Archives for posts with tag: Property

Let me start by attempting to answer this question in a logical manner.

Theoretically, individuals have the right to defend their lives. And properties. In some jurisdictions, the defender might even shoot the trespasser.
On the other hand, it is a lot harder to identify an example where property might end up purposefully damaged in a lawful manner while life is being defended. ‘Purposefully’ as in property being targeted in an attempt to fulfill the goal of defending life.
When groups of people are involved, things are even more complicated.
Is a community entitled – using the police force, a “well regulated militia” or even ‘spontaneously’, to inflict bodily harm to a group of people who randomly destroys property? What becomes different when the destruction occurs during a protest ‘gone wrong’?
The way I see it, things are more complicated at the social level because of the number of people involved. At the individual level, things are simple. The guy who trespasses is the one who gets hurt. The defender is the only person who might inflict injury and the one who will answer for the act. When there are more people involved…. Some protest peacefully, others do the damage… and who knows who gets clobbered – or shot, by the police?!? Same thing looking from the ‘other’ side. The owner of a property might have decided to protect it in a different manner than the police … or even not at all…
To wrap it up, there’s no single answer for this question. On the individual level, the actors/agents must decide on the spot. Considering the specifics of each incident. While being ready to accept the consequences. On the social level, neither murder nor property damage are acceptable and must be dealt with in a very thoughtful, but firm, manner.

As usual, logic can take us only this far. Far from the essence…

What are we doing here?
How can we even attempt to compare life with property?
Do they belong to the same category?
Can we sell a human being? Do houses have souls?
What’s happening to us?

As I promised you some time ago, let’s have a look at ‘property’.

As you recall, I was arguing that we, humans, are only ‘qualitatively’ different from the rest of the animals. In the sense that we do everything that they do – and nothing really new or different, only that we do it ‘better’. And more ‘evenly’.

In my previous post, I was dealing with ‘trade’. So I’ll use ‘trade’ to explain what I mean by ‘more evenly’.

All living things are made of three things.

An inside, a membrane and a set of instructions which deal with two things.
How the whole thing should be structured in order to able to live and how the inside should interact with the outside – through the membrane, in order for the organism to remain alive and replicate itself.

My previous post dealt with individual organism trading food (a.k.a. matter) and information with their outside. It also dealt with manners in which trade can be performed.
Directly – as in barter, or indirectly – using symbols.
The most simple barter is breathing. Exchanging gases with the environment. Or foraging – individual organisms ingest food and water and excrete poop and urine.
‘Trading’ information is a little more complicated. An individual organism can be endowed with genetic information by it’s parents, presented with information by some of its peers – bacteria or playmates, taught by its voluntary or involuntary teachers or it can glean information by itself through mindful observation. Also, trading information is more complicated than trading food because information can be either ‘hardware’ or ‘software’. DNA inherited from the parents (received from peers/’invaders’) being ‘hardware’ while information gleaned through observation or during training being ‘software’.

Everything described in the previous paragraph is common for all living organisms, including humans.

My point being that we’ve been trading, from the ‘beginning’, far more items than any of  the other living things – plants and/or animals.
OK, an individual whale will eat far more than an individual human being. But whales eat, basically, one or two things. While we, humans, will throw down our throats almost anything that we fancy. Including some stuff which will actually hurt us.

But the real interesting thing is the manner in which we ‘trade’ information. We not only observe keenly what happens outside our consciousness (not just outside our-bodies, simply outside the shell that harbors our ‘mind’) but also translate that information into symbols and then communicate that symbolic information with our fellow human beings.

And here’s the catch.

I mentioned earlier that every individual organism consists of an inside, a membrane which keeps it together and a package of information.
For survival purposes, each organism must consider all its three components as being its own and to defend them ‘to the bitter end’. Or else…
Which is congruent to what happens in the real world… Membranes are relatively hard to penetrate, there are some defense mechanisms which at least attempt to take of any intruders – the immune system, for example….
More over, the more ‘sophisticated’ organisms also defend ‘their’ territories and the local resources they have identified and claimed as being theirs. If you don’t believe me, just try to take a bone from any normal dog which isn’t yours.

You see, not even ‘property’ is exclusively  specific to humans…. We have created the concept, we actually define ourselves using our possessions… yet we share this trait with all other living organisms… even if they don’t know anything about it…

Remember what I just said about us being able to trade ‘symbolic’ information? To ‘formulate’ the information before trading/sharing it?
Same thing happens with ‘property’.

