Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Property Is Silence

   - You've heard the slogan, property is theft?
- Sure.
- If we all live in common, holding onto something only for oneself is stealing from others opportunity to use it.
- Some things should be only for our own use.
- For example?
- Right to care for our own children. Right to live in our own house while we care for our children.
- And wouldn't the reason for these exceptions be that others, if they thought things through, would agree with us that it was better parents care for their children and families have one house to live in while raising children?
- House and children would be our property and not stolen because other people would not, should not want them.
- And we would not want to give them away either for the same reason. When we talk, we are giving away our words, and we are giving our attention to the other's word. When we are silent, refraining from giving and from expecting to receive, we expect it to be understood we cannot always be speaking. In the same way, we cannot always be passing back and forth the things we live with and among.
- Exchanging things is only one out of many human activities.
- Yes. We give and receive things not for the mere sake of it but to make our lives better and more beautiful. We refrain from sharing at times because we do not live for the purpose of sharing.
- Property is then not theft but a thought-through exception to sharing.
- Or a taboo*, if established by tradition.
- Property is silence that allows us to speak better.

* Taboo: that we have anything is because our ancestors had us, a mystery that expresses the exceptional nature of ownership. To the extent we can be said to own anything our ancestors own us.

Further Reading:
The Conquest Of Bread, Peter Kropotkin
The Great Transformation Karl Polanyi:
The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man's economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets. He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end. Neither the process of production nor that of distribution is linked to specific economic interests attached to the possession of goods; but every single step in that process is geared to a number of social interests which eventually ensure that the required step be taken. These interests will be very different in a small hunting or fishing community from those in a vast despotic society, but in either case the economic system will be run on noneconomic motives.
Note the inescapable conclusion: things held onto for the sake of trading for profit, because used in an activity done for its own sake, by definition are never eligible for the exception "private property".  Private property and trade for profit are principles fundamentally at odds with each other. Profit can claim no property right unless, as Aristotle allowed, it is made not for itself but for the sake of private life. Since the exception of property for private life depends on public good, the amount of profit taken into private life is limited to an amount which serves public good, beyond which profit becomes public.