[ExI] property

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sat Apr 19 19:34:03 UTC 2008

Bryan writes

> ...mentioning the biological substrate of territorial behavior and other
> such ideas; in truth, [is an interesting approach and] it is something 
> both learned and moderately 'innate' in the sense that you will flinch 
> when you are poked with a hot stick, and learned in the sense that the 
> Native Americans were able to go along fairly smoothly without much 
> property issues [occasionally?]. I am *not* talking about communism 
> here, for anybody about to pull out that word on me.

Yes, it's always a good idea, apparently, to ward off all the knee-jerk

> Instead, perhaps it would be possible to modify our brains so that
> the concept of ownership can be, in some way, hacked. 

Interesting idea.  First, we have to explain why *ownership* evolved
(i.e. what advantages nature found to the idea). Second, we have
to item-by-item criticize the operation of the concept, i.e. how it's
working now and its drawbacks. (That one might especially interest
you---can you do it?)  Third the case will have to be made that the
replacement works better.

Normally, traditional solutions *work* (cf. Hayek), and although
we must be open to changing one thing at a time (Hayek again),
we have to have some boldness, some enterprise. But the default
usually is that "there is a good reason for why things are as they are".

Here is a start on what property is good for. The following all
presuppose the existence of *entities* who are the actors or
persons on the world stage:


1. focuses the attention of an entity on a very small subset
    of items, so that at least *someone* is really, really paying
    attention to a particular item
2. holds the "owner" responsible for the general effects of
    the thing he owns (thus my dog and my dog's behavior
    is *my* responsibility, and you can be sure that if for no
    other reason lest sanctions be applied to *me*, I will
    strive to restrict what the dog does
3. helps prevent conflicts between different entities wishing
    to use, or use up, the same stuff
4. enables price signals to work---that wholly underappreciated
    mechanism by which markets allocate goods. If something 
    isn't owned, then even if miraculously (1), (2), and (3) did
    not apply, motivation to for its transport in space where
    it would be more useful is lacking

> It [ownership or the concept of ownership] is somewhat like a lie: you 
> may think you 'own' something and that your ownership of it will cause 
> other people to do things, but this is not necessarily true, consider 
> the cases of parents stealing from children, or using the recent 
> slavery thread, a slaveowner stealing from his slaves? Oh, but that's 
> right, the slaves weren't human -- the justification in the old South 
> of the U.S. was that slaves were completely 'inferior' beings, that 
> they were not truly human. So you get to make up reasons why somebody 
> doesn't get to 'own' something... see the cases of children being 
> taken from their mothers or fathers in divorces, see the cases of homes 
> being taken from so-called owners (dwellers) when an outside 'majority' 
> (read: group with pitchforks/weapons/strength) can come in and enforce 
> their options. Hopefully it will never come to that, but if we could 
> modify our brains we might be able to remember that these things are 
> not truly 'owned' and be able to prepare for those terrible sorts of 
> situations.

Well, some of that sounds "pro-ownership" and some of it "anti". 
I'm not sure what you are trying to say. Let me take one case
you mention:  the cases of children being taken from their mothers.

To me, to a far greater extent than other people, children *belong* to
their parents. But even so, what if the parents decide to go their
separate ways? What exactly are you proposing?

And this passage is especially confusing:  "see the cases of homes 
being taken from so-called owners (dwellers) when an outside
'majority' (read: group with pitchforks/weapons/strength) can
come in and enforce their option."  Well?  Isn't that exactly what
property rights are designed to discourage?  Isn't it the case that
my claim "they stole my property!" can effectively mobilize 
the good guys to stop those outsiders?

What we need are *stronger* property rights. The state should
*not* be able to come in and tell you how to medicate YOUR
child. The state should not be in the business of shutting down
generally peaceful groups minding their own business---and
in disturbingly many cases violating property rights.

If you really are wanting to "hack" the notion of property, 
then come up with your own lists like 1-4 above, or at least
assault mine.


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list