Monday, June 25, 2012

Property or Posessions

[This essay is currently "in process" but I submit it now, because I'm quite tired and would like to retire for the evening. Perhaps I'll pick this up tomorrow, or else ruminate on it for a while...]

Call this material "stuff" which a person has transformed, whatever you like: "property" or "private-property" or "possessions", the semantic terminology will change little of relevance in the context of the argument provided here.  What ever this material "stuff" is, for the sake of ease, I will call it "property" as the language I employ (English) permits this signifier to describe the meaning I intend to convey but by all means substitute the word you feel most suitable; I believe that the issue of "property versus possessions" hinges upon the error in many propertarians is that they adhere their philosophical ideas of "property" to the material "stuff" itself while the essential theory of "property" need not adhere to the material "stuff" itself, but essentially applies to the transformation of this "stuff" which is "mixed" or inseparable from the material stuff.  I believe it is an important strength of the anti-propertarian argument, that the arbitrary-claim to the "ownership" of material-stuff, is necessarily, arbitrary; the anti-propertarians will often reserve a kind-of "property" which is generally referred to as "possessions" which is not posessed by arbitrary claim, but by something like "use" or "possession".

I intend to argue, that if the propertarian would not make the error of philosophically affixing the concept of property on the material "stuff" itself (which will suffer from the weakness of the "arbitrary" critique), but instead on transformation (which is an implicit essential feature in Lockean/Rothbardian property theory), then it is possible to reconcile a property-theory with the strength of the critique of the anti-propertarian:

If "property" is not matter or material "stuff" as such, strictly speaking, its particular "matter" matters not, but what I refer to as "property" is rather the extension of the mind into the world as labor to transform it for the satisfaction of human need/value/preference/utility.  Without minds, there can be no labor, and without labor, there can be no "property"; an asteroid four million light-years from this earth can be rightfully claimed as "property" by no one, not its first discoverer or any other, it sits out in the blackness of the deep-vacuum untouchable by the action of the mind (this of course assumes that there are no other minds but those on this particular sphere, and must be as a proposition, contingent upon conditions/advances-in-technology in the future).

It would be in error to say that "property" comes from labor itself, because without a mind to direct it, "labor" is not possible; the mind is conceptually prior to, or said another way, more fundamental than, the actions directed by the mind.  The mind is the originator/director of action and those actions which are a dis-utility in the present but are acted in the expectation as to reap greater satisfaction/utility in the future are "labors".  Labors are distinct in this way from "recreations", which are a satisfaction in and of themselves.  If any person claims that his employment/work/labor is a thing of joy, then to prove her statement, she need only refuse all compensation/remuneration for her services; if she continues indefinitely, we may certainly take her at her word, if she at all decreases her "productivity" then we may know that what she meant to say that her labors provide her with a very-low dis-utility.

"Property" therefore is in the essence of its meaning, is a function of the mind, to direct actions in the way of "labors" to transform that part of the world, which no other person has transformed, or by which the other(s) transforming minds have granted their permission, to transfer or permit an easement of their transformation, either permanently as in a "property" exchange, or temporarily (rent), or conditionally (lease) or in common/concert (communally).

That which has never been transformed, like our asteroid or some forgotten corner of the world, cannot be claimed as "property"; the material "stuff" itself is not the true essence (the material "stuff" is merely its representation) of the claim of "property" but rather, it is the transformation as the extension of the mind through action, that can be claimed only; when that "transformation" is marginal, indeterminate or abandoned, rational persons generally wishing to minimize potential for conflict, will negotiate these conditions in advance but under certain conditions ("owner" of current state of transformation unknown/unclaimed/seemingly-abandoned) some may choose to over-ride the current transformation and add transformation of their own.  If the "owner" or "occupier" of the previous transformation finds this an unsatisfactory enjoinment of transformation, a conflict is likely to result, requiring negotiations and likely arbitration or else tragically resorting to violence; and this is for no meager cause!  If "property" is not the "stuff" itself, but the extension of the mind to transform, that which has been "invaded" by an aggressor wishing to expropriate another's transformation, is nothing other than the extension/manifestation of the other person's mind itself! 

  Therefore, "property" as an extension of the mind itself to transform some part of the world for human-need/value/satisfaction/preference it is as inviolable as the mind/consciousness of that person itself, if one is willing to grant that such a things as "rationality" or "minds" themselves.  The act of "theft" when it occurs, is akin to the act of rape of the mind; a forcing/domination/invasion of one person's will/mind upon another's will/mind; therefore there is rational cause for "self-defense" in this invasion, just as there is rational cause to defend one's self/body from rape or murder if the invasion of the mind continues to not be respected or recognized.  The act of "self-defense" is not, in itself "violence" as violence is an invasion of its own kind; rather "self-defense" is the assertion of one's rational mind against irrational-forces.  The act of defending one's self from the "assault" of a storm, or against the wild-beast; indeed, the invader, though in all seeming respects may appear rational, the act of invasion constitutes either a self-repudiation of the invader's rationality/mind or the invaded's rationality/mind.  The invader, in his act of invasion, either himself assumes the aspect of the wild-beast or presumes that the invaded is nothing but a wild-beast; under these conditions, no negotiation is possible without a meeting of the minds and since the invader either denies his own mind or the mind of she who he invades, the aspect of "violence" is the inevitable result.  The defender of herself must assert her own mind against this invasion with whatever force is necessary to repeal the assault/invasion but if she still wishes to do so rationally, she may not use such force that would also incur the additional invasion of other minds/third-parties.

