within the fringe conditions where competition occurs, (apart from aberrant psychology, competition does not normally arise under conditions of abundance, except as a form of play,) sharing is the overwhelming rule everywhere in nature. Sure, the lioness does all the hunt work, and the alpha male takes the first and possibly largest share, but it is only a share unless game gets so scarce that sharing becomes impossible.
The alpha lion doesn’t drag the carcass off, buzzing with flies and rotting, and guard it against his own while he watches his pride waste away. But inhumans do. And they know it. And they know their riotous voyage in praise and homage to the gods of unconscionable, flagrant opulence is headed for a jagged wall with collision impending. One of them, speaking to his own, admitted, The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats. He seems to think that the ship’s course can be corrected and catastrophe averted, but he doesn’t look far enough ahead, nor does he understand the nature of disappointed trust. Exploiters don’t get second chances — especially not unapologetic flaunters like him. He’s relying, of course, on the integrity of ownership; but what then when it disintegrates?
Human beings, animals, and nature at large are wired for sharing. It’s one grand, prolonged, orgiastic throe of interchanging, intercoursing share and be shared out there. Settlements and tribes and societies didn’t form primarily to create opportunities for competition, but to create cooperative conditions without which competition fizzles, (you can’t compete if your environment and competitors won’t enable and support it,) or turns into war, demolishing its facilitating environment along with competitors on all sides — leaving survivors to recover and cooperatively rebuild conditions like those they just destroyed. By exceeding minimal levels of competition in otherwise cooperative processes, we disrupt the very means that make competition possible. Apart from a fundamentally cooperative matrix of beliefs, behaviors, and social systems that enable what at most are localized and episodic instances, competition can’t occur except as chaos — the very nemesis that its advocates claim competition will supposedly prevent.
While species are extant, by mere virtue of existing they share resources, no matter how we characterize the sharing. Our penchant has been to focus on the deprivation side of the sharing equation, characterizing it as a competitive struggle over who takes first and most — which view, by the way, is consistent with cognitive immaturity — but characterizing a matter can be a substitute for understanding it, not necessarily evidence of understanding. Nothing forces us to tailor our means of resource management around deprivationist views consistent with cognitive immaturity — unless we’re incapable of doing better.
Life looks like a predominately competitive matter only once you fail to mind the predominately cooperative nature of your surroundings, your innate and deeply embedded desire to share and cooperate, and the glaring fact that only cooperation is productive. Competition is at best a struggle over control of the means of cooperation and, as such, is a drain on productivity. Necessity as the mother of invention might motivate competition, but it’s an abusive mother whose stick does no good unless it eventually drives us to cooperate and create. The mere fact of necessity doesn’t imply that creativity under a kinder mother would fail to be far more inventive and productive.
Nothing prevents us from designing resource management for cooperation and sharing instead of competition. In a cooperative world where sharing is the norm, ownership would be unnecessary. In fact, it would be ludicrous. Even in our presently far less than perfect world, ownership serves as cover for muzzling sharing and excusing hoarding. And no matter how much competition for resources there might be between members of a species and between species, competition itself has nothing to do with regarding resources as “property” or establishing “rights” — both of which are essential to the uniquely human notion of ownership. Humans are unrivaled in forming the kinds of emotional attachments to objects that constitute property possession in the first place; but we alone take deliberately preemptive measures to secure our object attachments and our pursuit of more from interruption, which security is precisely and almost exclusively what ownership aims for.
So what turned this ship ass-backwards? What even constitutes “backwards” in this context? I might point out the backwardness of societies that estimate status, power, and personal worth in terms of property possession, let alone the negative predication of preemptive defense against loss of control over property that ownership represents, but its backwardness is much simpler and clearer than that.