For a dog, a bone is its property as long as it happens to be in his snout. And most dogs have no problem in attempting to ‘steal’ a bone from another dog – as long as the other is not way bigger, a pup or some-other special cases.

Meanwhile, most humans would painstakingly respect other people’s property.
Simply because, for us, property has also meaning. Besides ‘survival value’

NB. In English, ‘property’ is not exclusively about possession. Its root, ‘proper’, means from ‘clean’ to ‘as it should be’.

We, humans, pride ourselves on many things.

On being smart/intelligent. And on being the only animals able to brag about their achievements with their peers…

But what is it that qualifies us as humans?
That would, of course, depend on what a human really is…

OK, let me use another tack.
What are we really good at? What sets us apart from the rest of the animals?

Practical intelligence? Our ability to solve really complicated problems?

Then watch this wild New Caledonian Crow treating itself to a piece of meat.

new Caledonian crow

Our ability to figure new meaning and to overcome our natural impulses?

Then read about Sheba the Chimp using language to suppress her greed:

In a celebrated study that investigated impulse control, Sally Boysen of Ohio State University asked chimps to choose between two dishes of M&Ms®.

SALLY BOYSEN: Now, you watch real carefully. We’re going to put one, two, three, four down here. Are you watching, Miss Priss? Sheeby? And we’re going to put two in here.

Give those to Sarah. Okay.

Well, I have to give these to Sarah, and Sheeba gets two. So Sarah gets four and Sheba only gets two. Aw, too bad.

NARRATOR: The twist was that the chimp got the candy she didn’t point to. Could the chimp learn to resist her impulse to reach for the bigger pile?

SALLY BOYSEN: You want Sarah to have these? It’s okay, it’s okay. You get to have that one. Yeah, Sarah gets five, and Sheba gets one. Oh, that is such a shame.

NARRATOR: Amazingly, chimps never overcame their greedy urges. They always reached for more and, so, ended up with less.

SALLY BOYSEN: And Sheba gets two, so Sarah gets four. See?

NARRATOR: Impulse studies have also been run on humans. In a classic experiment from the 1970s, a researcher gave a four-year-old a simple choice.

RESEARCHER : So, if you wait for me to get back, I’ll give you this bowl with all of these gummy bears, okay? But if you can’t wait, you can push that button, like this, and then I’ll come back and you can have this bowl with just this one gummy bear, okay? Okay, I’ll be right back.

NARRATOR: According to an inconclusive but intriguing study, the longer children resisted temptation, the higher their S.A.T. scores were years later. In any case, the differences between people are small compared to the gap separating humans and apes.

BRIAN HARE: Maybe one of the first things that happened during our species evolution is we became much less emotionally reactive. And maybe that’s one of the big differences that may explain why we solve problems so differently. We sort of got control of our emotions.

NARRATOR: Can apes be given skills to help them master their emotions? Sally Boysen trained a chimp to understand numerals. Then she repeated her M&Ms experiment, but now offered different pairs of numerals rather than treats.

SALLY BOYSEN: You want to give two to Sarah? Okay. Two goes to Sarah, and you get six.

NARRATOR: Remarkably, chimps were now able to learn what they couldn’t before: point to the smaller number to get the bigger prize.

Symbols can make you free. They can help distance an ape from its impulses. But outside of the lab, apes don’t seem to use symbols. Still, ape minds seem to share many of the amazing features of the human mind.

There is a video which depicts all this. Click on this link and see if it’s available “in your area.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/ape-genius.html.

How about our consciousness? Our ability to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘.
Well, that alone wouldn’t have made us any more special than an octopus…

self aware octopus

But what if our individuality resides in us having taken all three to ‘a different level’? One which hasn’t yet been attained by anybody else? Not necessarily higher, mind you!

I’ll deal with ‘trade’ now and I’m afraid you’ll have to come back for the rest.

‘Trade’ wasn’t even mentioned in those three examples?
What was the crow trying to do?
Feed itself? As in exchange matter with the ‘outside’?
What was Sheba trying to do?
Figure our what was going on? As in trading information with the surrounding world?

In this sense all living things are engaged in all forms of trading? And continue to do so for as long as they remain alive?
What did I tell you about us doing nothing really new? Only different?

OK, we had already figured out – long before Adam Smith described it as ‘division of labor’, that by dividing tasks amongst us we’ll be able to accomplish far more things than if we had attempted ‘individual autarky’. And then we had invented ‘trade’, as a manner of exchanging the different wares each of us was proficient in doing…
Wait! Even this is not really ‘new’!
Mother Nature had already invented sexual reproduction – a very extreme ‘division of labour’, a very long time ago…. but not before bacteria were already adept at ‘trading’ genetic information.

