Monthly Archives: November 2011

Earthly Death – Eternal Life

Join Tom Woods Liberty Classrom

Death. I hated to put that word in the title of this post. Most of us are pretty good at not thinking about Death. We know it’s coming. We’d just rather not think about it.

In this post, I hope to give you one very good reason to keep Death in mind.

Man, as a living creature, has an earthly, physical existence. Every person is born, lives, and dies, like all other living creatures. But there are two things different about Man.

We have already discussed the main, and more important, difference…

What truly differentiates Man from Animal is that Man is capable of consciously making a decision to refrain from taking. Man is capable of consciously choosing voluntary interaction, in cooperation with others, to satisfy needs.

Man can choose to Trade, not Take.

Man can choose to live by the rule “Thou shalt Not Steal”.

Not everyone makes that choice. But, to actually make that choice, and live that choice, is what it takes to be fully, truly Human.

And to be truly Human is what it takes to attain an immortal soul.

The second unique thing about Man is that we have a conscious awareness of ourselves and of our mortality. We are aware that we are alive, and aware that we will die.

Awareness of our ever-looming mortality can provide powerful incentive to behave in ways that lead to the attainment of an immortal soul.

We cannot avoid physical death, but there is a simple, yet challenging path to immortality. TSNS.

“Thou Shalt Not Steal” (TSNS)

TSNS is a simple concept. Why would following it be such a challenging path to heavenly immortality?

TSNS, if fully embraced, covers much more than stealing someone else’s possessions:

  • Thou Shalt Not Steal Life (Murder)
  • Thou Shalt Not Steal Freedom (Slavery)
  • Thou Shalt Not Steal Property (Theft)

No Man can avoid physical death, but to become truly Human and to attain an immortal soul, a Man may simply choose to Trade, not Take; to live by one simple commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”.

 

Why are Property and Ownership So Important?

Join Tom Woods Liberty Classrom

“Thou Shalt Not Steal” is found almost universally at the core of religious commandments and secular legal systems. The implication of this is that property, and property ownership, are universally considered to be of central importance. And not just in legal systems, but also in religions.

Why is property ownership so important that respect for it is enshrined as a basic tenet of Human society?

Ownership only begins to take on importance when there is scarcity involved.

We typically don’t worry about who owns the air we breathe. Air is obviously important, but as long as there is plenty for everyone, and your breathing does not reduce the amount of air available for me to breathe, then we don’t have to worry about who owns what air.

The easiest way to illustrate how the issue of scarcity leads to the concept of property and ownership is to use a typical ‘Robinson Crusoe on a desert island’ scenario.

Shipwrecked and alone on a deserted island, Crusoe would have faced a severe scarcity of modern supplies and tools. But he still had no need to worry about whose property the remaining food supplies and tools were. Because there was no one else on the island, there was no one whose usage of the supplies would impact Crusoe’s usage.

It is only when another man, Friday, arrives on the island that the issue of property might arise. For then there might be a conflict over scarce resources. Property rights serve as a means to prevent conflict over scarce items.

The structure of the property rights in this case could take a variety of forms:

  • Crusoe could maintain full ownership rights to the scarce supplies and declare that they are for his use only.
  • Crusoe could maintain full ownership rights to the scarce supplies and make all of the decisions, himself, as to how much to share them with Friday.
  • Crusoe could give ownership of some portion of the supplies to Friday, giving Friday full control over those specific supplies.
  • Crusoe could agree to share ownership of the supplies with Friday, based on mutually agreed upon rules as to how supplies would be allocated by the two men.
  • Or, the scarce supplies could be considered the property of no one, and therefore under the control of neither man.

The final option, above, assigning communal rights to the supplies so that no one owns them sounds nice. It fits nicely with the sentiment in John Lennon’s beautiful song, “Imagine“…

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

Unfortunately, “no possessions”, meaning no person owns or controls the property, doesn’t mean no person makes decisions about the property.

If neither Crusoe or Friday owns the scarce supplies, it means that each of them can decide what to do with them.

Crusoe, who has found ways to survive on local foods, might want to continue to ration the modern supplies or keep them for emergencies.

Friday might be weak and starving from the mishap that landed him on the island, and decide that he needs to consume the supplies now to regain his strength.

If Friday does start to rapidly consume the remaining supplies, what would Crusoe do? If it starts to look like there may soon be no supplies for him to save or ration, he may decide he has to consume whatever he can before Friday finishes all of it.

This scenario, which often plays out when there is ‘community property’ (scarce resources with no owner) has been called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons‘ by ecologist Garrett Hardin…

The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.

So,having clear ownership of resources is important, even when the plan is for them to be shared by everyone.

Other examples of the problem with ‘no possessions’ are pretty easy to come up with.

Suppose strangers off the street started living in your house? That would be okay, since there would really be no such thing as ‘your’ house. Or your car. Or your money.

It’s hard to imagine a functioning real-life society with no property rights, no possessions.

John Lennon’s goal is a good one…


No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

…but possessions are not the problem.

Respect for possessions, ownership, is a core requirement for a functioning society. And only a functioning society could become the kind of brotherhood of man that John Lennon envisioned.

 

Could There Be A Truly Human Society?

Join Tom Woods Liberty Classrom

To live by the simple principle “Thou Shalt Not Steal” is what allows an individual Man to become truly wise, truly Human, a Veresapien.

What, then, would a truly Human, Veresapiens society look like?

If the guiding principle shaping the society was TSNS, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, what kind of government, legal, and social systems would the society have?

Before we begin to answer that question, we need to review one important aspect of TSNS.  If you ‘own’ something, it means that you have total control over it. If someone takes away some or all of your control, then because they are taking away your ownership, they are stealing from you.

That means that if someone takes any control over your life, they are taking ownership of your life. Taking ownership without permission is stealing.

A Veresapien, then, would not make rules, or laws, to control others’ behavior. That would be stealing.

Veresapiens would make rules as to the acceptable use of their own property and the acceptable behavior of visitors on their property. And Veresapiens may defend their property from unacceptable aggression by others. None of those things would take away others’ full ownership of their own lives and property.

If a society based on TSNS would make no laws to control, mandate, or prohibit anyone’s actions, then it would have no need for a government. In fact, any form of government, including democracy, would be incompatible with a TSNS-based society.

For a whole society to live by “Thou Shalt Not Steal” as a guiding principle requires a totally voluntaryist social structure – one with no government at all.

Is it possible to have a society with no government?

UPDATE: The answer to that question starts here.