PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, June 19, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Ownership

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Ownership.

A challenging topic for an era of austerity and economic instability.
But as I try to argue in my short essay, our sense of ownership has been
with us much longer than we can imagine. Thus austerity won't dull our
sense of ownership and the only danger to ownership is ownership itself.

Unfortunately, Ruel couldn't write an essay on the topic.


One of the biggest problems in Western society is obesity. Access to
junk food, but not wholesome food, lack of exercise and high stress
levels has resulted in a natural mechanism that evolved to accumulate
energy but now uses resources to accumulate the wrong type fats. But
this biological accumulation mechanism is wide spread in nature. Bears
gorge up on food before they go into hibernation and whales accumulate
fat resources. Indeed mammals need to accumulate fat for milk production
to feed their young. Squirrels hoard nuts, bees produce honey and some
ants even cultivate and harvest fungi.

The idea of ownership, the act of possessing something, is first and
foremost a biological instinct, at least for certain higher order
biological systems. This means that there is an instinct to acquire
resources for later use and consumption. And this instinct can become
even more complex and acute when a biological system, such as bees and
human beings, have to go through a process of accumulation through
nurturing and developing food over time. Other creatures, such as lions
and primates create geographical territorial boundaries and claim
possession of that land to hunt for prey or food in that area.

What is clear is that ownership rights and property rights seem to exist
in some crude form in nature which other members of the species and
breeds understand and adjust their behaviour accordingly. The
philosophical problem for us is not whether ownership rights exist, they
seem to exist even at the biological level, but: how does a biological
instinct become a moral imperative to protect and to practice? How does
human property and ownership rights transcend from a right to possess to
a right to have one's property protected? And most important can there
be limits to property ownership and is there a balance between property
ownership and property ownership at a cost to others?

What is important for the ownership instinct above is that in some
instances the biological creature carries the "property" with them, for
example fat accumulation by bears, whilst the other model is to have
access to the property, for example the territory of a lion where it
(the hunting is done by lionesses really) can hunt for food. The
drawback of carrying fat is that the animal sacrifices mobility and the
drawback of having separate property is that the property might stolen
or lost to competitors. We have evolved to have our property separate
from us but also to accumulate property. Obesity is the result of the
system that accumulates a necessary amount of fat gone haywire.

There are important reasons for starting my argument based on biological
premises. The most important of these reasons is that despite the
variety and seemingly high level application of natural ownership, it is
nevertheless a universal necessary condition. The lion cannot survive
without food, the whale cannot survive without krill and we cannot
survive without food and water or resources that can be exchanged to
food and water. Today we one step removed from the actual useful
"property" by storing value in something more practical such as money.
Or something more stable such as land or real estate.

So by virtue of ownership being universal and biological it means that
it cannot be denied or taken away. Ownership in the biological sense is
not some metaphysical entity that is granted by some external force to
individuals, but ownership is a product or effect of the very biological
make up of the creature. No one gave me the right or privilege to
accumulate five kilos of extra weight, but rather a function of the
combination of how the human body functions and my circumstances; I
grant you having five kilos of unwanted weight is not something one
wants protect and exercise any rights! So the right of the lion to hunt
on a patch of land is not something granted to it but something the lion
fought for to be able to eat.

Thus those dogmatic ideologies such as Communism, certain forms of
socialism and Nation Socialism who reject the doctrine of the individual
are just basically wrong¸ divisive and oppressive. By rejecting the
individual and the right to property ownership they are going against a
natural set up. Despite the sophisticated look of these dogmas they are
none other than the old game that has been played out on the savannah
for millennia.

Another important advantage of biological ownership is that it is
amoral. If the bear has evolved to accumulate fat for the winter, there
is nothing morally right or wrong about it. And sure, some creatures do
have a sense of right or wrong, for example primates. But having a sense
of right or wrong does not necessarily mean that this sense is a moral
right or wrong. Value judgments can be based on utility but moral
judgments need not have any utility for example prima facie altruism; or
if they have it would be neigh impossible to distinguish the moral
component and its causal role. One can just help the poor by providing
them with food and water, or one can help the poor because of some moral
impulse. But the poor are helped with or without the moral impulse.

Whilst in nature we just have a sense of ownership by virtue of our
biological make up, in our human society we feel a sense of moral right
that something I owe I should not be deprived of it. I have a moral
right to enjoy my property irrespective of anything else. This also
means that we also have a right to obtain property; if we have ownership
rights this means that we can also obtain property. Accumulating five
kilos of extra weight is more than just biology; a large factor is also
good sophisticated eating.

