Thursday, May 01, 2008

Home on the bantustan - or why ownership can't be theft

If ownership is theft what does that make philanthropy? - Phil Cubeta.
Phil at Gift Hub poses this question directly after quoting something I said here with regard to AKMA's post about how music companies handle online music files they sell.

I want to try to distinguish between contractual relations to property and the generally accepted sense of Proudhon's famous mot. My use of "legitimacy" was not intended to be allied to the notion that ownership is theft, but rather to the apparent fact that in the contractual realm, something happens to ownership before theft can even begin to occur.

Ownership born of contracts is bloodless, indifferent to the qualities of the thing owned (anaesthetic), and backed by the full faith and credit of the deathadder fang and vulpine claw, or paw, of the Law. Far from being theft, contractual ownership is legitimate to the highest degree, according to a model of legitimacy that begins with vampiric differentiation, rather than with the organic solace of communion with the object. No vegetable love here, just move to the back of the bus -- or better, to the other bus.

Apartheid is a fine example of this sort of legitimacy (Golby will correct me if I have this wrong) as it creates a synthetic relationship between race and propriety. If you are black, you have your proper place, which is other than that of citizen. Or, you are a citizen, just not of our nation. It's a contract. You may not have signed it, been a party to its composition, had the chance to suggest emendations, but you're used to that.

In a nutshell: contractual possession isn't theft, because if it were, the thing stolen could be returned to its rightful owner. The stolen property simply would move from one possessor to another, and order would be restored. But this is obviously not the case, since what the contractual owner owns is the controlling definition of property itself -- the right to own the right to own.

You may ask yourself, how do I work this? You can buy a CD, and use it, but you don't own it. The contractual owner is the citizen, and you are a tribal unit dwelling in a codified bantustan where aesthetic access to beauty is permitted within certain circumstances (which are, it goes without saying, "within reason"). Contractual possession prescribes how you might enjoy your CD and proscribes extensions of your bliss to certain forms of use, sharing and transformation. Your "rights" (in fact, these merely amount to ephemeral mediated sensory accessions) stop at your aesthetic moment.

Welcome to KwaZulu! You own no part of the meaning of contractual possession. Actually you possess even your aesthetic moment only in a highly conditional mode. Your expectation of pleasure is subsidiary to a droit de seigneur that beats you to your jouissance every time. Not that it cares about pleasure. The contractual owner couldn't care less about the CD, or your enjoyment, or its own; it cares very much about dominating the possession of possession. Cross that line and you'll find out exactly what's what.

If so, then property is not theft -- your proprietary rights of legitimate ownership were edited out long before you were offered the option of paying for your inability to possess a damn thing.

What implications this might have for philanthropic endeavor I hope Phil and his thoughtful community will work out.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a grid, Sid. I found this out by crawling under a table and looking at what I had been thinking about from there. What had I been thinging about? Bus benches. Tweedle DTs. Capsicum callosa. You're creeping me out, Phyllis, stop.

no no no stupid nonsense dumb. i just went under there to see.

5/03/2008 7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so bad, Tom. It hurts right here.

5/03/2008 7:04 AM  

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