This is why the "initiation of force" is considered by so many to be the determinate of the aggressor/invader; if a legitimate dispute/conflict arises in which two rational minds believe themselves to have legitimate claim to the particular transformation of "stuff" by their minds, both recognizing the prohibitively high-costs of violence, will see it as in the interest of both parties to negotiate/arbitrate some peaceful settlement which will extricate/separate their claims, allowing both to live in peace.  When both parties to this dispute believe themselves to be so incurably invaded and neither are willing to negotiate or submit to arbitration, then it is a foolish thing given the costs of violence but neither willing to negotiate, one or both parties must either deny their own rationality, or the rationality of the other and will act so as to "initiate" aggression; it is not this "initiation" itself which is error, the initiation is fundamentally an irrational extension of the mind.  In such a case in which no other recourse being available, one or both together must both resort to the real or perceived invasions with the force necessary to repel it.

The "initiation of aggression" as well as its concurrent necessity of this "self-defense" are both tragedies; for a person may temporarily deny their own mind through their actions but it is a common occurrence that when the emotional turmoil that usually precedes this irrationality subsides, the invader will most often resume his previous rational/social existence.  It is universally preferable that no violence take place and accordingly that "self-defense" would not be made necessary to the mind that wishes to assert "self-ownership".  I think it appropriate that we be in tears when a normally rational/social person that would normally assert their own mind and respect the minds of others in a non-contradictory manner, would choose to make an irrational choice to deny either his own mind or the mind of some other but that some-other, can in no way be considered to have a duty to "submit" to that invasion and thereby deny her own right to exist.


  1. I'm assuming you would group land as something that has been "transformed" and is therefore property -- but why? Humanity has contributed nothing to the creation of land, land is of nature, so why is an individual entitled to it just be the chance he stumbled upon it first and "transformed" it (through means that are oftentimes exploitative) at the expense of others?

    Moreover, how can you justify the institution of private property (land, especially) given that much of it was expropriated, through violence and coercion, from the commons that many indigenous peoples and peasants were living on prior to colonization and industrialization?

  2. The "land" isn't the "property"; only the transformation.

    In as much as any person has a 'right' to exist, they must be able to 'subsist' and this subsistence requires taking material "stuff" out of access of others (let's say, eating an apple found 'in-nature') and making "private" use of it.

    The 'original appropriator' taking something found 'in nature' or abandoned back to a 'state of nature' contradicts or violates no one's claim to themselves.

    If no such 'original appropriation' is permitted, then all use of all objects for the satisfaction of human-need become an invasion against all others and therefore, no person has any possibility to subsist. I do not see this result as satisfactory for the needs of any/all individuals and therefore I reject that "no 'original appropriation' is permissible".

    If there is verifiable evidence, that an "indigenous people" had transformed a particular area of land, and that land was expropriate by force/violence/coercion and the heirs-apparent are identifiable, then I would agree that those heirs have claim to damages/restitution of that expropriation.

    Lets say that, Bob's land uncovers a "Native American" burial ground in his backyard and through genetic testing, the heir-apparent are identifiable, neither "Bob" nor "Whispering Wind" have right to the land as such, only the transformation; in as much as this new-found conjoinment is not satisfactory to either party then negotiations would necessarily take place to determine the best way to extricate the parties from this unsatisfactory conjoinment; perhaps "Bob" will permit an easement which will satisfy "Whispering Wind" to honor his ancestral dead, perhaps "Bob" will agree to "Whispering Wind" removing the remains and replacement somewhere else, or perhaps "Whispering Wind" will pay/compensate Bob for Bob's transformation of the land so that Bob will surrender his claim of transformation and be able to transform some other land.

    So long as "Bob" had not been the original invader, nor had any claimants against the invader's claim had continued to refute the stated claim of the invader, "Bob" can be considered harmless in his claim to the transformation for which he considered to be transferred to himself.

  3. I do think that the continued refutation (when possible without further force/coercion) of the damaged party is an important feature for restitution, especially in the case of land (which doesn't generally move); I think that we both agree that a certain time period when land lacks any transformation whatsoever, begins to fall into a case of "abandonment".

    For instance... let's say my grandfather had his farm (we'll assume for the moment that the land of the farm was an 'original appropriation') taken away due to inability to pay taxes during the "Great Depression", the farm was then sold to "private" persons and then resold again; the current holders of the property, not having any person refute the assertion of the faulty property-claim/title for the transformation have a rather strong claim to be immune from my present claim that my grandfather's property had been invaded and that the property-title was faulty; for if it was, why has not that refutation of claim been in some way renewed/maintained?
    On the other hand, if every year, or every two years, my grandfather made a declaration to the new supposed "property-owner", that the 'title' which they have accepted has been a result of invasion, and that after my grandfather's death, I claimed to be the heir apparent and took to making those same refutations of the invaded-transformation's rightful claim, I think that in this case, my grandfather would have must better preserved his claim to the original-transformation, but still not necessarily to subsequent transformations.

    This kind of thing is what "title insurance" would be very useful for, for if the current holders of the property would submit my claims to their "title insurance" company, either the company could compensate my (grandfather's) loss in negotiations or compensate the current faulty-title-holders loss to extricate themselves from the faulty-title.

    I guess I think that this is the most reasonable resolution, as I am concerned about the impossibility to right every wrong made in history; to right a wrong, evidence of claim must be supplied or else any decision is arbitrary which is a wrong in and of itself.

    I'd be curious if you have other suggestions as to how conflicts as these could be resolved or extricated; these are just what seem most reasonable to my amateur thought-process. ;-)