Every prevalent concept of ownership, now and for the last many thousands of years, shares a single, massive characteristic so familiar that we pay it no attention, having presumed it: ownership is constituted in the past. We pretend as if this characteristic were a given, necessary and definitional — again, showing we haven’t thought things through well enough to notice obvious alternatives. I will leave you to do the light work required to realize the forehead-slapworthy alternative, (you’ll know it when it hits you,) because I want to stress how roundly our basic social concepts result from authoritarian brainwashing instead of clear, creative, critical thinking. The best way to impress this is let you experience the difficulty of finding alternatives and, once you see them, realize how obvious they should have been. Then, hopefully, you’ll realize that only your Pavlovian ruts of thought prevented you from noticing them before.
Ownership of a possession originated at some past point often long forgotten, with no necessary regard to rights, rationality, desirability, or eventual outcome, by events that established a condition of ownership. Invariably, originating events were unilateral confiscations of resources. Once established, ownership then got transferred from hand to hand by transactions that were either bilateral, involving mutual agreement (business), or by yet more unilateral confiscations (theft), until it wound up in the hands of a current owner. At any point along the way, despite rights, rationality, desirability, or calamitous outcome to the contrary, or even in deliberately unjust, insane, and cruelly anti-life and indignifying actions openly defiant to every possible consequence, claims of ownership once recognized prevail no matter how they were established. Not only does ownership in fact trump all other concerns, it is designed precisely as a means of trumping all other concerns. Not only does it sometimes happen to be deleterious in effect — it was intended to be exactly that if necessary.
When this finally dawns on people, there will be icy hell to pay.
Ownership justifies deliberate deprivation of the many in order to enforce the privatization of resources by one or a few. This is the quintessential consequence of diabolically inverted priorities by which esteem for property dominates and overrules esteem for people. To caring, empathetic, intelligent human beings, this priority inversion should represent nothing short of mental illness; but since our cultures are pervaded by it, we accept it for normalcy.
And yet, no amount and no manner of control — moral, ethical, legal, religious, nor even brute coercion — attempting to preclude or mitigate the horrendous excesses all too often realized by this travesty of valuation upside-downism can erase the fact that ownership is essentially depersonalizing, indignifying, violent, potentially horrific, and some people want it that way, because they like it that way. If this is normalcy, please bring on person-affirming, dignifying, pacific, potentially beneficial insanity, because it could fare no worse — but we balk at that prospect. So the Good Ship Ownership ploughs on, all stops out, full steam backwards, waiving its right of passage documentation as it makes straight for a looming barrier of sheering, crippling ice.
With each ownership-rationalized violation, popular indignation further crystallizes, adding yet another centimeter to the broad and quickly rising, diamond-sharp formation of bergs that will eventually, invincibly rend the Good Ship Ownership from stern to stem. No amount of traditions or legalities or arguments or concepts are capable of repelling the crash or plugging the tear, because the impact and its damage will be wholly of another sort. The violence that ownership represents and inflicts is not abstract, so abstract means cannot mitigate it or rebuff reaction to it. The violence of ownership happens in fact and is felt physically, emotionally, and socially, eclipsing morality and piercing the very quick of human, life-affirming motivations for which morality is no more than a feeble, abstract excuse of a means of control. More than a question of controlling resources, this is about the credibility needed to establish and maintain control. More fundamental than rights, this is about the intentions and motivations of authoritarians who created and propagandize the socially accepted rationales on which basis rights are constituted.
Credibility of concept is no match for credibility of experience which, once ruptured, is nearly impossible to mend. Ownership’s roots in privilege derived from heredity, conniving, and historical accident are quickly becoming incredible. No political, military, or religious response can withstand its disintegration, which will shake every form of authoritarianism to its roots, destroying faith in the debunked ark-cum-scrapheap that once bore them: ownership of property.
Ownership as we’ve known it violates us where we live, at the very roots we live from as sharing, caring, cooperative human beings and fellow creatures. And there’s more…
To read more about the violation that by definition constitutes ownership, see Towards Clarity On Ownership.
To read a brief discussion of specific incoherencies metaphorically introduced above, see Ownership — Talk About a Dumb Idea.
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