(Subtitled: On Ownership)
My last post brought to light a discussion originally spurred by comments about the ownership of thoughts and whether they could be stolen. An investigation, like most of this sort, left me still curious but slightly more in favor of no rather yes. Perhaps this is so because of my idea of ownership. Originally this comment was in regards to a publication but we shall discuss it in terms of music. Because its more fun for me.
Nietzsche once said “Without music life would be an error”. I tend to agree and in order to avoid life being an error, without spending too much cash, I participate in music piracy. This, above all other forms in our generation, is the most famous use of “intellectual property” and thus the greatest example of “intellectual thievery”. But even this recently famous example of intellectual thievery leaves me begging the question – Is any musician actually worried about me stealing their IDEA.
It is important to keep in mind that the IDEA never leaves the artists head. The song and its lyrics are still within the singers head, the music is still credited to their names, and they are still known as the creator or at least originator of that song. Have I stolen any of that? The answer is clearly no. It is not like I am covering Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and claiming I wrote. I just want to listen to it for free. So if I am not stealing their idea, why ARE they so angry?
Money. Musicians are angry because they are losing money – some are rich and some are poor but all don’t want to lose their money. Once again we return to a physical medium to apply our term of theft. You don’t see prosecutors talking about the musicians lack of inspiration because you stole it, or talking about identity theft because you are saying you are John Lennon. Rather they appeal to our pockets. They tell us about how the artist deserves compensation for their ideas. There is a money value attached to ownership. That is what we mean when we say internet piracy – you are not stealing ideas, you are stealing money. Except, of course, the money you steal is your own.
Why do I begin with this example? A couple of reasons. The first being to justify my use of internet piracy. The second is because it is a popular and understandable example. The third is to avoid the immediate argument I always hear when talking about ownership. The argument is a conversation killer and it comes from two people. The argument is “Nobody really owns anything” and its dangerous because it may be true but useless because we aren’t talking about ownership in relation to God or nature. What we are talking about is a very real phenomenon that even children experience. That experience may have no basis in truth but as a phenomenon that does REALLY happen we must investigate it.
The fact of the matter is that we do claim to OWN things. Otherwise stealing wouldn’t be bad. I often here the argument is this way: “Of all created comforts, God is the lender; you are the borrower, not the owner”. That may be true but then we still must discuss why God would tell us not to STEAL things then. We still must discuss ownership as a logical fiction even if it is merely created by us because in all people there is a cry for ownership. Such tragic cries for justice come against theft, vandalism, oppression, taxation, and rape (this would be a claim that you OWN your own body). If nothing was owned by anyone – why do we get outraged at such things. Shouldn’t be outraged at such things?
Thus I open a larger question while trying to resolve my own. I still believe it is impossible to own ideas but I do not remove the options. In the meantime we must find more useful ways of talking about ownership in general. People die over ownership all the time. Nationalism, patriotism, crime, law, order, and war all find roots in ownership. Ownership may cause them, but ownership also fixes them. For if we do not own ourselves and our actions than we will forever be making these mistakers. So I pose the question: are we screwed or just screwed up? Are we doomed to use our goods as bads and to do evil in the name of ownership when really we have arrived at this understanding of ownership because of evil that happens? How can rape so clearly remind us that we own our bodies yet ownership over another has justified rape so many times? Why does humanity turn upon itself in this way?