 

 

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For some time now I’ve been wondering how come so many people who define themselves as being Christians – “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.“, Matt 19:24 – are so passionately defending the very concept of (private)”property”.

Could it be that Marx was right after all: “Private property is the result of alienated labor.” ?!? And so many of us have been wrong for so long?

“The right to private property is the social-political principle that adult human beings may not be prohibited or prevented by anyone from acquiring, holding and trading (with willing parties) valued items not already owned by others. Such a right is, thus, unalienable and, if in fact justified, is supposed to enjoy respect and legal protection in a just human community.”

Trying to understand the source of this dichotomy I adopted a two pronged strategy. First I looked up the word itself and then I tried to deepen my understanding of the entire concept.

It’s absolutely obvious that ‘property’ comes from ‘proper’.
‘Proper’, in its turn, has two basic meanings: ‘fit for use‘ and ‘pertaining to one individual‘. The first one has evolved into ‘propriety’, “the state or quality of being correct and proper” while the second has become ‘property’, “thing owned“.

So, do all these etymological arguments make it any easier for us to accept that respecting each others’ right to private property is what introduced a certain degree of functionality in the human society?

‘But aren’t you contradicting yourself?
At the beginning of your post you suggested that ‘property’ might not be as good as advertised and now you say that the ‘right to private property’ is ‘good for you’?
Will you make up your mind, for Christ’s sake?’

Now, that I’ve reached the conceptual stage of my analyses, I must bring to your attention the fact that a right is nothing but an opportunity while each (piece of) property is a thing – even those  which are not of a ‘substantial’ nature. ‘Intellectual property’, for instance, is a ‘measurable thing’ even if you cannot put your finger on it while the ‘right to intellectual (or any other kind of) property’ is (an infinite) something which patiently waits for (a rightful) somebody to make (proper) use of it.

Maybe this is what Christ tried to tell us in the first place. That it’s not property itself that stands between us and our salvation but our (improper) attitude towards it. That it’s not the object of our property that is the problem but how we make use of our right to private property.
After all Christ told the “young rich man” “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21). ‘Go sell, give and THEN follow me’, not ‘come help me ABOLISH the very right to private property’, as Marx used to preach to his followers.

To understand the difference between what Christ and Marx said about this subject let’s see how these two relate to the notion of ‘Man’.

In Christ’s book God took a lump of dirt and ‘made Man in His own image’ while in Marx’s narrow materialistic vision “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

Basically both of them start with the same ‘materiel’ – the mundane ‘star dust’ that Mendeleev distributed throughout his table – but what a difference at the end of the ‘assembly line’!

adamevebefore

Being made ‘in His Own image’ not only means that all Men (and Women) are created equal but also that each of them shares in His Divine Nature. Hence the origin of our free will, of our ability (‘right’, opportunity) to be saved. Compare this to how Marx described the human society:

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.

They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism.”

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As somebody who has lived for 30 years under communist rule let me translate this from ‘Newspeak‘ into plain English:
‘History suggests that those who figure out the inner workings of this world  have, from time to time, the opportunity to take over the show. Now is one of those moments. The ‘fat cats’ have been so greedy lately that the regular people are growling under the very heavy yoke that has been placed on their shoulders.  That’s why we have the opportunity to unsettle the ‘old’ from their positions and to plant our fat asses in their comfortable chairs.
And the first thing we must do in order to achieve that goal is to abolish the right to private property. People are so fed up with what was going on lately that they’ll go along. They have grown to hate so much the ‘greedy plutocrats’ that most of them won’t notice that in the (revolutionary) process they’ll lose the very last shrouds of personal autonomy they still have. Without the right to dispose of the results of their own labor they’ll be at our mercy’.

Who was right between the two?

Well… Both, unfortunately.

The communists did run the show, at least for a while. And we all know to which results.
On the other hand it seems that in the longer run miss-using the right to private property is indeed a powerful drawback. The already too long sequence of economic crises caused, ultimately, by nothing else but our own greed has indeed given birth to a generalized state of psychological malaise.

I don’t know about what’s gonna happen in the next world – or if it exists at all – but I’m sure that if we don’t learn, fast, how to use, properly, the right to private property things will become too hot for our own good in this one.

The only one we are sure about.

Further reading.
During my research for this post I found this very interesting take on the same subject:

“Zwolinksi argues that libertarians are right to support private property, but also that private property is more complicated than we sometimes think.”

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