16A017 To Own is Natural by Jim Davies, 5/10/2016    


The self ownership axiom (SOA) is the bedrock of individual liberty, and is so obvious that until recently I've never come across any attempt to deny it. Ignore it, yes, there's an abundance of that, but to try to deny something so undeniable is rare indeed. Yet recently, somebody did. His basis was that human beings are part of Nature, and in Nature the concept of ownership is missing. Well, it's original.

For any to whom the SOA is new, it's an axiom (an irrefutable premise) for several reasons including the unanswerable question: if you have no right to control your own life, who does and how did he get it? The one I like best is that if a person does not own his own life he has no right to express any opinion at all, including the opinion that the SOA is deficient. His mind, vocal chords, fingers and keyboard would not be his to employ.

But this appeal to Nature tries to bypass that reasoning and asserts that the concept of ownership is faulty from the get-go, since it's not found in the biosphere except in hom sap as a construct of his mind. Ingenious, but no cigar.

The assertion is dead wrong. Firstly, while there are no talking bears to explain exactly what "ownership" means to the self-respecting ursine, it's well enough known that several species "mark their territory" with certain secretions. Now, that's primitive - a bit like the way urban gangs mark their territories, often using other kinds of liquid from an aerosol. But it's elementary evidence that "ownership" in the sense of controlling an area of land and excluding trespassers, is not at all unknown in the animal kingdom.

Secondly, while mankind has developed and refined those very primitive ownership examples to a very great degree, so has he refined many other things found in Nature. Animals "talk" to each other with grunts, barks, clicks and body movements, but we have many languages each with a huge vocabulary; and we can write, email and text as well as speak. Animals reproduce sexually, but as Desmond Morris pointed out in his Naked Ape, mankind alone practices and enjoys sex to a far greater degree than any other (except whales, perhaps.) Animals may aspire to flight and over millions of years evolve wings and fly, but hom sap has applied his mind and found a way to fly without growing wings, in a mere 50,000 years. Animals can run faster than men, but we have sat, and thought, and invented the wheel and bicycle and car to outpace the lot of them. And above all, we can reason more systematically by several orders of magnitude than our nearest natural rival - even the simplest among us.

Then thirdly and supremely, mankind is certainly a part of Nature, a product of its evolution, and therefore his mind is a part of Nature, and therefore all the constructs of his mind are parts of Nature. The assertion that ownership is found only in our race, even if it were wholly true, does not in any slight degree show that it is un-natural. On the contrary, as a construct of Nature's finest product, it is one of the pinnacles of Nature. My critic has it exactly upside down.

So his basic premise (that the concept of ownership is missing from Nature) is flat false; and in any case it wouldn't count for much even if it were valid. Why should not mankind invent a new way of living that has no counterpart at all in the rest of Nature? Perhaps we have, as shown at the end of this ZGBlog.

But there's more. If we humans did not each own ourselves (in the sense of having the absolute right to run our own lives as integrated, self-owning organisms) then there could be no rights to own any property, for property rights derive directly from the SOA and form the backbone of a civilized society.

The reason for that is that property can be rightfully acquired in only two ways: exploiting a hitherto unclaimed natural resource, and using or exchanging labor for it. However, if I do not own myself, I can not obtain property either by laboring to create it, or by working in exchange for it (such as money, which can be further exchanged.) Why not? - because my labor would not be my own, to use or exchange.

This is fundamental to civilized society; without property rights there would be chaos - not of the creative, no-ruler variety, but of the ugly kind, such that nobody can be trusted nor any prediction or promise be relied upon. The house you live in could be taken by force, your work contract could be shredded on a whim, your marriage agreement could be ripped up or over-ruled at will, your bank account emptied by a third party. You'd own nothing, in the proper sense of having full control over it. Society might revert to the way it was before fixed agriculture was discovered (and that worked because a field and its harvest belonged to someone, who could manage it and rely on his rights to it) except that without today's agribusiness, 90% of the 7 billion in our race would starve; hunting and gathering is fine, but only when the available land is abundant, for the population on the move.

Force and shambles, in other words, would prevail; and the same person who produced this amazing challenge to the SOA freely admitted that (like the rest of Nature) all rights would be vested in the mighty. The one with the biggest armory would prevail. Accordingly, as in the jungle, only the strongest would rule.

This is, in essence, the nature of a governed society. Government dresses it up to make it palatable and disguises it by calling a free society "Darwinian" as if anarchists were the ones calling for jungle morality! - but the perceptive reader will have noticed that the paragraphs above reflect what is actually our environment today. Government does in fact make our property and our choices conditional upon its approval, and may change its rules any time it sees fit. Already, our property rights are exceedingly fragile. You don't even own your home, for example; not only is its occupation contingent on your paying an annual fee to the local seigneurs, but they also claim to own the land on which it's built; a claim derived from a stroke of His Majesty's pen.

Perhaps the deadliest consequence of denying the SOA is the might=right result mentioned above; all basis for ethics would disappear. Ethics is altogether about choices; a person chooses a good action over a bad one (or vice versa) and is therefore responsible for the outcome. But if he does not have control over his own life, he cannot so choose because he has no right to choose; he can neither be blamed nor praised for his actions but is literally amoral, like the rest of Nature. On that basis the worst of human behavior is no more evil than the best. "Goodness," which is mankind's creation unique in all the known universe, is a concept that must be discarded along with the SOA.

So whether he knew it or not, my critic was actually preaching the government line, when challenging the SOA. It may be he's a government infiltrator, sent to sow discord and confusion. Or perhaps he just hasn't thought it through.

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