C4SS Feed 44 presents “From Whence do Property Titles Arise?” from the book Markets Not Capitalism, written by William Gillis, read by Stephanie Murphy and edited by Nick Ford.
Forgive the digression to my 90s Nickelodeon childhood, but in illustration I am reminded of an episode of Angry Beavers in which the brothers suddenly discover that they each have a musk pouch capable of marking items with a colored personal stench that repels everyone but themselves. This quickly sets off a war of personal claim until the entire world is divvied up with one stench or the other, each brother more and more completely obsessed with the tally until they can think of nothing else.
This is perhaps the most classic criticism of capitalism — one of simple psychology — and yet it seems to be a critique market theorists are incapable of parsing. To many an anti-capitalist the problem with the capitalist framework is its inherent bent towards materialism, ultimately to the point of treating human beings as objects. But this is incomprehensible for Libertarians because they see respect for property titles as entirely stemming from a respect for personal agency. In practical, everyday terms respect for another person’s agency often comes down to a respect for the inviolability of their body. Do not shoot them, do not rape them, do not torture them. Because humans are tool using creatures like hermit crabs there is often no clear line between our biomass and our possessions (we use clothes instead of fur, retain dead mass excreted as hair follicles, etc.), and so a respect for another’s person seems to extend in some ways to a respect for things that they use. Begin to talk of Rights and these associations must be drawn more absolutely. And sure enough we already have a common sense proscription often enforced in absolutist terms that matches this intuition; do not steal.
Yet the anti-capitalists are clearly on to something. Even setting aside the evolutionary cognitive biases of homo sapiens, we as individuals have limited processing. We can’t think everything at the same time. If some of the thought processes necessary to succeed and flourish under in a given system run out of control and take up more and more space, others — like those behind why we adopted that system in the first place — will get pushed to the periphery.
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