Self ownership

Just read another adolescent rambling, an unreflective exposition on the idea of self-ownership. I say adolescent, because this:

Self ownership means just one thing, that YOU are the owner of your life – your body, your mind, your energy, and any consequent results of your life’s efforts.
If you are not sure of this – or disagree – then simply ask yourself, “if I am NOT the rightful owner of my own life, then who is?”

Umm, God? Your parents, who brought you into the world? The King, whose armies protect you from the other king’s armies, with whom you have traded your freedom for security?

I’m not saying that any of these ideas are right, I’m just pointing out that they are serious alternatives that other people hold and have held in the past. David MacGregor doesn’t stop to grapple with them for an instant, just blithely dismisses any possible other answer and runs on to expound further this cool idea. That’s what I mean by adolescent. It’s pretty typical of people who think Ayn Rand makes sense.

One of the problems with the notion of self-ownership is that ownership can be transferred. If you own something, you can sell it. If you own something, it can be seized as payment for a debt. Self ownership brings with it the idea that debt slavery is an ok thing.

Who owns a child? Who owns an incompetent – someone unable to manage their own affairs (ie, the senile, the mentally disabled)? If the child owns itself, then is parental authority a thing at all? If the parents own a child up to a certain age, then is it ok to sell your children into slavery? One workable solution, I suppose, is to say that the parents hold the child in trust on behalf of the child itself, but then you have to ask: where do the rights and responsibilities of “holding something in trust” come from?

What I’m saying is: property rights alone aren’t enough to order a society (or a life) by. You can struggle with fine tuning your definitions and your legal arguments around ownership, or you can step back and say that there are other rights and responsibilities beyond ownership, and that some things inherently cannot be owned. People. The sky. The radio spectrum. Ideas. Tunes. That while a person might have rights in respect of these things, they are not property.

There is, of course, one group of people that simply adores the idea hat everything comes down to property rights. The propertied class! The hereditary rich. In the 18th century they fled the revolutions of Europe, dropped their titles but kept their money, and proposed a new order of the ages built around wealth and only wealth. They overturned the notion of reciprocal rights and responsibilities between government and governed, and replaced it with the idea that the people that own a country should rule it, and do so for their own benefit. “Of the people, by the people, for the people”, I believe they expressed it. They crossed the sea and founded a new nation where landowners – and only landowners – vote and write the laws. And where slavery was totally a thing.

I’m rambling a bit. I suppose my only real point is that objectivism is … umm … not the only legit point of view. And that the correct response to a slick website that glibly assures you “what I’m about to present is the only possible reasonable point of view”, the correct response is “Yah, right. But what if it isn’t?”


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