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"On the Other Hand"
Emmett's Blog and Essays
April 20, 2004
Life is not Private Property
a theory of economics for a new epoch by Emmett Chapman

Some realizations are of the future, the subject of hard social lessons to be learned over decades. Mine is a "guiding thread" that may serve to fundamentally change public perspective on a gamut of social issues as well as to deeply affect one's self perception and inner awareness.

Here it is in capsule form. Nothing living ought to be owned in the capitalistic sense, and this concept must start at the most fundamental level, with oneself, one's own skin being the boundary. It is absurd to believe as we do in our capitalistic society that we also own ourselves. How can a measuring instrument measure itself? How can conscious awareness be understood by the instrument of consciousness, the mind measuring the mind? And how can the owner and the owned be one and the same person? Absurdity! Yet we live and act upon this fallacious precept daily.

Private property begins just beyond one's own skin and is layered, starting from one's wardrobe outward. We do not own ourselves, neither our minds, our bodies, nor our names and reputations. We are for others, for family, loved ones, friends, fellow workers, peers and for the community around us. At least half of our instincts and drives are for the benefit of the group, entities larger than ourselves, such instincts often experienced as "the urge to self defeat" if seen merely in the light of pure self interest. "Survival of the fittest" as a useful concept of evolution must include survival of the fittest group. An entire ship of meritorious fools can sink in the absence of a collective plan of action.

My philosopher friend Vance commented that this economic theory seems to support Communism, and I argued no, that our Western traditions of private property are all embraced in this theory, except for living things, starting with oneself (to keep it honest) and extending to one's spouse and children, and ultimately to pets and all living creatures, none of these entities falling under the economic rules of capitalism.

Vance then commented that Communism subjugates and thereby seeks to own the minds and bodies of its citizens, and he asked if my philosophy would justify such enslavement. I replied that Communism mainly sought to abolish private property, and that it turned into a dictatorship when it subjugated its citizens in the process. Such totalitarianism can arise from any ideology, from the "right" or "left", including Communism, but both are alien to the realizations I'm trying to express here.

You see, we've extended capitalism too far, and into the realm of what was once regarded as sacred. (Did I hear you say, "I'll buy that"?) Religions of the world have guaranteed this vital boundary yet had no problem promoting wide ranging capitalism. Now we stand naked, stripped of our religion, having replaced it with nothing of enriching value except ever expanding capitalism, which if unbounded encroaches into sacred terrain.

We need a new economic theory, one that doesn't presume ownership of oneself, but acknowledges self stewardship, management privileges if you will. From there the theory unfolds - no ownership of any living thing, or pharmaceutical plant, or sequence of DNA. Some social issues have already been resolved in this direction - abolition of slavery and of child exploitation, custodial care of our pets. On most issues, however, we're boxed into a preposterous mindset - possessing your own body, then "selling yourself", both figuratively and literally (the heroic double page spread), or possessing your own mind, then selling out, selling it short.

We are created and designed for others, both in breadth of family ties and social obligations, and in depth of continuity between the generations, something that contemporary society knows little about.

I feel that this "guiding thread" is about twenty years premature, and will in the future transform opinions on such diverse issues as abortion, cosmetic surgery, change of name, drug patents, and in the broad areas of morality, medicine, politics, law, and of course economics. Maybe we can arrive at that place without the aid of a religion, then again, we may find ourselves once again searching for a new dogmas, symbols and rituals, the tried and true common denominators of history.

If each individual can come to an understanding of where private property ends and life begins, that in itself will no doubt produce a profound inner change in self perception. We would regain our "sacred" sovereignty and autonomy as individuals, with the understanding that our persons are exempt from the economic rules and processes we ourselves create, and as living beings are held inviolate in a newly conceived "state of grace". We would each gain spiritual strength, collectively too, as we relinquish all proprietary claims, patents, deeds and rights to all living entities and processes. Life would once again find its sacred place, or at least find sanctuary from a harsh economic world.

Tough tasks ahead: How do trees and cattle fit into such new economics?

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