Hence, one sure way a biological instinct of ownership becomes a moral
imperative is when others respect our right to ownership. And in modern
society when someone tries to deprive us of that ownership we back it up
with legal rights. No doubt property and ownership developed with the
evolution of humankind culminating into today's moral and legal systems.

This moral imperative of ownership might not necessarily stem from lofty
ethical principles but from pragmatic utilitarian principles to protect
our own rights. Thus by everyone promising to protect everyone else's
rights we are implicitly protecting our own property rights. The only
problem with this scenario is that this agreement will work if everyone
to the agreement had more or less the same amount of property to
protect. But people with very little or no property at all will be
entering into an agreement that would only put a burden on them rather
than establish a balanced burden-benefit agreement. It is not
surprising that collective political ideologies such as communism and
National Socialism appeal to people with very little property to talk
of. But as I said there is nothing unique about these ideologies just a
different disguise; the dictator is still the alpha male usually.

Many societies have progressed towards individualism where more emphasis
is based on the individual and the individual's property rights than
collective ownership. The implied and sometimes expressed promise,
especially during election times, is that everyone has the same rights
and the same opportunities to accumulate property. If only everyone did
the right thing and subscribed to the programme then even they will
become property owners which we usually describe as being "rich."

And we all know that a promise of becoming rich has the same pulling
power, if not more, than a matter of fact. The consequence of this
promise of individualism is that many people are always prepared to
succumb to the gambler's paradox than to the logic of discounted
utility. Many people are prepared to risk today's certain level of
guaranteed gains for future possible higher riches.

By a strange coincidence those who promote some sort of liberalism, i.e.
respect for the individual, also happen to belong to an elite class in
society. In the United States senators, congress people and presidential
candidates must be able to procure millions of dollars just to be seen
on TV let alone be influential with the movers and shakers on Capitol
Hill. In Britain, attending an elite public school and at an Oxbridge
university will certainly open doors to the front row of the political
arena and maybe into power. Being sponsored by one of the unions or
union barons also got people to the front row of the arena in Britain
even though this route is now not very safe for hopeful candidates who
believe, in some form of collectivism.

Individual liberalism, has opened the way not only to protect our
ownership rights, but also gave us the right to acquire and accumulate
property. Incidentally, this individual liberalism is not to be confused
with present day term of "modern liberalism" in the USA that is
associated with Democratic Party and advocates of some form of social
justice. By individual liberalism I mean respect for the individual to
acquire property and have ownership rights, as opposed to some form of

Maybe the crux of the problem for us is the question of how much
property should we be free to accumulate and should we agree to allow
people to acquire property at a negative cost to others? This is the
debate between the sentiments and impulse of the collective movements
who argue for limits to how much we should be allowed to accumulate and
at cost to others. And on the other side, what are the moral limits when
someone's acquisition of property puts an unreasonable or unfair burden
on others? Of course, the limits are placed on the population but not
necessarily the leadership.

The so called capitalist system of today, both as an economic system and
a political movement, is based on the principle of consumer production.
Indeed in today's global economy the production of consumer goods is
carried out in certain countries with cheap labour whilst the so called
consumers in first word countries are to earn their income through high
value services. By cheap labour I do not only mean low wages but more
importantly appalling labour conditions.

By definition since we carry out consumer production in countries whose
authorities allow labour exploitation suggests that we are prepared to
allow a high level of negative or unfair costs to others so that we can
acquire more goods which we pretend to be property acquisition. The real
capital today is owned by a few people, but unlike what Marx believed,
today's capitalists own financial institutions and not factories
producing pots and pans. In a free style open economy there seems to be
a dynamic where the bulk of property, such as land and money, tending to
accumulate in the hands of a few. But once again even under the
Capitalist system the game is no different than in the Savannah.

The drawback of the open economy that promotes consumption is the
assumption that everyone can accumulating property either as consumer
goods or more importantly land that can be developed into real estate.
Today we know that no matter how advanced our technology is there is
always someone along the production chain who is being exploited. We
also know that the doctrine of increasing quarterly revenues is
unsustainable and that an economy based on credit will eventually lead
to the destruction of the value of property.

Hence, to answer the question should there be limits to the amount of
property we acquire the answer is twofold. We can either plan for a
stable economy where economic cycles are limited or kept to manageable
levels of property value depreciation, and at the same time reined in
money supply at levels that damage the economy. Or we can wait for
bubbles, super inflation and wars to restrict unnatural levels of
consumption and property accumulation.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Ownership

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