Saturday, July 07, 2007

Some Thoughts on Property

There's something strange about saying a portion of space and the land within "belong" to an individual. This extends to the idea of countries: how is it possible for a space to "belong" to a group of people?

Practically, we talk about "ownership" and "property" when something won't be taken away from someone. Yet the only thing we own necessarily are our thoughts. Our life can be taken away and our actions can be misassociated, but without our thoughts there is no "us" to own them.

Yet we still talk about certain objects and spaces as "property". Some of these others attempt to take, but fail either due to the owner fighting for ownership, or due to a misguided or misdirected attempt. Other things no one attempts to take, because they don't want them or have made an agreement not to. These are all very different types of property, and we should treat them differently (unlike some anarchistic philosophy that uses the term "property" very generally):

  • property by necessity (thoughts)
  • property by struggle (countries, civil liberties)
  • property by contract (private land, objects)

I'm not sure what to call "property due to misunderstanding", but it must exist. Maybe something like the Christian or Muslim hope in afterlife — plenty of misguided attempts have been made to destroy it (through martyrs, etc.), while the only true loss of that hope is when believers convert from an afterlife-affirming religion to an afterlife-denying belief system.

Speaking of civil liberties as a property by struggle may be a bit extreme, but I think it's accurate so long as you're not making any other assumptions about the nature of humanity and its purpose.

What about thieves? The existence of thieves is dependent on the existence of property. In a world without property, one person may still take another person's bike, but it would no longer be stealing.

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