Friday, October 18, 2013

Property Is Silence*



1. Dead Days

- These days I feel like I'm dead.
- Why?
- Because the people around me.
- They're alive and you're dead?
- They're dead and I am alive, but somehow it seems I have to play dead so they won't kill me.
- The dead come to life to kill the living? And then what? Go back to being dead?
- Yes.
- Where are the real live people?
- Elsewhere.
- And you'll find them some day.
- Yes.

2. How The Dead Come To Life To Kill The Living: Green Rain

An early fall evening, a gust of wind loosens leaves from the trees and sends them flying through the air.

New technology targets each scattered leaf with its own burst of air, coming from different directions and of different strengths. Within a few seconds, irregularity of shape compensated for, closed off from effect, each leaf is falling strait down and at the same rate, giving the appearance of green rain.

Taking into account your personal history, your doctor uses information collected from millions of personal histories to choose the drug safest and most effective for you.

Search engines use your and everyone's personal history to send you information of a kind interesting to you in the past.

Political campaigns, advised by the very experts who devised the search engine technology, send you personalized messages likely to get you to vote their way.

We consider receiving each our own messages a form of personalized medicine. We are curing ourselves of ignorance.

But each of us, receiving a world of personalized messages, is isolated from the others within our own world of personalized messages.

Within our isolation each of us is induced to go the same way, a great uniformity is created that is invisible to us isolated within our personalization. Vote the same way, buy the same products, search for information traveling along our guided paths, we live within a world of uniformity believing we each are different. We are confused: when we meet in public we see how we are like each other in our votes and purchases, yet unlike each other in receiving our own special treatment. When we try to talk about our votes and purchases, we find we don't understand each other; we have come to these decisions by completely different paths.

If only we were only bodies needing cures! Bodies don't need other bodies in order to get better. Minds do need other and different minds to develop, to get better.

3. Playing Dead Is Playing By The Rules: The Lower Depths

- The rule is, when you make yourself into a machine you agree to be treated as a machine.
- Whose rule?
- My rule.
- People can stop making themselves into machines and be people again.
- Am I supposed to wait?
- Yes.
- And while waiting I die? Assuming you're right and it's even possible for them to stop making themselves into machines. You know the play by Gorky, The Lower Depths? About a flop house in turn of the 20th century Russia? The question is raised: are these creature, the tenants of the house, the inhabitants, are they still human?
- You think you can treat people like machines because they have made themselves into machines and as machines have lost the ability to remake themselves into humans?
- It's an idea. You're running a sort of Beverly Hills flop house here. You've got me in one corner, and you've got your childhood friend living in other corner, a limo driver who boasts of never having read a book in his life. Do you know what we discussed last night while you were off administering to your flock on the streets?
- What?
- English grammar. He claims to be religious, has a copy of the bible laying around with his things. He says intentions and words and thoughts don't matter, only actions. It's not that he is against hypocrisy. I don't think he knows the word. Rather he wants to be able to act by rule, without thought. He was making fun of people who say, "Joe & me", "me & him", as not knowing the rules. I informed him there was an ongoing dispute regarding this question. "People dispute about grammar? he asked. Yes, they do. There is the "generative grammar" school that says many different rules are used to construct sentences, which when completed cannot be seen to satisfy any set of rules. The resulting sentence, composed according to rules, breaks some of them.
- Did he understand?
- No. Do you? I went on. If you want to tell a story of going with your friend to the market, you can express the idea of going together with, in which case there are not two subjects, but a relationship between them. In English grammar, the expression of going "with" directs you use the form "me," or  "him", instead of the subject form "I".
- And did he understand that?
- No, of course not. Do you? Put aside the question of grammar. The real question is whether you try to produce actions that satisfy a rule, or you use rules to choose your actions, not sure how they will turn out, ready for something new to result, like the sentence we complete not knowing in advance how we are going to do it.
- So the people in the lower depths...
- Like your friend the limo driver Christian grammarian who never read a book in his life...
- The people in the lower depths, having made themselves into machines, can act by rule, but have lost the ability to create new sentences by assembling them, choosing each word by rule but open to a result that will not satisfy all the rules?
- Congratulations.
- Thank you. I don't have to worry then you'll treat me like a machine?
- For the time being.

4. 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.

(Continued at: Take It Back)
 

Further Reading:
The Right To Property
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.