When we are friends with someone, we don’t say, “This person is a friend to me.” We say, ‘This is my friend.” My friend, my wife, my husband, my child, my cat. My, my, my. Ownership is big in our culture. Someone who lives on the Earth for a few dozen years can take a piece of land that’s been in existence for billions of years, plant a flag and say, “I own this land.” And if the owner lives here in the U.S., he or she can then shoot someone who wonders on to that land – land that previously was just part of the planet and will sit there for billions of years after its new owner has turned to dust and recycled back into the land.

Who’s idea was this, anyway?

It’s really important to us that people know when something is our idea. That’s my idea! They stole my idea! We have laws to stop intellectual property theft. “I patented that idea.” What you own is a sign of your economic class. It may be a sign of your cultural background. It’s definitely part of your identity that you want to project to people. Some people take pride in how little they own, others in how much, or some quality of the items in their domain. It seems like it’s only when people suddenly lose all of their belongings that they take stock of who they really are underneath it all.


Some people make a distinction between owning private property and owning personal property*. These people are called Marxists. We don’t see many of them today, but their idea was that it was fine to own personal items, like your watch and the shirt on your back. Marxists have an aversion, though, to individuals amassing wealth in the form of private property, like land and buildings. They argue that these things should be owned collectively. These ideas have largely been abandoned in much of the world. It appears that we are in an era that values the unobstructed pursuit of individual wealth. People even buy completely abstract things like futures of entire stock markets. This creates wealth essentially out of nothing. But all perceived wealth is an illusion, since every last person, no matter how much she or he owns, will in time cease to exist, to be reabsobed into that which is real: the Earth. The creepy epilogue: The deceased’s estate continues to own their things and their patented ideas.

*In the US state of Maryland, wives are still legally defined as the personal property of their husbands.

The post beneath this flower will lead you to of video of me further pontificating on life:


7 Responses to possession

  1. Editor B says:

    I believe the critique of property originated with Proudhon.


    • EricIndiana says:

      I don’t think I ever saw that Rox episode you said you were making about, or including, the concept of ownership – it was about 7 years ago & I taped something about buying a house and the idea of owning land but I never sent it to you. Did that get made?


  2. samir Hafza says:

    “When we are friends with someone, we don’t say, ‘This person is a friend to me.'” —

    Actually people with broken English say that all the time. ;-))

    But seriously now, in the case of people owning a piece of Earth that’s billions of years old, well, that goes back to our animalistic instinct. Have you ever observed a tiger scent-marking its territory, or a bird fiercely defending an area that contains a nest? Have you ever seen the Republicans practicing politics in the House or Senate?

    Marxism did not and would never work, simply because of this territorial-behavior phenomenon, which is driven by greed. We need many more years of evolution to learn the idea of “collective ownership.” Personally, I don’t think it will happen. That ME-part in our brain will always win, will always trump any learned behavior (sharing, for example) that some parents try to instil in their children.

    When an earthquake happens, people reflexly run for their life. They don’t stop and ponder which neighbor or friend they need to save. Unless you’re a parent with a child, you’re always going to head straight for that exit in case of fire in a theater. Sure, you’ll always find exceptions where a “brave” person risks his life to save a child that fell on a subway track. This action will certainly make the headlines. But by and large, people will instead call 911 and hope for the best.

    We are all animals with canine teeth–some have sharper ones than others.


    • Editor B says:

      Samir: Proudhon’s critique of property basically boils down to this, in my opinion — ownership of private property that you personally occupy is good and necessary to secure the freedom of the individual — but turning it into an abstract system where you can own property all over the place, land you never actually use or occupy but only rent to others — that’s wrong.


  3. EricIndiana says:

    Hmm… Maybe if people actually expand their territory to include owning the entire community, they will rush to save the trapped people in the earthquake.


    • samir Hafza says:

      Great idea, however that’s not how animals behave. Our cerebellum needs much development for that to happen. In a crisis situation (as well as pleasurable), the higher thinking (frontaal lobe) shuts down, the middle and lower brains take over. Ask Bill Clinton when he did Monica Lewinsky.


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